It has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines can be given 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 assists control them. Meanwhile a whole new generation of cannabis medicines has shown great promise (both anecdotally and in early clinical studies) in treating an array 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 as it contained THC, the psychoactive compound that smoking weed socks you with. However, the new treatments under development utilize a less mind-bending cannabinoid known as CBD (or cannabidiol).
Natural, legal with no major negative effects (up to now), CBD is actually a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health goods are launching left, right and centre, cashing in while the research is in its 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 really a proponent of 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 become 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 such as Green Times Brewing (formerly Cloud 9 Brewing) and Stockton Brewing Company are selling 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 can 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 such as purple haze or wild afghan; it is far richer in hemp plants.
Whether any one of 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 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 interested in. But although there’s plenty of stuff in news reports about this, there’s still not that much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are required; a 2017 review paper in to the safety profile of CBD concluded that “important toxicological parameters are yet to become studied; as an example, if CBD has an impact on hormones”.
McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You should differentiate, he says, involving the extremely high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants within the couple of successful studies were given as well as the dietary supplements available non-prescription or online. “These could have quite small amounts of CBD that might not have large enough concentrations to get 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 whatever you like as long as you don’t say it can do such etc,” he says.
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured throughout the uk, are licensed for prescription but only for very specific uses. Sativex has become available in 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 deal with rare childhood epilepsies, using a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and also the UK.
Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that people try them and locate, ‘Oh, it doesn’t seem to work.’ Or they get side-effects from various other ingredient, because, if you pick an oil or fmavoi product, it’s planning to contain all types of other things which can have different effects.”
You simply have to browse the reviews within a CBD product on the Holland & Barrett website to begin to see the extent that anecdotal reports can not be trusted. More than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with a few saying they always noticed should 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 as well as a sleepless night. All of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to understand that anything may have a placebo effect.” Even though it looks unlikely that the recommended doses of those 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”.