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 given 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 whole new generation of cannabis medicines indicates great promise (both anecdotally and in early clinical trials) for treating a variety of ills from anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy to pain, inflammation and acne. And you don’t need to get stoned to reap the health advantages.
Caldwell’s medicine was illegal since 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 with no major negative effects (to date), CBD is really a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health items are launching left, right and centre, cashing in as the scientific studies are in its first flush of hazy potential. In addition to ingestible CBD (also sold as hemp or cannabis oils or capsules) the compound has turned into a buzzword among upmarket skincare brands such as CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is actually a proponent from the trend, and it has claimed that taking CBD oil helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t allow you to 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 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 particular versions, while UK craft breweries such as Green Times Brewing (formerly Cloud 9 Brewing) and Stockton Brewing Company are selling 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 notice the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects may be.
While THC could make you feel edgy, CBD does the opposite. Actually, when used together, CBD can temper the side effects of THC. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much CBD in recreational cannabis strains such as purple haze or wild afghan; it really is far richer in hemp plants.
Whether any of these CBD products is going to do anyone anything good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol will be the hottest new medicine in mental health because the proper numerous studies do suggest it provides clinical effects,” says Philip McGuire, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London. “It will be the No 1 new treatment we’re interested in. But although there’s tons of stuff in news reports about this, there’s still not too much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are essential; a 2017 review paper into the safety profile of CBD determined that “important toxicological parameters are yet to be 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 extremely high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants inside the number of successful studies received and the dietary supplements available non-prescription or online. “These may contain quite small quantities of CBD which may not have large enough concentrations to get any effects,” he says. “It’s the difference between a nutraceutical along with a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed to make claims of any effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you are able to say what you like providing you don’t say it will do such and the like,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the united kingdom, are licensed for prescription but only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available in the united kingdom since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to take care of spasticity in multiple sclerosis. Along with a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in america to treat rare childhood epilepsies, having a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and also the UK.
Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that folks try them and discover, ‘Oh, it doesn’t manage to work.’ Or they get side-effects from some other ingredient, because, if you buy an oil or fmavoi product, it’s planning to contain all sorts of other things which may have different effects.”
You only have to browse the reviews under a CBD product on the Holland & Barrett website to view the extent that anecdotal reports should not be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with some saying they always noticed if 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 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 may have a placebo effect.” While it looks unlikely the recommended doses of these products will do any harm, McGuire’s guess is that doses are really small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not planning to do anything at all”.