It 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 given by doctors, following high-profile cases like 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 helps control them. Meanwhile a new generation of cannabis medicines has shown great promise (both anecdotally and in early numerous studies) for treating a variety of ills from anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy to pain, inflammation and acne. And 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 make use of a less mind-bending cannabinoid known as CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal with no major unwanted effects (up to now), CBD is really a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health items are launching left, right and centre, cashing in whilst the scientific studies are in the first flush of hazy potential. Along with ingestible CBD (also sold as hemp or cannabis oils or capsules) the compound has developed into a buzzword among upmarket skincare brands like CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is actually a proponent in the trend, and has claimed that taking CBD oil helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t allow you to 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 has been launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage with a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are considering launching their own versions, while UK craft breweries such as 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 the menu, promising that “you notice the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects might be.
While THC can make you feel edgy, CBD does the exact opposite. In reality, 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 really is far richer in hemp plants.
Whether these CBD products can do anyone any good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is the hottest new medicine in mental health because the proper numerous studies do suggest it offers 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 regarding it, there’s still not too much evidence.” Large, long term studies are essential; a 2017 review paper to the safety profile of CBD determined that “important toxicological parameters are yet to become studied; for example, if CBD has an impact on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You have to differentiate, he says, between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants within the number of successful studies received and the nutritional supplements available non-prescription or online. “These may contain quite small amounts of CBD which may not have access to large enough concentrations to possess 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, it is possible 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 UK, are licensed for prescription only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available throughout the uk since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to take care of spasticity in multiple sclerosis. As well as a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the US 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 various other ingredient, because, if you purchase an oil or fmavoi product, it’s going to contain all sorts of other things which can have different effects.”
You simply have to browse the reviews within CBD product on the Holland & Barrett site to view the extent which anecdotal reports cannot be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with just a few saying they always noticed should they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, even though they did not 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 stated 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 can have a placebo effect.” Even though it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of such products can do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact doses are extremely small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not likely to do anything at all”.