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 such as 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 can help control them. Meanwhile a new generation of cannabis medicines has shown 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 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 new treatments under development utilize a less mind-bending cannabinoid called CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal and with no major side effects (up to now), CBD is a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health items are launching left, right and centre, cashing in as the scientific studies are in the first flush of hazy potential. In addition to ingestible CBD (also sold as hemp or cannabis oils or capsules) the compound has become a buzzword among upmarket skincare brands including CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is a proponent from the trend, and it has claimed that taking CBD oil benefits helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t make you stoned or anything, just a little 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 having a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are common considering launching their particular versions, while UK craft breweries like 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 experience the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects might be.
While THC could make you feel edgy, CBD does the contrary. 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 far richer in hemp plants.
Whether these CBD products is going to do anyone a bit of good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is the hottest new medicine in mental health since the proper clinical trials do suggest it provides clinical effects,” says Philip McGuire, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London. “It is the No 1 new treatment we’re thinking about. But although there’s plenty of stuff in the news about it, there’s still not really that much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are needed; a 2017 review paper into the safety profile of CBD determined that “important toxicological parameters are yet to get studied; as an example, if CBD has an effect on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You have to differentiate, he says, in between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants inside the couple of successful studies received as well as the health supplements available over-the-counter or online. “These might have quite small quantities of CBD that may not have access to large enough concentrations to get any effects,” he says. “It’s the main difference from a nutraceutical along with a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed phxbop make claims of the effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you can say what you like providing you don’t say it will do such etc,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the UK, are licensed for prescription only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available in the united kingdom since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis. As well as a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the US to take care of rare childhood epilepsies, having a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and the UK.
Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that folks try them and find, ‘Oh, it doesn’t manage to work.’ Or they get side-effects from some other ingredient, because, if you buy an oil or cannabis product, it’s going to contain all kinds 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 which anecdotal reports cannot be trusted. 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, even 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 stated it gave them palpitations along with a sleepless night. All of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to remember that anything can have a placebo effect.” Even though it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of such products is going to 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”.