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By Marcella McClure
It’s time to explore the hype behind CBD, but before I do that I’d like to update you on the status of the U.S. hemp industry.
Since the legalization of hemp for industrial purposes in 2018, the growing of hemp has become a booming agricultural industry. Legal hemp is now defined as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent THC. Hemp farmers, however, are encountering several problems.
First, they discovered that there are few processing companies capable of turning millions of industrial hemp plants into fiber or biofuel. Second, industrial hemp farmers grow both male and female plants, causing pollination of neighboring female-only cannabis crops. This is causing problems between neighbors who grow hemp and those who grow cannabis.
And lastly, many of the hemp plants — both industrial or medicinal — contained far more than the 0.3 percent THC that defines legal hemp. So local authorities are destroying those plants.
The U.S. hemp industry has a lot to learn before it is firmly established and productive.
As to CBD, what can I say? There is so much hype that I think science is a great place to start. The hype may actually be contributing to a placebo effect that makes research difficult.
CBD does not interact in the endocannabinoid system like THC does. If you remember my previous columns, I described the chemicals contained in cannabis as “dancers” in our endocannabinoid system. But CBD is not a dancer — it is more of a choreographer that changes the dance steps. It changes the binding ability of receptors in the endocannabinoid system, thereby altering the effects of THC. CBD decreases some of the aspects of THC high, like paranoia.
CBD also works outside the endocannabinoid system. If we imagine the endocannabinoid system as a dance hall, CBD works in other types of halls. THC only has an effect in the endocannabinoid dance hall. This means that CBD has a wider range of effects in the human body than THC does. It alters the normal binding of many natural chemicals the body makes.
Because of this, I think CBD has the potential to have more negative outcomes than THC in the human body. THC is an analog to chemicals our bodies already make, while CBD has the potential to change the effects our natural chemicals have on us. These are two different types of mechanisms with the potential to have very different outcomes.
It is claimed that CBD can stop or lessen seizures, control pain, eliminate anxiety and cure insomnia, to list just a few. If you listen to the media, CBD is a cure for all ailments. Such claims are driven by profit, not by concerns for our health and well-being. Are there scientific data to support these claims? What about self-reporting studies?
A 2018 Harris poll revealed that 55 percent of respondents claimed CBD has a relaxing effect on them. Fifty percent reported relief from anxiety and 40 percent had improved sleep. Relief from muscle, chronic and joint pain was experienced by about 40 percent of the patients. It does appear that CBD does have positive outcomes for some people. Further research is needed to determine who can benefit from CBD.
There are few double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments with sufficient sample sizes to shed light on CBD’s effects. There are plenty of mouse/rat studies that show that CBD has effects in these animals, but few on humans.
It has been demonstrated that pure CBD oil can control or eliminate seizures in patients suffering from two rare forms of epilepsy — Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. But CBD can make more common types of epilepsy worse. Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed 5”documentary shows the startling recovery for one child with rare seizures and the heartbreaking failure for another child when CBD is administered.
What about CBD controlling pain?
It is indeed unfortunate that the human studies cited for CBD have only been done with various combinations of THC and CBD. Salves containing CBD with little THC seem an effective way to control local pain. Ingesting CBD products that contain small amounts of THC work a bit, but a THC:CBD ratio of 1:1 appears most effective for pain.
When I broke my clavicle, I initially used 50-100mg of CBD with little THC several times a day. There was not enough THC to make me high but for me this dosage of CBD made me dizzy, disoriented and sedated. I found that ratios of THC:CBD of 1:1 were better and while I got high, I did not feel the same effects of the high CBD dosage.
What about controlling anxiety and insomnia?
A few studies show that CBD reduces anxiety in specific situations like public speaking. Dosage is important. Too low a dose (100 mg) has no effect and too high (900 mg) makes anxiety worse. Apparently, 300 mg is just the right dose to lessen anxiety for a specific purpose for a few hours and it does work better than some anti-anxiety medications.
The Permanente Journal published in 2019 the first controlled study of the effects of CBD on anxiety and insomnia, although the sample sizes were small. The results showed significant reductions in anxiety and insomnia over the first few weeks of treatment with 25-175 mg of CBD.
But the effects on anxiety decreased over the three months of using CBD, while the effects on insomnia remained. Lower doses for anxiety were used because effective doses from older studies (300-600 mg) are prohibitively expensive. These lower doses may explain the failure of reduction of anxiety over time.
I have friends who have different responses to CBD. One finds it relaxing and sleep-producing, another can only sleep with a THC:CBD ratio of 1:1, while a third cannot use pure CBD at all as it makes her terribly anxious,
The use of CBD has far outstripped the science of CBD. This makes the need for authentic research a priority. While we have thousands of years of history on cannabis use for aliments we have no such information on the high CBD concentrations for anything.
Medical science has a responsibility to lead the way on the use of THC, CBD and terpenes for the benefit of us all. There are many federally funded studies under way the results of which should help guide us in the use of cannabis now that its medicinal properties cannot be denied.
Signing off: Save the holy weed from the damn greed.
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