This has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The us government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines may be prescribed by doctors, following high-profile cases including that of Billy Caldwell, the 13-year-old boy hospitalised by his epileptic seizures after he was denied legal access to the cannabis oil that can help control them. Meanwhile a new generation of cannabis medicines has demonstrated great promise (both anecdotally and in early clinical studies) in treating a range of ills from anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy to pain, inflammation and acne. And also you don’t have to get stoned to reap the health advantages.
Caldwell’s medicine was illegal because it contained THC, the psychoactive compound that smoking weed socks you with. However, the brand 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 research is in the first flush of hazy potential. As well as 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 really a proponent from the trend, and it has stated that taking CBD oil helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t make you stoned or anything, a bit relaxed,” she told one beauty website.
Meanwhile, so-called wellness drinks infused with CBD are gaining traction. The UK’s first continues to be launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage using a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are common considering launching their own versions, while UK craft breweries like 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 the menu, promising that “you experience the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects could be.
While THC can make you feel edgy, CBD does the exact opposite. In fact, when used together, CBD can temper the side effects of THC. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much CBD in recreational cannabis strains like purple haze or wild afghan; it is actually far richer in hemp plants.
Whether any one of these CBD products can do anyone any good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol will be the hottest new medicine in mental health because the proper clinical 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 considering. But although there’s a lot of stuff in news reports about this, there’s still not that much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are required; a 2017 review paper to the safety profile of CBD figured that “important toxicological parameters are yet to become studied; for instance, if CBD has an impact on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You need to differentiate, he says, between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants within the couple of successful studies received and the dietary supplements available over-the-counter or online. “These might have quite small quantities of CBD which may not have large enough concentrations to get any effects,” he says. “It’s the main difference from a nutraceutical as well as a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed phxbop make claims for any effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, it is possible to say whatever you like so long as you don’t say it will do such etc,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured throughout the uk, are licensed for prescription but 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 the united states to take care of rare childhood epilepsies, with a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and the UK.
Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that individuals try them and find, ‘Oh, it doesn’t manage to work.’ Or they get side-effects from a few other ingredient, because, if you purchase an oil or cannabis product, it’s going to contain all types of other things which can have different effects.”
You only have to look at the reviews within a CBD product on the Holland & Barrett web site to see the extent that anecdotal reports cannot be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with a few saying they always noticed should they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, although they failed to reveal whatever 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 along with a sleepless night. Each one of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to understand that anything may have a placebo effect.” While it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of such products will do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact that doses are really small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not planning to do anything whatsoever at all”.