The ABCs of CBD

By Lauren Schneider, M.A.

The so-called “golden years” inevitably bring a few unwelcome companions in the form of aches, pains, and chronic disease.

According to the National Council on Aging, 80 percent of older adults report at least one chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or stroke. For decades, older adults treated those ailments with over-the-counter and prescription medications. As we have learned more about the negative long-term effects associated with opioids, however, many have sought alternatives.

In February 2019, 37 percent of medical marijuana users in Colorado were age 50 and older. The top reported condition was severe pain. Increasingly we hear many claims about the healing properties of cannabidiol or CBD, a derivative of the cannabis plant. Are they true? What’s the difference between CBD and marijuana?

There are two types of cannabis plants: marijuana and hemp. Marijuana plants have tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, a psychoactive chemical that produces a “high.” Marijuana plants also have CBD, and the amount varies by strain. Hemp plants are non-psychoactive (but may contain a negligible amount of THC) and are typically used for industrial purposes like creating fabric or paper. As such, hemp alone cannot get a person high.

CBD created from industrial hemp is legal under federal law. However, CBD derived from the marijuana plant remains illegal under federal law. In the state of Colorado, CBD from hemp or marijuana is legal.

What Does the Research Say?
A series of clinical trials highlighted the effectiveness of CBD to treat seizures, acute anxiety, and schizophrenia. In fact, the FDA approved a CBD-based medication called Epidiolex for the treatment of drug-resistant seizures. Another CBD medication that has undergone several clinical trials is called Sativex. Sativex has a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio and has been approved for use in 24 countries (not including the United States).

Sativex is used for pain associated with multiple sclerosis. Studies also have suggested Sativex could be used for chronic pain, arthritis, and cancer pain. However, the current federal laws on marijuana-based CBD serve as a barrier to approval in the United States. Thus, CBD appears effective in treating some conditions, but more research is needed to understand the impact of CBD on other conditions, to create dosage standards, and to understand long-term effects.

Consumer Beware
CBD comes in many forms, including vaporizers, edibles, and oils/extracts. You do not have to smoke or vaporize CBD to experience its effects. Users typically employ a trial-and-error approach to understand the dose and ratio that works for them, as guidelines for dosages do not yet exist. CBD products are not FDA approved; therefore, regulation and quality vary significantly (especially products purchased online).

Online products may not provide accurate labels and could be illegal, depending on the content of the product (ratio of THC to CBD) and state laws. CBD companies with proper licensing in Colorado are regulated by the state. Colorado-based CBD companies such as Evo Hemp and Charlotte’s Web have quality control standards that involve third-party lab tests.

For example, Evo Hemp’s website states that products are routinely analyzed for “potency, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, heavy metal, microbials, and mold.” Third-party tests can help clarify the quality, dosage, and ingredients of the product you are purchasing. In the state of Colorado, adults over the age of 21 may consider buying CBD products from a dispensary. Dispensaries cannot sell THC-free products for consumption.

Therefore, if you choose to buy CBD at a dispensary, it will contain THC and may produce psychoactive effects. Lastly, as with any new medications, vitamins, or supplements, it is important to let your medical provider know if you are taking CBD so that he/she can monitor for potential interactions and adverse effects.
For more information on CBD visit:,,, and

Lauren Schneider, M.A., is a clinical geropsychology doctoral student at UCCS who is completing her practicum at the UCCS Aging Center. For more information, contact her at or call the Aging Center at 719-255-8002.

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