Despite the fact that they’re both cannabinoids found only in the cannabis plant, THC and CBD are polar opposites in many ways. THC is intoxicating and responsible for the “high” of cannabis, but CBD has no such effect. THC is addictive; CBD is not addictive and even appears to have some anti-addictive effects against compounds like opioids. While THC stimulates the human appetite, CBD does not. There are areas where they overlap — in preliminary animal studies, THC and CBD exhibit some similar effects, including pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties and anti-oxidant and neuroprotective effects. In some early research, they’ve even shown the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, but years of rigorous studies need to be conducted before we’ll know whether they have the same impact on humans.
Furthermore, in an effort to protect consumers, the FDA has announced that it will soon issue and enforce regulations on all CBD products. Buyers should beware because the products being sold today may contain contaminants or have inaccurately labelled CBD content — due to the deluge of CBD products on the market, government agencies haven’t been able to react quickly enough so there is currently no regulation in the US whatsoever on CBD products.
Is CBD a cure-all — or snake oil? Jeffrey Chen, executive director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, explains the science behind the cannabis product.
As Executive Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, I’m dedicated to unearthing the scientific truth — the good and the bad — behind cannabis and CBD. My interest was sparked in 2014 when I was a medical student at UCLA, and I discovered a parent successfully treating her child’s severe epilepsy with CBD. I was surprised and intrigued. Despite California legalizing medical cannabis in 1996, we weren’t taught anything about cannabis or CBD in med school. I did research and found other families and children like Charlotte Figi reporting success with CBD, and I knew it was something that needed to be investigated. I established Cannabis Research Initiative in the fall of 2017, and today we have more than 40 faculty members across 18 departments and 8 schools at UCLA working on cannabis research, education and patient-care projects.
80:1 as CBD content further plummeted.
But while there is a lack of concrete and conclusive evidence about CBD’s effects, there is considerable hope. Recent legislative changes around hemp and CBD in the US and across the world have enabled numerous human clinical trials to begin, investigating the use of CBD for conditions such as autism, chronic pain, mood disorders, alcohol use disorder, Crohn’s disease, graft-versus-host-disease, arthritis and cancer- and cancer-treatment-related side effects such as nausea, vomiting and pain. The results of these studies should become available over the next five years.
But experts say the evidence is scant for most of these touted benefits.
Lack of Regulation Also Concerning
CBD’s usefulness as an anti-inflammatory medication is the next most promising, but those results come mostly from animal studies, experts said.
Studies on CBD also have raised concerns about possible interactions with other drugs.
“There’s no control, so it’s basically how do you know if we’re dealing with the true effect of the drug or just simply a placebo effect because somebody thinks they’ve been given a drug that will be beneficial?” Welty said.
But as the days passed, I began to glimpse the other side of the conversation. In the end, I spent quality time with the supervisors of three CBD stores in my area, and each had inspiring stories to share of customers who alleviated their aches, overcame chronic pain, reduced stress, had a good night’s sleep or got a semblance of their lives back. They told me stories like that of Lorraine, who had been bucked off a horse, broke some vertebrae, was ridden with chronic pain, yet experienced such dramatic improvement with CBD that after a month, she rode her horse 400 miles through the south of Spain.
On the other hand, a review that included 83 studies (40 of them RCTs) involving over 3,000 people with various mental health conditions found that there was “scarce evidence” to show that cannabinoids improved depression or anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis.
I visited three stores in the San Diego area. At the Golden State Greens shop, the supervisor, Jake C. told me his customers use CBD primarily for stress, anxiety, insomnia and pain, including several cancer patients who found that the product helped them sleep and perhaps regain some weight they’d lost while undergoing treatments. Shawn McManigal, owner of the Injoi CBD store in La Jolla, said a 92-year-old customer of his stopped taking his constipating pain medications after realizing that CBD gummies relieved the pain and allowed him to rest. “I’m not saying this is a miracle cure,” McManigal told me, “but there is science behind it and it really proves what it does.”
The FDA is investigating reports of CBD containing such dangerous contaminants as unhealthy levels of heavy metals (including lead), pesticides, bacteria and fungi. Law enforcement agencies found that 128 samples out of more than 350 tested by government labs in nine states had synthetic marijuana in products being sold as CBD.
Jason White, who chairs the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, told me he believes CBD will prove efficacious for a broader range of seizure types, that it likely has some anti-psychotic efficacy, and that it may help improve the quality of life among those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. In studies, CBD has been found to treat certain types of seizures, has benefited schizophrenia patients with psychotic symptoms in two of three RCTS, and has improved activities of daily life and sleep in Parkinson’s patients in early trials.