It has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The us government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines could 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 can help control them. Meanwhile a whole new generation of cannabis medicines indicates great promise (both anecdotally and in early numerous studies) in treating 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 benefits.
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 known as CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal along with no major negative effects (up to now), CBD is actually a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health products are launching left, right and centre, cashing in whilst the scientific studies are in their first flush of hazy potential. Along with 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 really a proponent in 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 has been launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage using a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are all considering launching their particular versions, while UK craft breweries like Green Times Brewing (formerly Cloud 9 Brewing) and Stockton Brewing Company are offering 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 might be.
While THC could make you feel edgy, CBD does the exact opposite. Actually, 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 can do anyone anything good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is definitely 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 the No 1 new treatment we’re considering. 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 to the safety profile of CBD concluded that “important toxicological parameters are yet to become studied; for example, if CBD has an effect on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You should differentiate, he says, between the extremely high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants within the handful of successful studies were given as well as the health supplements available over the counter or online. “These could have quite small quantities of CBD that may not have access to big enough concentrations to possess any effects,” he says. “It’s the difference between a nutraceutical and a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed to make claims of any effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you can say what 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 but only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available throughout the uk since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to deal with spasticity in multiple sclerosis. Along with 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 individuals try them and locate, ‘Oh, it doesn’t manage to work.’ Or they get side-effects from some other ingredient, because, if you pick an oil or fmavoi product, it’s going to contain all types of other things which can have different effects.”
You only need to read the reviews under a CBD product on the Holland & Barrett site to see the extent to which anecdotal reports can not be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with a few saying they always noticed if they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, though they did not reveal the things 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 remember that anything could have a placebo effect.” While it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of those products can do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact that doses are extremely small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not likely to do just about anything at all”.