CBD: What Can’t It Cure?
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With a growing market behind it, more verifiable research and long-term studies on the efficacy of CBD will be able to tell us if it really is worth the hype.
Gummies, pain relieving lotion, sleeping masks, beer, hamburgers, coffee, tea, essential oils, mascara, bath bombs, chocolate, pet treats, face serums, and water—what do all these have in common? They’ve been infused with CBD (cannabidiol). CBD is taking over, no matter the product, no matter the industry.
CBD is a derivative of marijuana and hemp. It does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, but is promoted as a way to produce the relaxation and soothing feelings found in cannabis consumption. Relatively new to the market, and still involved in legal murkiness, the uses and benefits can get confusing and hard to prove.
It seems as though pharmacy companies and venture capitalists with deep pockets haven’t decided if CBD is worth their interests, and by doing so, may have stifled studies on the effectiveness. As a faculty member of Saybrook University’s Integrative and Functional Nutrition (IFN) program and nutrition specialist, Lori Taylor expresses concern with a new product that doesn’t have the research backing for implementation.
It’s really hard to assess something’s effectiveness when you don’t know how much of it to take, and there simply haven’t been enough studies.
“I’m really happy to see these medicines coming up, I just wish we had a little bit more of an idea on how to start using it,” she says. “We don’t know enough about dosing—for instance what’s the milligrams-per-thousand that provides the most effective pain control? It’s really hard to assess something’s effectiveness when you don’t know how much of it to take, and there simply haven’t been enough studies.”
While research is lacking, anecdotal evidence has shown that CBD can help with everything from PTSD, to anxiety, pain, Multiple Sclerosis, and even epilepsy. A recent Gallup poll found that four in 10 Americans think that CBD should be legally available for adults over-the-counter, and nearly two in three indicated that they have some familiarity with CBD. It is a quickly growing business, and if predictions are right, the industry is on the verge of a major boom.
According to a study by investment research firm Cowen & Co., the CBD market generates $2 billion in annual sales currently. By 2025, the study projects the number of Americans using CBD will grow to 10 percent and generate $16 billion in sales. Will the promise of more sales be what it takes to conduct more studies?
“The medicines really do have a whole lot of promise. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get it into more people’s hands, get more studies done, and have more medical practitioners take it seriously,” Taylor says. “I do have my worries. It’s going to be a big moneymaker; I don’t want it to get so expensive that it’s beyond the range for most people. That’s a real plus with CBD right now, it’s not that expensive.”
CBD, in most of its varied forms, is reasonably priced and available at the local drug store or gas station, making accessibility another benefit for the large swath of the population that doesn’t have access to insurance and, in effect, a doctor or prescription.
A much needed alternative
Americans are looking for more alternative treatments for holistic healing, ways to treat the body without the harsh effects of some medicines, or the addictive qualities of opiates. In pain management, for instance, there is usually a short ladder of products that can quickly lead to opiates. For Taylor, she witnessed this firsthand, which is another reason she believes in the promise of CBD to treat pain management.
“I went through a period last year where I had some really bad back pain and I was first offered over-the-counter stuff,” she says. “From there, it went to muscle relaxers, then steroids, and finally opiates—and personally I cannot tolerate opiates, but also, we know opiates are super problematic. With these medications coming forward, we may have another option that can help slow the path to opioids. We’ve got to find better things and I think CBD and cannabis medicines may help.”
CBD may also go beyond just simply slowing the path to opioids: a recent study suggests that CBD can also help reduce stress and cravings among those currently addicted to opioids. And while Taylor is quick to mention that if a medicine is strong enough to have an effect then it’s strong enough to have a side-effect, it doesn’t appear that CBD has the same addictive tendencies as other drugs. The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that they found no negative public health effects or public abuse potential.
Yet the stigma surrounding cannabis-related medicines reaches deep into the medical field.
As an oncology nutritionist, Taylor has seen this before with medical marijuana. She found doctors and pharmacists alike unwilling to learn about the treatment options and veracity of benefits of medical marijuana that their patients were experiencing, and believes this is the case with CBD, as well. “I think it's really underutilized by medical professionals and perhaps over utilized by the public. All cannabis medicines are underutilized by medical professionals, in my opinion,” says Taylor.
Taylor adds that in the field of integrative and functional medicine, there is a tool called “Evidence Risk Grading.” The tool precludes that sometimes there may not be a lot of evidence or research about something, but if the risk is really low, it’s worth a try. In the case of CBD, this may be the guiding principle. Specifically in the case of anxiety, Taylor believes it has a lot of promise for adolescents and adults alike with much lower side effects than treatments that are currently available.
While CBD may be oversaturating the market with uses that may not be practical, the way to fight stigma is by making it everyday, nominal, or something that everyone uses in one way or another. Moving the perception of CBD into a true, respected alternative treatment for chronic illnesses like pain and anxiety may be a long way away, but perhaps one way to continue the conversion is through the bustling business that all these products are creating.
The market that these products are creating will hopefully fight the stigma and encourage more verifiable research and long-term studies on CBDs efficacy. These studies will be able to tell us if it really is worth the hype. For now, we will have to eat our own gummies, rub some pain lotion on what aches us, enjoy a beer, and take our own word for if it works or not.
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