Depending on what publications you read, CBD is being heralded as the new coconut oil; healing crystals; JUUL or Bitcoin. In other words – the latest life-changing must-have thing. But it requires a few Google searches to understand what it actually does. And even then, you might still be left wondering.
“Right now, CBD is the chemical equivalent to Bitcoin in 2016. It’s hot, everywhere and yet almost nobody understands it.” Jason DeLand, a New York advertising executive and a board member of Dosist, a cannabis vape pen producer.
To be clear, CBD does not get you high. It’s derived from hemp, which is marijuana’s sensible, non-intoxicating cousin.
It’s not like it’s a new discovery. Apparently, Queen Victoria was using it to soothe her period pain during her reign, which ended in 1901, and its use can be traced back way further to ancient Egypt.
So why the sudden interest in CBD now?
One of the most significant stories that shifted US public opinion in favour of medical marijuana was that of Charlotte Figi, a little girl suffering from Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy. Her parents had exhausted all other options and decided to turn to CBD after watching a Youtube video about its alleged health benefits. Charlotte began taking oil from a strain of cannabis low in THC but high in CBD, and her condition dramatically improved. The strain was named ‘Charlotte’s Web’ in her honour.
Here in the UK, a number of high profile cases of children being denied access to CBD treatments thrust the debate into the limelight, and on November 1, 2018, medical cannabis became available on NHS prescription.
A 21st Century Panacea
So it’s accepted that it has legitimate medicinal benefits, at least in treating epilepsy, and we know that it won’t get you high.
But what about its other claims? Advocates (and perhaps more notably, producers and marketers) of CBD claim that it can boost your mood, decrease anxiety, reduce inflammation and pain, make you sleep better, even enhance your orgasms. In other words – a marketer’s dream.
But is it legit?
Esther Blessing, a researcher and professor at NYU who performs and reviews clinical trials on CBD’s effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress, anxiety, substance addiction, and other conditions, says:
“CBD is the most promising drug that has come out for neuropsychiatric diseases in the last 50 years. The reason it’s so promising is that it has a unique combination of safety and effectiveness across a very broad range of conditions.”
One such condition affecting vast swathes of the population is anxiety.
Google searches for “anxiety” have increased by 150% since 2004.
Many first-person accounts of CBD oil usage tout its calming and pain-relieving benefits as ‘life-changing’ or ‘miraculous’.
Studies have found that CBD oil is a natural anxiolytic (anxiety calmer) and is effective in treating social anxiety, appearing to calm anxiety naturally without the potential side effects of pharmaceutical medicines.
But – and it’s a big but – the quantities of CBD that have been proven to be effective in clinical studies can be much greater than the quantities you get in certain products you can buy like marshmallows, tinctures, gummies or creams.
“There’s no evidence that doses below 300 mg of CBD have any effect in any psychiatric measure. And in fact, dose-finding studies show that the lowest clinically effective dose of CBD for reducing anxiety is 300mg.”
A few of the first-person accounts of ingesting CBD we read while researching this topic can be summed up thus:
“OK. I think I feel quite relaxed. But am I more relaxed than I would be normally? It’s hard to tell. Let’s have a bit more of this delicious CBD cookie. Now, am I more relaxed? I think I might be?”
In other words, the placebo effect.
This tells us that some of the CBD oil products out there are riding high on the associations with the product without really delivering the goods. Many of the products you can buy are not concentrated enough to meet the dosage requirements that would give a tangible effect.
(An interesting question for another day, then – if it still delivers the effects, does it even matter if it’s a placebo?)
As for the legitimate CBD oil producers: how can they convince sceptical consumers of the benefits in such an unregulated market?
The thing is, at the moment, producers can sort of just say what they want – providing they don’t “state or imply that it prevents, treats or cures human disease.” This is the difference between a ‘nutraceurical’ and a pharmaceutical.
The Marshmallowist’s CBD-infused marshmallows (which are sold out, by the way), state that “you feel the effects immediately upon eating.” Exactly what those effects are, is left to the imagination.
The Stoner Effect
Previously, you could argue that anything related to cannabis carried quite masculine, unsophisticated associations, which is probably why we’re seeing quite a luxe, glossy look appearing in a lot of CBD product branding, to differentiate it entirely from a Bill & Ted vibe.
It’s even been given the Gwyneth Paltrow seal of approval, appearing on Goop as part of the wellness supplement section.
“When you reposition CBD to women as part of self-care, and something that would help with anxiety, sleep and PMS as opposed to something that is just for recreational use, you can garner a whole bunch of different consumers,” – Ashley Lewis, ex-Goop staff and co-founder of CBD store Fleur Marche
That is not to say it’s only women who are parting with their cash. There are plenty of grooming products, supplements and foods geared towards a male consumer as well, and they are more likely to use CBD on a regular basis (10%) than women (4%).
The beauty industry promises with each new serum, oil, moisturiser or tonic, that our skin troubles (and years) will melt away, leaving us younger, more attractive, and therefore, happier. Does it deliver? That remains to be seen.
As for CBD oil, it seems to be tapping into something a little deeper. Instead of addressing the surface issues, this plant-based compound allows us to heal a variety of mental and physical issues from the inside out – anxiety, depression, exhaustion, pain – and surely that can only be a good thing, placebo or not.
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