This has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The us government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines can be prescribed by doctors, following high-profile cases like those of Billy Caldwell, the 13-year-old boy hospitalised by his epileptic seizures after he was denied legal access to the cannabis oil that helps control them. Meanwhile a new generation of cannabis medicines has demonstrated great promise (both anecdotally and in early clinical trials) for a range of ills from anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy to pain, inflammation and acne. And you don’t need to get stoned to reap the health benefits.
Caldwell’s medicine was illegal as it contained THC, the psychoactive compound that smoking weed socks you with. However, the new treatments under development utilize a less mind-bending cannabinoid called CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal along with no major negative effects (to date), CBD is really a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health products are launching left, right and centre, cashing in whilst the scientific studies are in the first flush of hazy potential. Along with ingestible CBD (also sold as hemp or cannabis oils or capsules) the compound has turned into a buzzword among upmarket skincare brands like CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is a proponent in the trend, and has said that taking CBD oil benefits helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t allow you to stoned or anything, a little bit relaxed,” she told one beauty website.
Meanwhile, so-called wellness drinks infused with CBD are gaining traction. The UK’s first has been launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage having a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are considering launching their very own versions, while UK craft breweries such as Green Times Brewing (formerly Cloud 9 Brewing) and Stockton Brewing Company are providing cannabis-oil laced beers, and mixologists are spiking their cocktails with CBD mellowness. The fancy marshmallow maker, The Marshmallowist, has added CBD-oil flavour to its menu, promising that “you feel the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects might be.
While THC can make you feel edgy, CBD does the opposite. In fact, when used together, CBD can temper the side effects of THC. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much CBD in recreational cannabis strains including purple haze or wild afghan; it is actually far richer in hemp plants.
Whether any one of these CBD products is going to do anyone a bit of good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is definitely the hottest new medicine in mental health since the proper numerous studies do suggest it has clinical effects,” says Philip McGuire, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London. “It is definitely the No 1 new treatment we’re thinking about. But although there’s plenty of stuff in news reports about it, there’s still not too much evidence.” Large, long term studies are needed; a 2017 review paper into the safety profile of CBD concluded that “important toxicological parameters are yet to become studied; as an example, if CBD has an effect on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You have to differentiate, he says, between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants within the number of successful studies received as well as the health supplements available non-prescription or online. “These may contain quite small quantities of CBD that may not have large enough concentrations to have any effects,” he says. “It’s the main difference from a nutraceutical and a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed phxbop make claims of any effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you are able to say whatever you like so long as you don’t say it can do such and such,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the UK, are licensed for prescription only for very specific uses. Sativex continues to be available in the united kingdom since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to take care of spasticity in multiple sclerosis. And a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in america to deal with rare childhood epilepsies, having a similar decision expected imminently for Europe as well as the UK.
Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that folks try them and locate, ‘Oh, it doesn’t appear to work.’ Or they get side-effects from some other ingredient, because, if you purchase an oil or cannabis product, it’s going to contain all sorts of other things which can have different effects.”
You simply have to read the reviews within CBD product on the Holland & Barrett web site to see the extent which anecdotal reports should not be trusted. A lot more than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with some saying they always noticed should they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, though they did not reveal what they were taking it for), while 93 people gave it one star, saying it did nothing, or was too weak. One couple even said it gave them palpitations as well as a sleepless night. Each one of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to remember that anything can have a placebo effect.” Although it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of those products will do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact that doses are so small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not likely to do just about anything at all”.