This 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 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 helps control them. Meanwhile a new generation of cannabis medicines has shown great promise (both anecdotally and in early clinical trials) 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 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 use a less mind-bending cannabinoid referred to as CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal 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 their 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 like CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is really a proponent of the trend, and has stated that taking CBD society helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t make you stoned or anything, a little bit 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 all considering launching their very own versions, while UK craft breweries including 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 its menu, promising that “you notice the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects may be.
While THC will make you feel edgy, CBD does the contrary. 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 is actually far richer in hemp plants.
Whether these CBD products can do anyone anything good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is the hottest new medicine in mental health as 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 definitely the No 1 new treatment we’re interested in. But although there’s plenty of stuff in news reports about this, there’s still not really that 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 get studied; as an example, if CBD has an impact on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You should differentiate, he says, between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants inside the couple of successful studies were given and the nutritional supplements available non-prescription or online. “These may contain quite small amounts of CBD which may not have large enough concentrations to have any effects,” he says. “It’s the main difference from a nutraceutical and a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t allowed phxbop make claims for 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 the like,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured throughout 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. And a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the united states 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 people try them and find, ‘Oh, it doesn’t appear to work.’ Or they get side-effects from various other ingredient, because, if you pick an oil or cannabis product, it’s likely to contain all sorts of other things which may have different effects.”
You simply have to read the reviews under a CBD product on the Holland & Barrett website to see the extent that 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, though they failed to 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 stated it gave them palpitations and a sleepless night. Each one of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to understand that anything may have a placebo effect.” While it looks unlikely that the recommended doses of such products can do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact that doses are so small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not planning to do just about anything at all”.