Cannabidiol (CBD) has seen explosive growth in popularity over the past few years. Despite this, there is still a lot of confusion regarding the legal status of CBD, including CBD's class schedule and whether CBD or CBD oil is a Schedule I drug.
Two of the most abundant cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant are THC, which produces the plant's renowned intoxicating effects, and CBD, which is a non-intoxicating compound and appears to provide many therapeutic and medicinal qualities. This combination of cannabis compounds are also key in understanding how the Schedule I classification applies to CBD products.
To date, researchers have identified several health benefits and possible therapeutic uses of CBD, including anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and numerous neuroprotective qualities.
Overview of the Schedule I classification
In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies different controlled substances drugs by grouping them into five separate categories, or “schedules.” These five schedules were a result of the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which was signed into law by former President Richard Nixon.
The DEA and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are in charge of determining which substances should be added, removed, or re-classified. Schedule I substances are presumed to be the most dangerous with a high potential for abuse and no perceived health benefit and tend to be the most heavily criminalized, while Schedule V substances as defined as drugs with the lowest potential for abuse. Examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, methamphetamines, LSD, and cannabis.
According to the DEA, these categories are based upon the drug's abuse or dependency potential as well as its acceptable medical use. However, it's important to note that this classification system has frequently been called into question by people who are concerned that law enforcement uses the CSA to overly criminalize substances that may not actually be as dangerous as the DEA states.
Is CBD a Schedule 1 drug?
Federal classification of CBD is one of the biggest areas of confusion still surrounding CBD, CBD oil, and other CBD-infused products, leaving some to wonder: Is CBD or CBD oil a Schedule I drug?
The 2014 Hemp Farming Bill created a framework for the legal cultivation of industrial hemp without requiring a permit from the DEA. Four years later, the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in November 2018, introduced a new legal channel through which certain types of CBD can be considered legal. The measure removed industrial hemp plants from its earlier status as a controlled substance, shifting oversight from the DEA to the FDA.
This has put CBD into an interesting legal position, leading to confusion of whether CBD oil is a federally restricted Schedule I substance or is now federally legal. At the federal level, legality all depends on what type of plant the CBD comes from, as well as how much THC is present in both the original plant and the final product.
Under federal law, CBD that is derived from cannabis plants with more than .3% THC is considered illegal, as the intoxicating cannabinoid remains a Schedule I substance. If the cannabis plant has more than .3% THC, then all substances derived from it — including any CBD extracted from the plant — are considered by the DEA to be a federally restricted Schedule I substance.
According to the FDA, CBD derived from hemp plants is still not approved for use in medicinal products or in food and drink products. In September 2018, prior to the passage of the 2018 Hemp Farming Bill, the DEA released a statement announcing that CBD products that had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and contain less with THC levels below .1% would be classified as a Schedule V substance.
However, the list of FDA approved drugs that contain cannabis-derived compounds remains limited to a single CBD-based product: an epilepsy medicine called Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals. Any other medication is technically not approved under federal law and would, therefore, be considered illegal at the federal level, which is why CBD producers are not permitted to make health claims about their products.
After the 2018 Farm Bill was signed, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement confirming that the agency would oversee and regulate hemp-derived CBD products under the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and that only “cosmetic” CBD products would be allowed. According to the FDA, cosmetics are defined as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed” on the human body, a description that fits many hemp-derived CBD products.
State laws are the other consideration when it comes to the legal status of CBD. Currently, hemp-derived CBD is legal in most states. As a result, it is increasingly easy to find CBD products in many cities and states despite the technicalities of federal law. Additionally, in certain states with medical marijuana legalization, CBD products containing THC are also permitted for qualifying patients. CBD products with more than .3% THC are also legalized in states with adult-use programs in place.
With different forms of cannabis being legalized on both a state and federal level, CBD's class schedule continues to be complex and confusing for some. All the while,, the CBD market continues to skyrocket as more and more companies produce, distribute, and sell CBD products, and as consumers across the world buy CBD products in increasing numbers.
Is CBD considered a drug?
Whether CBD is considered a drug ultimately depends on your definition of the word “drug.” On the one hand, if you're referring to a substance that can be used for medicinal applications, then yes, many people would consider CBD to be a drug that generally promotes health and wellness. This position is backed up by the rapidly growing body of research pointing to CBD's far-reaching wellness, therapeutic, and medicinal qualities.
On the other hand, if your definition of the word “drug” refers to an intoxicating substance that alters your central nervous system, perception, mood, consciousness, or generates mind-altering effects, then most experts would say that no, CBD is not a drug.
Interestingly, recent research seems to back up the position that CBD is not a drug in this sense that it isn't normally detected during a drug screening. Most U.S. employers, for instance, abide by the guidelines set forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which includes detection for THC but not for CBD. Most employment drug tests specifically look for the presence of THC or THC metabolites, but it's highly unlikely that CBD oil will show up on a drug test.
That being said, it's important to note that CBD products that contain THC could potentially cause someone to fail a screening, but CBD isolate compounds are available to avoid that concern.