It has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The federal government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines can be prescribed by doctors, following high-profile cases including 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 brand new generation of cannabis medicines has shown 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 have to get stoned to reap the health benefits.
Caldwell’s medicine was illegal as it contained THC, the psychoactive compound that smoking weed socks you with. However, the newest treatments under development utilize a less mind-bending cannabinoid known as CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal along with no major unwanted effects (so far), CBD is actually a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health items are launching left, right and centre, cashing in whilst the research is in the 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 has stated 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 with 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 providing 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 experience the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects may be.
While THC can make you feel edgy, CBD does the contrary. Actually, 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 actually far richer in hemp plants.
Whether these CBD products can do anyone a bit of good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is definitely the hottest new medicine in mental health since the proper numerous 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 thinking about. But although there’s plenty of stuff in news reports regarding it, there’s still not really that much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are required; a 2017 review paper into the safety profile of CBD determined that “important toxicological parameters are yet to get studied; for example, if CBD has an effect on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You need to differentiate, he says, in between the extremely high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants inside the handful of successful studies were given as well as the health supplements available over-the-counter or online. “These might have quite small quantities of CBD that may not have large enough concentrations to possess any effects,” he says. “It’s the real difference between a nutraceutical and a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed to make claims of the effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you are able to say anything you like so long as 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 in the UK 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 the united states to deal with rare childhood epilepsies, using a similar decision expected imminently for Europe as well as 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 various other ingredient, because, if you purchase an oil or fmavoi product, it’s likely to contain all kinds of other stuff which can have different effects.”
You only need to browse the reviews within CBD product on the Holland & Barrett web site to begin to see the extent to which anecdotal reports cannot be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with a few saying they always noticed when they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, even though 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 along with a sleepless night. All of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to understand that anything can have a placebo effect.” Although it looks unlikely that the recommended doses of such products is going to do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact doses are so small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not likely to do anything at all”.