CBD Oil Side Effects and Safety Guide

What are the side effects of using CBD oil and is it safe? Our in-depth guide here will take a look at the key risks in dosing, important safety precautions and what you need to be aware of when using it. We’ll focus particularly on the interactions and potential issues involved when hemp extract oil is used with other medications and when it should be avoided. This might be due to being in an at-risk group such as pregnant individuals or if you’re already taking particular prescription medications. 

We’ve done the research and the news is good however. It’s generally very well tolerated by the vast majority of people. You shouldn’t be overly concerned. Needless to say it’s always wise to get informed. Learn about what to be aware of before buying to ensure you can avoid any unintended side effects. We’ll cover off both physiological as well as potential mental side effects and risk factors.

What are the side effects of CBD Oil?

While renowned for its safety, it does have several key side effects to be aware of. Everyone is different physiologically and has different tolerances for hemp oil so it’s important to experiment and gauge your tolerance level before dosing. The most commonly reported adverse effects are dry mouth, drowsiness, stomach irritation and problems with the liver in processing other medications.  Let’s cover off each of the top reported side effects.

  1. Stomach aches and irritation

Hemp extract is typically blended with other oils like Coconut, Olive or MCT (and if purchased from sub standard suppliers may have impurities) as carriers. It can result in allergic reactions or upset stomachs for many users. Not everyone tolerates vegetable oils well. Although these examples are in themselves very nutritious and contain a high level of Omega 3 and Gamma linoleic acids. 

Different individuals react in varying ways to these oils so it’s best to trial and learn what works best for your body and gut lining. Some people also prefer to take their oil with food or other drinks in order to calm the stomach and allow it to digest better. Some also report mild nausea from kicking off a dosage regime. Nausea often comes down to how much you take, so be slow to increase dose.

  1. Dry mouth

One of the most commonly reported side effects of CBD is the dry, clammy feeling people report in their throat or mouth as a result of lower saliva presence. It’s a common theme amongst users of all the various cannabinoid containing oils both psychoactive (like marijuana) or not (those derived from hemp). The cannabis plant has compounds in it which work to stop your saliva glands producing the enzymes that generate the moisture and saliva in your mouth which can result in this feeling. Thankfully it’s also one of the most simple issues to deal with. All you need to do is boost up your liquid intake or use things like lozenges or lollies to help your mouth stimulate digestion. This will result in more saliva to counteract the dryness. 

  1. Sleepy or drowsiness

Most recommended dosage ranges for CBD products will keep you calm and ready for productive periods of mental or physical work. Taking very high doses of it at high frequency can still be done. It won’t cause toxicity but it may end up leaving you tired or drowsy. A benefit of this is getting to sleep and resolving insomnia for many. It can be used as a sleep aid to improve sleep length and quality.

It’s strongly recommended to not drive or operate heavy vehicles or machinery if you plan to while using hemp oil. Take care when using high potency or dosage as you may endanger yourself or others. Particular care should be taken if you’re not used to the effects, have low tolerance or low body mass. If so, the drowsiness effect can be heightened leading to unintended outcomes.

4. Liver issues in interactions with other medicines

The number one danger in using it is potential interactions or unintended effects with other medications in use. This is a real risk for many due to the fact that the oil is often used therapeutically for its pain reducing properties. Those affected by arthritis or chronic inflammation may already be taking medicine to aid with it. Often pharmaceuticals are processed via the liver (the organ that handles toxins). CBD also must pass via the liver which can cause strain and toxicity if taken with the prescription.

Be very cautious of medicating while using it. It’s well known that drugs like Nurofen in Australia (also known as ibuprofen) are fairly strenuous on the liver. The liver must produce enzymes that break down the toxins and extract the useful nutrients from consumed substances. By passing through too many at once we can overload the liver which can cause toxicity over enough time.

When taking the oil one of its impacts on the liver is reducing its capacity to deal with multiple chemical compounds being taken in at the same time. It can cause too much build up of a particular compound – which becomes dangerous for many pharmaceuticals. In worst case scenarios this could lead to consequences such as poisoning or overdoses.

What is hemp oil?

Put simply, it’s a natural plant based oil that is extracted from hemp plants when they’re pressed. Seemingly overnight, full spectrum CBD oil and tinctures have become widespread both in the retail market and online. Particularly in the US, Canada and Australia where it was recently made legal. We can attribute this both to the huge interest around its powerful therapeutic properties. It can help with everything from anxiety reduction to inflammation, arthritis and pain management. But even more so, it’s easy to use, convenient and most importantly – really works. 

In Australia hemp oil is seeing take up from all sectors of society, from young university students who need the product to support stress relief, to baby boomers and pensioners who want to relax. Those with health on their conscience want to reduce the issues associated with arthritis or gut inflammation. Similar to some other health products like curcumin, the role of products containing cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids seems to only have increased in importance. Less inflammation is key to overall well being.

Depending on where you live – it may not be available due to laws in your country. It can even differ at a regional level on legality. For example the US has regulated the plant at the federal level (providing it contains less than 0.3% THC) however some states won’t allow it’s sale without a specific medical doctor’s prescription. This is why you may not have found hemp extract even though it is widely used and purchased.

Why is the product largely legal and used in many countries through Europe and the Americas? It doesn’t have any psychoactive properties. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is psychotropic and can trigger or cause many mental issues. On the other hand hemp based products won’t get you high as there is no THC within the strain. Because of this it has some inherent danger compared to compounds like CBD (cannabidiol) which operate physiologically only. It’s why industrial hemp has remained legal. Scientists have understood this since the mid 20th century, when cannabis was studied intensively for its therapeutic properties.  

What are the dangers of using it?

While well tolerated and having minimal documented side effects, there are still risks associated with use. These can be exacerbated into potential dangers if you fit into certain categories of exposure. 

There are three key ‘at risk’ groups who should avoid using full spectrum CBD oil altogether due to contamination or side effect risk. These groups have either immune vulnerabilities which open up exposure to worsening side effects or may have extra sensitivity.

  1. Pregnant women

Firstly, pregnant women. One of the risks with taking any supplement is contaminants. These contaminants might be a result of the bottle or container used to store the extract. There may be dust, pollution or by-products of production within the container. It may also be directly from either carrier oil or extract itself. 

A number of nasties can find their way into the product you use if purchased from a less reputable supplier. These might be herbicides, pesticides that were applied to the plants used for your extract or heavy metals. For example if the vat used for production is unclean or previously used for other manufacturing, residue like bacteria or mould can form and affect your product. 

It’s important to remove any risk of causing problems with your baby. Even for adults you may become ill or poisoned (in worse case scenarios) if nasties get into your product. When you have a newborn all the nutrients you consume get passed onto the infant in one form or another. Unfortunately this also applies for contaminants. Your supplements can be passed onto the child through the umbilical cord (or breast milk if breastfeeding) which may endanger them.

Research also hasn’t yet confirmed what the effects of CBD are on babies. It may not be safe to ever test this. It’s not known whether any amount of it is safe to expose a newborn to. As always with anything health related – check with your physician before any kind of supplementation.

2. Immunocompromised individuals

It’s important to be extra careful using any kind of new nutritional product when you have liver problems or immune system issues. Certain enzymes in your liver can be increased such as ALT when taking any new supplement. This can increase the risk of liver toxicity. When combined with other activities that may further increase liver load such as alcohol or pharmaceuticals, risk to the body can be amplified.

The other major risk factor which we’ve outlined is prescription medication intake which can also strain the liver and expose you. At high doses of CBD, certain harmful toxins in your liver that impair the toxin removal process can accumulate when mixed with medication. These are called the P450 enzyme in the liver – responsible for nullifying harmful chemicals. Overload can occur when cannabinoids processed by the same enzyme are consumed simultaneously.

Particularly avoid using hemp extract oils if you are already taking any kind of opioids or anti-inflammatories which tax the liver. You should also avoid it if you’re drinking or using strong medication such as those for chemotherapy or other chronic diseases. The individuals using these types of medications are also usually immunocompromised. If your immune system has become vulnerable in any way you should also steer clear.

Is it safe to use?

Generally, it certainly is. For the vast majority of people. It’s very safe to use when dose and frequency are appropriate. Several key organisations and scientific bodies like the World Health Organisation have already cleared CBD oil use as safe even at high doses. They noted a number of important characteristics of the compound that made its risk profile low. These included the fact it was not addictive, had no psychoactive availability and no toxicity even in high dosages.

If you examine the research on physiology, body interactions, effects and dangers (as we have), the literature indicates hemp oil is very low risk for the population. We looked through thousands of studies and clinical research papers. A big plus is that you won’t get addicted. Potential for physical or psychological addiction is extremely low compared to substances like opioids which have a lot of risk around physiological dependence. This applies even when used at high dose and frequency. It’s great news for people who need relief but have had previous issues with dependence.

When you compare the side effects and addiction potential of it against prescription painkillers like Hydrocodone, the contrast is clear. Many of the therapeutic pain drugs consumers purchase to help in managing their chronic issues are extremely addictive. This has largely been the cause of the opioid addiction crisis in the USA. Not to mention countless addiction stories which can result from the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

It’s important to note that these extracts don’t work in the same way as most other medicines. Full spectrum CBD oil works with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and throughout the body to deliver its healthy benefits. By acting on these receptors it causes the body to release endocannabinoid compounds, which are highly anti-inflammatory and can help with a range of issues including stress, anxiety, arthritis and inflammation. When doing this it doesn’t trigger dopamine which is the main chemical your brain produces for motivation. Dopamine makes us feel good. It’s the pang you get that pushes you to do something. But many painkillers can produce too much of it and hijack the brain. causing addiction. 

How does it work? Key benefits

Hemp extract can be taken in a variety of ways such as orally through oils, tinctures, edibles, pills or topically through ointments applied to problem areas. But no matter how you take it, the substance will eventually make its way through the stomach or skin and into the bloodstream. Here the bioactive cannabinoids will be transported to cells where they metabolise.

All mammals have what’s called an endocannabinoid system. You might not have heard of this but it’s inside your body! It actually functions across multiple organs and systems, through receptors which can trigger the production of endocannabinoid enzymes. This system is part of you and all other mammals, with the body producing the compounds itself. The trigger or ‘key’ that unlocks the release of the compounds is cannabinoids like CBG and CBN binding to the CB1 and CBD2 receptors.

The process involves many metabolic pathways, but has some similarities to the processes in anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (without the side effects and strain on the liver). The two types of receptors used in the endocannabinoid system are present throughout the body, from the brain and central nervous system to the liver, spleen and gut. It’s how these extracts benefit both the mind as well as body. Whether you’re seeking relief from anxiety and stress or just help with muscle aches and rejuvenating the body after heavy training, the receptors are able to support target areas.

What’s more is that the endocannabinoid system helps in assisting with a broad range of the body’s functions such as sleep, mood and energy, plus immune function.  Phytonutrients like CBD are well known in science as ‘neuromodulators’ i.e. compounds which influence the functioning of cognitive areas. Although there is already a large body of research indicating the safety of these products, it’s not to say that there are no side effects at all.  Much more research is still being done (mostly on animals currently) to derive deeper understanding and evidence of the long term effects and potential interactions of the extract.

Final thoughts

With any supplement or medicine, every individual has genetic variations and physiological nuances (e.g. with their gut flora) that can result in acceptance or reactions against different substances. It’s important to test and see what works with you and whether your body agrees. Be aware of your body and keep an eye out for the potential side effects that may occur.

Always check product quality and purity before use. Taking in pesticides, herbicides, solvents or other by-products as a result of poor quality assurance is far from ideal. Be careful to do your research and always seek organic, whole plant extracts. It’s clear from the clinical trials and research into CBD that its safety and risk profile is good. The product overall has minimal side effects which only display in a few individuals.