A great-grandmother was arrested outside Disney World who said her doctor recommended CBD oil for arthritis

By Jeff Truesdell
May 09, 2019 11:27 AM
Tinnakorn Jorruang/Getty

CBD oil was in the news again this week when a great-grandmother was arrested outside Disney World for allegedly having the cannabis-based compound with purported medicinal benefits in her purse.

The woman said her doctors recommended CBD for arthritis, and the charges were later dropped. But the arrest brought to light unanswered questions about the ingredient, which has been touted by celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Kristen Bell and has gained a reputation as an elixir for ailments ranging from anxiety to diabetes.

Specifically: Are the claims about CBD’s benefits true? And is it even legal?

The answers are complicated.

Does CBD Have Health Benefits?

Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist and Director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told PEOPLE in March, “It’s an extremely promising compound and there are a lot of studies that show its potential.”

But he added, “While pre-clinical or animal studies show CBD may have anti-anxiety properties and may be antipsychotic, for the majority of uses, there is not a lot of evidence.”

RELATED: Does CBD Oil Really Work? A Doctor Weighs In

Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-intoxicating chemical in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not make you high.

So far, though, the FDA has only approved a version of CBD for two pediatric epilepsy conditions, making the CBD market a “wild, wild west,” according to Hill. The lack of regulation means most of the CBD purchased online is not approved. “You’re not really sure what you’re getting,” he says, adding that a recent study showed only about 30 percent of commercial CBD products are accurately labeled.

Kim Kardashian
Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

The case of Hester Burkhalter, the 69-year-old woman arrested outside Disney World for allegedly having CBD oil, speaks to the problem of labeling: Burkhalter’s CBD oil tested positive for THC, despite the fact that the bottle reportedly claimed it contained zero milligrams of THC.

That can be problematic when so many people are taking it. “While the compound itself appears to be relatively safe, we need to know more,” he says. “It’s not a great scenario to have millions of people using cannabidiol when we don’t have the level of evidence that we need about its long-term effects or interaction with other medications.”

Is It Legal?

Short answer: It depends which state you’re in.

The federal 2018 Farm Bill lifted a nationwide ban on producing hemp, from which the oil is made, and which formerly was classified as a controlled substance. But the bill left states to follow their own laws, many of which still classify hemp as illegal, reports The New York Times.

RELATED: N.C. Woman, 69, Arrested Outside Disney World After Security Finds Her CBD Oil for Her Arthritis

That means farmers who legally produce hemp in Oregon and Kentucky — where hemp production is legal — may have their product seized and drivers arrested as it travels through Idaho and Oklahoma, where police still enforce the ban, according to the Times.

Kristen Bell
Michael Kovac/Getty

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Complicating matters further is that state regulation may allow CBD oil in food and alcohol (for example, in Colorado and Missouri), which federal policy forbids without a doctor’s prescription, as it is in California and Georgia.

RELATED: Kim Kardashian Is ‘Obsessed’ With CBD Beauty Products, Plus More Stars that Love the Ingredient

Federal law still says CBD oils are legal to possess if they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, a component in marijuana that, like hemp, also is derived from the cannabis plant. But authorities in Texas, Ohio and other states have arrested those who sell CBD products no matter the THC level, according to the Times.

A public hearing this month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hear testimony on the safety of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds such as CDB.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the Florida Department of Agriculture has ruled it’s illegal to sell hemp or CDB in the state, but the state’s agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried has advanced legislation to make state law consistent with federal law.

• With reporting by STEPHANIE PFEFFER and RACHEL DESANTIS

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