As a resident of weed-legal Colorado, it’s been a bit amusing to watch CBD-mania catch fire in less tolerant jurisdictions. Fellow Coloradan Adam Bornstein gave the low-down on CBD in his Born Fitness newsletter last week, so I figured it was time to talk about it in Further.
“CBD” stands for cannabidiol, which is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. THC, on the other hand, is the psychoactive part of the plant. Translation: THC gets you high, CBD doesn’t.
So what exactly is everyone excited about? The promised benefits of CBD are many, but let’s see what we know about it for sure.
When you separate out CBD from the rest of the plant, you’re left with a medicinal substance that may help with a variety of ailments. One of the most accepted is for the treatment of epileptic seizures:
The research is so compelling that the FDA recently approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex, which will be available by prescription for those with rare forms of epilepsy.
Then there’s a whole host of other claimed benefits that are less established: CBD will help your chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, glaucoma, insomnia … even cancer. These are the areas that have most people excited, and yet there’s no definitive research that says CBD helps with these afflictions.
Why? It’s the crazy classification of cannabis under United States federal law:
It’s part of a Schedule 1 narcotic, which means that studying it can be enormously complicated. That uncertainty hasn’t stopped a legion of new CBD oils from coming to market, however.
At this point, CBD is worthy of a little skepticism. And as Bornstein points out, you should also be skeptical of the unregulated sources that you’re buying the stuff from, especially in areas where cannabis is illegal.
A joint effort
Medical marijuana has led the way to broader legalization in the U.S., and many people anecdotally attest to the pain-relieving aspects of THC (probably because it is psychoactive). CBD, on the other hand, interferes with the binding of THC to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and dampens the psychoactive effects.
Put another way, CBD balances the THC out. Your pain is alleviated without getting you stoned to the bejesus belt. The current craze, however, says CBD alone does the trick, but I’m not sure the sufferers of chronic pain who use the full chronic are convinced.
It may be possible that CBD users are experiencing a placebo effect based on the belief that it will work. For example, fake medication is just as good at relieving migraine headaches as rizatriptan, a widely used migraine drug — as long as patients believe they’re actually getting rizatriptan.
Or it could be possible that CBD really is a miracle remedy, and worthy of all the hype. If so, that will make the many decades of cannabis prohibition seem even sillier.