Is CBD Legal? - Laws, Regulations, and Consumer Safety

Reading Time: 5 min 33 sec

By Ryan Sanders

Cannabidiol, or CBD as it is commonly known, is one of the primary cannabinoids that is most common in modern cannabis. It is a cannabinoid that is non-intoxicating and can be mildly psychoactive. CBD is commonly used to treat inflammation, pain, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and more as well. CBD has been heralded in the last few years as a wonder drug and cure-all that is a completely natural alternative to conventional medicine. Anecdotal reports by consumers, scientific research, and a distinct lack of negative side effects make a strong case for its validity as a natural medicine and supplement. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which lifted the 82-year ban on hemp, CBD has been more readily available and widespread in consumer products than ever before.


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Classifications of Drugs

"The schedule tiers are I-V, with schedule I being recognized as the most dangerous and most addictive..."

The classification of any drug recognized by the DEA in the United States falls under a scheduling system made up of five different tiers. These tiers are based on the accepted medical applications and abuse or potential dependence of each drug or compound. The schedule tiers are I-V, with schedule I being recognized as the most dangerous and most addictive, and schedule V having the lowest potential for abuse and being of the least concern. A Schedule I Narcotic is defined by the DEA as “a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” (DEA, 2019). Cannabis (and formerly CBD by default) sits at the same level in the eyes of the DEA as LSD, heroin, and ecstasy, among other substances. The DEA defines schedule V substances as “drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV, consisting of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes” (DEA, 2019). That means that before September of last year, possession of CBD could be prosecuted to the same extent as possession of cannabis across the board. There is a specific reason for this new availability of CBD and lack of regulation/prosecution, and it is reliant on the fact that a drug containing CBD was recently rescheduled from belonging to the most dangerous tier of drugs (Schedule I), to the bottom tier (Schedule V) of regulated drugs by the DEA in September of 2018.

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Always Get Test Results 

"As of right now, claims can be made that a product is a CBD product with very little actual CBD content or none at all."

This rescheduling happened three months after the CBD containing drug called Epidiolex from the United Kingdom, which contains cannabis-derived CBD, was approved by the Food And Drug Administration in mid-2018. Other drugs that are at the same level as Epidiolex after the rescheduling (Schedule V) include Robitussin with codeine, Phenergan with codeine, and Lyrica. CBD use has exploded in popularity and application options since the rescheduling. Further regulation is sure to follow, as there is very little FDA enforcement occurring currently on what can and cannot be sold, along with what testing requirements must be fulfilled. As of right now, claims can be made that a product is a CBD product with very little actual CBD content or none at all. There is also minimal regulation in terms of product safety and testing. Every other coffee shop, gas station, smoke shop, or nutrient store is selling CBD in some form, and most products don’t come with test results if they have undergone any testing at all. Even if they do, test results given could be from a single batch and be applied to all products released if they do not specify testing by batch. Throughout the country, you must either live in a recreational or medical state/territory to purchase CBD derived from anything other than industrial hemp as well, meaning that the product must contain less than .3% THC. CBD extracts derived from hemp provide many benefits that hemp-based CBD isolates do not. The combination of additional cannabinoids and terpenes provides what is called the entourage effect. This entourage effect describes the interaction between those terpenoids and cannabinoids, producing “synergy with respect to the treatment of paininflammationdepressionanxietyaddictionepilepsycancer, fungal and bacterial infections” (Russo, 2011).  

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The Fine Print

There are a few more minor clarifications that must be addressed in regard to the legality of CBD across the country as well, specifically relating to its channels of distribution. Along with the rescheduling, the DEA is still restricting the import and export of anything that contains the compound. It is still illegal to manufacture or sell CBD without proper documentation and licenses, and it is also still illegal to possess a Schedule V drug without a prescription federally. This means that many people need an MMJ certification if they don’t live in a recreational state in order to access safe, reliable, and potent CBD currently.

Final Thoughts

The scheduling of CBD is extremely important for many reasons. Foremost is that the rescheduling of Epidiolex is the first time that the Drug Enforcement Administration has recognized cannabis as having medicinal value. Most important however is the fact that people need to know what they can and cannot legally possess, as well as where to obtain CBD that is consistent and safe. Where CBD is scheduled I through V on the list of controlled substances will lay the framework of when, where, and what it can be used for, and will give the public access to a natural medicine that people have been using successfully for thousands of years.


Ryan Sanders

Ryan is a writer for Altruist CBD. He is a graduate of Arizona State University with a B.A. in Educational Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Education. Ryan has experience in the cannabis industry as a Patient Consultant and Brand Ambassador.