Hemp seems to have so many uses that you almost feel like you are lying or talking about a fantasy land when discussing it. The stalks provide fiber for textiles and nutritious livestock feed. Health food experts praise the seeds for their Omega 3 content and complete protein. Most importantly, the essential oils of the flowers are rich in a therapeutic family of compounds known as cannabinoids, one of which, CBD, has taken the country by storm.
CBD is garnering more than a billion consumer dollars of attention across a spectrum of categories as we speak, and Forbes says the market will reach $16 billion by 2025. CBD-infused beers, candies, foods, lotions, oils, and even prescription medications are available nationwide. Professional athletes endorse CBD oil for enhanced recovery. Dog owners swear it helps their aging pups and grandparents are ditching arthritis medications in favor of CBD supplements, unlike any over-the-counter remedy before it.
The DEA changed stances last year, reclassifying cannabidiol as a medicinal substance with low potential for abuse, and the FDA is currently determining what manufacturers can claim products treat. Results of studies suggest it may speed healing, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep--not to mention the miraculous effects on certain types of seizures. With all this attention, is the buzz around CBD real or is it just the next over-hyped snake oil?
Cannabis Works Perfectly With Human Chemistry
In the 80s, Allyn Howlett, a scientist at St. Louis University Medical School, used a radioactive equivalent to trace where cannabinoids ended up when ingested. He found endocannabinoid receptors lining the entire body, which meant humans must be making their own cannabinoids. In 1992, scientists identified anandamide, the first of five endocannabinoids discovered in humans.
Today the endocannabinoid system is better understood. It's vital to homeostasis, playing an essential role in immunity, appetite, memory, and many other functions. Most cannabinoids (180 have been discovered in hemp) bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors, but CBD does not. Instead, it increases the number of endocannabinoids in the human body and connects to neurotransmitter receptors, including serotonin and GABA, which are responsible for calming the nervous system and the same chemicals many antidepressants act on.
According to neuroscientist Yasmin Hurd, the director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai, in New York, modern medicine often tries to target one system at a time. That approach is easier to study scientifically but may not address the roots of diseases. She thinks CBD could be bringing "the entire symphony into harmony."* Dr. Hurd discovered that CBD reduces drug-seeking behavior in her patients without the risks of pharmaceutical anxiolytics. Her findings were published in the October 2015 issue of journal Neurotherapeutics.
CBD Shows Huge Promise as a Medicine
In the 1970s, Antonio Zuardi, a neuroscientist at the University of São Paulo, began looking into how cannabinoids affected mental states. Measured by increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductivity, his experiments found a dose of 600mg of CBD given to volunteers who feared public speaking diminished their nervousness and fight-or-flight response.
A 1980 double-blind study in Brazil treated eight epileptic patients with CBD and eight patients with sugar pills as a placebo. The seizures almost disappeared entirely in four of the CBD subjects, and three experienced a reduction in the intensity of theirs. In the placebo group, only one person improved.
Communities in California and Colorado have been using CBD-oil for nearly a decade to combat 3 types of seizures frequent in children. Among them, Sam Vogelstein, who was the catalyst for the invention of the prescription drug Epidiolex, and Charlotte Figi who miraculously recovered from 350 seizures a week by taking CBD in 2013.
In 2017, Diana Martinez, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, found out she had breast cancer and started chemotherapy with taxane, a drug known to cause nerve damage. 80 percent of women who use taxane experience ringing in their ears, pins-and-needles in their hands, and numbness in their lower limbs. Dr. Martinez was no different. Her symptoms progressed to the point where she could barely walk or swallow when a colleague reminded her about a study in which CBD helped nerve pain. Taking the same extract as Charlotte Figi, Diana’s symptoms faded within six weeks, and Martinez completed the chemo.
A Federal Court Wants the DEA To Tell The Truth About CBD
In June 2018, the FDA approved GW Pharmaceutical's CBD extract Epidiolex as a treatment for two forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome. The Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation last fall and the USDA ruled in May that the shipment of CBD products was legal nationwide. The FDA is currently reviewing how to regulate CBD sales of food products and claims made by CBD supplements. They will likely recommend a course of research and review that has been sorely needed for decades.
As hemp regulation advances, a federal court ruled last week that the DEA must expedite their oft-delayed research on marijuana and provide proof as to their rationale for labeling it a Schedule I controlled substance. The court reasons that the DEA itself may be a danger to public safety if it is preventing Americans from receiving essential medication. There is no magical cure-all pill, but it is modern medicine that has extended and improved our quality of life through the last century. It appears CBD might genuinely be the next breakthrough.
Abel, Ernest L. Marihuana, the First Twelve Thousand Years. Plenum Press, 1980.
Booth, Martin. Cannabis: A History. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2003.
"How Did Marijuana Become Illegal in the First Place?" Drug Policy Alliance. http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/how-did-marijuana-become-illegal-first-place.
Jaeger, Kyle. "Federal Court Orders DEA To 'Promptly' Consider Marijuana Rescheduling...Or Else." Marijuana Moment. May 30, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/federal-court-orders-dea-to-promptly-consider-marijuana-rescheduling-or-else/.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Opioid Overdose Crisis." NIDA. January 22, 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis.
*Velasquez-manoff, Moises. "Can CBD Really Do All That?" The New York Times. May 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/14/magazine/cbd-cannabis-cure.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=C49BF7A6D0BD6CB9AD7A546FE4BE17E1&gwt=pay.