As a new-product junkie, it was foregone that I’d swap a C-note for something called CBD, a cannabis extract promising relief from pain and anxiety, the twin banes of baby boomers recently awakened to the realization that, though their spirits be forever young, their joints definitively are not.
Lately limping, thanks to an old injury, and a few days shy of my next cortisone injection, I nearly leapt (or would have if I could have) toward the small spa table featuring CBD roll-ons and other attractively packaged potions. Call me a sucker, but I immediately embraced the sales pitch that this relatively new and wildly popular product could ease not only the ache in my ankle but make me feel a little breezier about life among headlines and deadlines.
Perhaps you’ve fallen under the CBD spell as well.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating derivative of both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana has a much higher level of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana that gets you high. Hemp has much greater levels of CBD, which doesn’t have the mind-altering effects of pot.
In the past couple of years, CBD has become all the rage for non-stoners who want to feel better, too, sprouting a sudden industry of faddish-sounding supplements and CBD-infused products. Although CBD is technically a federally “scheduled” substance, several states allow access to CBD oil and/or high-CBD strains of marijuana. To date, marijuana is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia for recreational use; CBD is legal with varying restrictions in 46 states.
In other words, CBD may be the new gold rush. Stock forecasters such as the Motley Fool suggest that there could be a $75 billion U.S. hemp market by 2030. Canada is already well on its way.
Meanwhile, a goldmine of CBD products is available online, in grocery stores, and even perhaps from your local latte vendor. In a market where you can buy vodka-infused ice cream, why not a cuppa java to warm your bones and chill your mind? Other products include CBD-infused gummies, mints, mascara, vape pens, bath bombs and even a tincture for pets.
But CBD isn’t just a fad. It’s also medicine with the potential for multiple therapeutic uses.
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD-derived pharmaceutical drug — Epidiolex — to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 2 and older.
This could be a breakthrough not only for patients suffering such conditions but also for CBD generally. The arrival of additional pharmaceuticals is challenged, however, by obstacles to large-scale hemp production needed for clinical trials.
Also standing in the way is the federal government’s classification of hemp as a controlled substance.
This could soon change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, inserted a provision in the farm bill to declassify hemp so that farmers can start growing it for CBD production.
In the meantime, everything else on the CBD market is pretty much a pricey game of roulette. There’s no way of knowing what you’re getting — in what quantities or with what additives. A 2017 University of Pennsylvania study found “a lack of regulation and oversight” on CBD extracts and reported that 70 percent of CBD products sold online were mislabeled.
Step right up!
For now, CBD is treated the same way dietary supplements are. Whereas drugs have to be proved “safe and effective” before they can be marketed, dietary supplements can go to market without any such evidence. The burden of proof falls on the FDA to prove that something is not safe and effective.
CBD has been gladly received despite its having avoided serious scientific scrutiny. Most will tell you that “it’s fine,” and I hope it is. But the truth is, we don’t know what quantities are appropriate or what other effects CBD might produce. The Army recently banned all CBD oils.
In essence, the public is serving as the guinea pig for a substance that hasn’t been comprehensively tested, while enriching not a few entrepreneurs who saw consumers like me coming. Skeptics, meanwhile, wonder whether it makes sense to make public health policy through an agriculture bill.
I can’t report yet whether my investment has paid off in pain relief. Before my CBD had a chance to act, I headed to the orthopedist’s office for a drug that is both safe and effective. Cortisone may be a serious pain — ouch! — but it seriously works.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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