Refresh Checked Unchecked Menu Search Shopping bag Geolocation Person Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube Info Icon CBC Icon CBC Shape CBD Icon CBD Shape CBG Icon CBG Shape THC Icon THC Shape THCV Icon THCV Shape Loading…
Advertise on Leafly

Why Is CBD Illegal If It’s Non-Intoxicating?

August 8, 2018
Factors far beyond science shape cannabidiol (CBD) policy worldwide. (alashi/iStock)
Cannabidiol (CBD) has been getting a lot of press lately for being safe, non-intoxicating and helpful for treating a variety of medical issues. So why is it illegal and classified as a “Schedule 1” drug? Experts say the answer is simple: marijuana prohibition continues to create huge barriers to researching and producing this valuable cannabinoid.

What is CBD and How Did It Become Illegal?

CBD is one of the most plentiful cannabinoids in marijuana, second only to THC — the main, active ingredient in cannabis. Like THC, CBD has a wide range of medical benefits, helping with issues like epilepsy, depression, anxiety, pain, inflammation and addiction. Unlike THC, CBD has no intoxicating effects. CBD doesn’t get users ‘high’.

As CBD’s popularity has grown, so has the CBD market. Everyone from cannabis producers to hemp farmers are creating products to meet the demand. From tinctures like Charlotte’s Web, to high-end products like Dirty Lemon’s infused drinks, many hemp-based CBD products can be found online and in stores throughout the US.


Which cannabis strains are high in CBD?

But technically, many of these hemp-based CBD products are illegal, and bringing any of them across state lines still raises complicated legal questions. The government is cracking down on those bypassing these laws, in some cases, raiding stores and seizing products. Recent raids include Green Gorilla vape shop in Texas, and Peace of Mind stores in Missouri. Scott Micke, Peace of Mind co-owner, says the hemp-based CBD products seized from his store are carried by Wal-Mart and Target and he thought they were legal. “The laws are so worded and presented in ways that business owners like myself and even the lawmakers don’t know what is legal and not legal,” explains Micke.

Indeed, some lawyers say hemp-CBD’s legality is open to interpretation, and future court cases — or a DEA scheduling change — will add clarity.

The California Department of Public Health is certainly trying to make things clear. They recently put out a statement clarifying that industrial hemp is not allowed in California food products. Period.

So how did this beneficial and non-intoxicating medicine become illegal? “It’s kind of simple,” says Martin Lee of Project CBD “It’s marijuana prohibition — that’s why it’s illegal…and it’s built on a mountain of lies.”

Marijuana prohibition, started in the 1930’s and ramped up during the Nixon presidency, was pushed through by politicians to make it easier to arrest people of color and anti-war activists. These politicians told all kinds of lies about cannabis to make their case. John Ehrlichman, a top advisor to Nixon even admitted that criminalizing marijuana was a way of disrupting these communities, saying “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Misinformation from these anti-marijuana smear campaigns have lead to deep-seated fears and misunderstandings that continue to confuse the issue — both for cannabis in general and for CBD.

Mounting Evidence CBD Should Be Legal

CBD is Schedule 1, a classification for drugs with no medical use and high risk for abuse. Still, the evidence that CBD should be descheduled has been piling up. The World Health Organization’s recent report on CBD found it to be safe and without potential for abuse. And recently Epidiolex, GW pharmaceuticals’ CBD-based medicine for epilepsy, became FDA-approved.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb praised Epidiolex’s success in a press statement , saying that the FDA’s drug approval process was “the most appropriate way to bring these treatments to patients” and that “it’s a path that’s available to other product developers who want to bring forth marijuana-derived products.”


Which cannabis strains are highest in CBD, according to lab data?

Passing these rigorous trials gives evidence that CBD has medical potential, and since the CBD medicine will soon be available to patients throughout the country, there is pressure on the DEA to reschedule CBD within the next 90 days.  “We don’t have a choice on that,” commented DEA public affairs officer Barbara Carreno. “It absolutely has to become Schedule 2 or 3.”

Even NIDA has taken a pro-CBD stance, with Director Dr. Nora Volkow pledging that “NIDA will do what we can to … expedite the study of this potentially valuable compound, as well as other components of the marijuana plant.”

Reason Why People Think CBD Has Stayed Illegal


With all this evidence and support behind CBD, why has it stayed illegal for so long?

“Ultimately it’s a matter of misconceptions still held by a lot of decision makers at the federal level,” explains Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project. “There’s a question of its source and whether it’s coming from plants that could be also producing other cannabinoids.”

Being sourced from cannabis is not an easy problem to overcome. The Controlled Substances Act has tight regulations on anything coming from cannabis, and while Epidiolex has made it through FDA testing, that isn’t an easy road. “It’s very, very expensive,” Martin Lee explains “and GW has been a pioneer in this regard…To get those two things to fit together — an herbal medicine and FDA approved clinical trials — it’s not an easy thing to do.”


How to find the best CBD cannabis product for you

In addition to the cost, regulatory barriers make it difficult for researchers to study the plant. Shawn Hauser, an attorney specializing in hemp and cannabis laws, says one big obstacle is regulations that only allow cannabis from one facility to be used in cannabis research. “The Obama administration attempted to address this issue by expanding the number of federally authorized cultivation facilities,” explains Hauser. “But Attorney General Sessions has continued to block the program and has not acted on any of the 26 applications received in the last few years.”

Still there is reason to hope. Hauser says there are substantial constitutional grounds for challenging theControlled Substances Act based on medical necessity. Between the pressure being put on the DEA to reschedule, and the cases being heard at the supreme court, we may see CBD descheduled in the near future.

Emily Earlenbaugh's Bio Image

Emily Earlenbaugh

Dr. Emily Earlenbaugh is a cannabis writer and educator. She is the Director of Education for Mindful Cannabis Consulting, where she teaches patients how to find the cannabis options that work best for them. She regularly writes about cannabis science and culture for publications like Cannabis Now Magazine, SF Chronicle’s GreenState, HelloMD, and Big Buds Magazine. Emily has a doctorate in philosophy of science from UC Davis.

View Emily Earlenbaugh's articles

  • David Yoseph Schreiber

    Anything about cannabis makes prohibitionists scared and upset. They’re also paranoid about Martians taking over their brains, so they hate all altered states. Plus they hate the cannabis mentality. It comes out that they hate THC, LSD, ayahuasca more than CBD, hemp rope, and canvas tents. But for them it’s not a material distinction.

  • Mitch Earleywine

    SO sad.

  • Jay

    They sneaked CBD products in, under everyone’s noses.. here in the UK…we can even buy it from Holland and Barratt..a health food chain. But there has been nothing said about it anywhere on the media? I just can’t understand why that is being kept quiet, when we had so much publicity over a 12 year old boy needing a CBD product from Canada, which they granted a special license for. Now we are looking to get it moved to a schedule 2 drug so it can be prescribed from a doctor. At last we are moving in the right direction, but why did it have to wait until that 12yo started fitting again without it???

  • Mike the bike

    More importantly, why is cannabis taxed? Check state law. Every state where cannabis has been voted legal there is no tax requirement. The republicans make grass legal and then democrats tax it at outrageous rates. Vote republican to get rid of useless taxes!

    • 360dunk

      Your post is confusing….every state I’ve been to with dispensaries does indeed tax their sales. That’s why Colorado and Nevada, for example, are able to divert so much pot tax money to their public school system.

      • jimbro44

        Colorado had SO much tax money, a state law specific to Colorado said that if they take in a certain amount of taxes the payers get a refund.. they instead spent it on schools and other things, the article was a while ago.
        California consumers are paying around 30% between all the taxes, and their money is still flying in.

  • Joe lapera

    The continued non legalization of marijuana and its products is plain insanity I use marijuana. Products I live in ny so I have no choice but to make it myself. It is so beneficial to my Cronic pain it goes beyond works I won’t lie I also like getting stoned feeling let’s face the good old US government is siding with the suits. Who sell us habit forming poison. Twist My Friends and be happy. I’m 62 and have been using over 40 yrs😘😘

  • Albert

    Makes you think if CBD is Schedule 1, then what the heck were/are all those people selling legally to all ages? I speculate it is one of the absolutley infinite number of synthethic indol based cannabinoids from India & China, along with the equally infinite series of JWH – Spice as it was known in the U.K. and Europe, as well as America.

    • jimbro44

      Also makes me seriously question HOW THE HELL cocaine and methamphetamines are Schedule 2… CBD is more addicting and has less medical use than Meth?

      And the more info that is obtained through research, the harder it will be to keep things the way they are. And the longer the Fed waits, the more foolish they will look, in my opinion.

      • Bill Shane

        Trump’s their President; how much more foolish can they look?


    The reason cannabis was made illegal is because it is the most versatile plant on the planet. Those wealthy elite; Rockefeller, Rothschild, and Hearst, to name a few, wanted to retain their monopolies in the food, iron, pharma, petroleum, paper and cotton industries and Cannabis (primarily Hemp) would infringe not only on their power over other people, but would allow the common man to be able to govern himself and be self sustaining, instead of controlled and enslaved (forced) into using “The Powers That Be” products. These people, in power, should be rounded up and charged with crimes against humanity and sentenced accordingly, on the level of the Nuremberg Trials.

  • 360dunk

    As pre-teen epilepsy patients shake like a quake, then come back to normalcy after dosing with CBD, you have to wonder what’s going on in the addled brains of our nation’s leaders. The plant has no medicinal value? Please. Only a nitwit with no common sense would actually believe this rubbish.

    Memo to Jeff Sessions and other stooges who avoid reality: Wake up, fools! Marijuana is an effective medicine so get it off Schedule I. It’s kinda better for you than heroin, geniuses, so why is it in the same category?

  • 360dunk

    To illustrate the complete stupidity of our marijuana laws, take note: I can have someone deliver to my house a gram of RSO oil to combat my ailments and then take a dose without looking over my shoulder. If I am caught with a tiny drop of the same exact product in Texas, I’m off to prison and facing a FELONY! C’mon America….we’re better than this.

  • amda zion

    funny how people’s med cabinets are filled with pills and they claim to not take drugs

  • cynthia bike

    “Sleeping great and having very few anxiety episodes. Muscle cramps are gone.”A coconut oil infused with Full Extract Cannabis Oil, high in THC, random strains of Cannabis flowers and various edibles.”got me back on my felt Thanks Dr Peter Hurt for the great work, he provided me with all these treatments ,contact number on profile pic..

  • Will Cunningham

    It’s the only thing that’s helped with my autism in decades. I don’t understand why my doctor is against it, I’m off all 5 of those old prescriptions that never worked well and doing better. Plus it’s $600 less a month I’m costing taxpayers through medicaid without those pills, for $50 a month with CBD oil.

  • Bill Shane

    What doesn’t make any sense is the definition of a Schedule 1 drug “has no medicinal value.” Well, that definition was blown up when the FDA, an arm of the Federal Government, accepted Epidiolex as a remedy to certain strains of Epilepsy. In essence, they have declared that CBD has medicinal value, which means either the government is wrong or the FDA is wrong, but they currently are in conflict and it should be a case to be quickly decided in court. Why hasn’t anyone done that? If I was rich, I’d do it, but no such luck. Hopefully someone will wake up to this issue and act on it.

  • Dr Kyle Nevius

    I believe ignorance and confusion plays a major role, education is the answer. When you hear the term cannabis what do you think of? Usually marijuana… hemp is in the cannabis family so many people paint with a broad brush thinking about the psychoactive component…. Unfortunately it is guilt by association, the sooner we educator physicians and law enforcement, the sooner we can provide this important product to so many people who have suffered needlessly, hemp extract has the ability to change the face of healthcare forever