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Cannabidiol is all the “buzz” – But, how much of it is backed up by science?

Cannabidiol is all the “buzz” – But, how much of it is backed up by science? Today, cannabis is ubiquitous; with its recent legalization in Canada and most Western States, many individuals and enterprises have capitalized on the substance beyond its psychoactive properties. As a consequence, Cannabidiol (CBD), a main constituent of cannabis has emerged in almost every product – from skin care to shampoo to food. It has been lauded by some folks as a cure to serious diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Further, the cosmetic industry has touted CBD as a safe and effective agent for treating skin problems such as acne, blemishes, and dry skin.

Despite this widespread phenomenon, most of the claims about CBD are purely anecdotal. Therefore, this means that there is insufficient to no rigorous scientific research on these claims. In fact, even outside of cosmetic research, scientists understand little about cannabis. This is primarily due to its illegality over the past few decades preventing such research. Nevertheless, the few scientific endeavours that do look at a cannabis involved mostly animal studies, making it difficult to generalize findings to humans.

Cannabidiol is not psychoactive. Unlike, THC, another constituent of cannabis, it will not get you high. However, scientists are still unsure about the long-term consequences of CBD, if any. Dustin Lee, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural science at Johns Hopkins University has referred to CBD as “a kind of snake oil in the sense that there are a lot of claims and not so much evidence.” He, and a team of researchers will be conducting research with human subjects on the use of CBD for smoking cessation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one drug that contains CBD – Epidiolex. It is a pharmacological intervention that has been shown to reduce seizures in children with specific forms of severe epilepsy. As such, the FDA still considers CBD a drug so it cannot be sold in foods, drinks, or dietary supplements. Several companies have been warned by the FDA that they may face consequences from selling CBD in their products and making unsupported claims about the “effects” of CBD in treating diseases especially. An FDA spokesperson cautions, “this deceptive marketing of unproven treatments raises significant public health concerns, as it may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.”

The director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City, Dr. Yasmin Hurd, acknowledges that CBD may have some potential for the opioid crisis. Albeit not enough, the current evidence, which is preliminary, appears to suggest that CBD can help reduce heroin cravings in recovering addicts. However, like all good scientifically-minded people, she warns, “let’s do the research. It’s crazy that this substance is being consumed by everybody, yet we still don’t know the mechanism of action.” Dr. Hurd has been studying CBD for almost ten years and cautions that the expectations people make around CBD are unrealistic as one drug cannot cure everything.

There has been some research in recent years that suggests CBD may be an appropriate substance for individuals with schizophrenia. Patients were given 1,000 milligrams of CBD in conjunction with their regular antipsychotic medication and reported experiencing less hallucinations and racing thoughts compared to those individuals who did not receive CBD. It is important to note that other studies have not been able to replicate this or have not reported the same effects. Therefore, the applicability of CBD for patients with schizophrenia is still inconclusive – like most CBD research.

Researchers are currently investigating the effects of CBD in patients with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Once again, experts are warning the public about the lack of research in this constituent. According to Dr. Michael Van Ameringen, the director of an anxiety research centre in Hamilton, “there actually really is very, very little scientific evidence to support its use as a treatment for anxiety at this point.”

Cannabidiol may be a promising regimen for some folks under specific circumstances. However, until further evidence is available, individuals should be skeptical about CBD and not forego clinically-tested treatments for this alternative. Searidge Foundation believes in exploring all treatments for addiction, however, we strongly believe decisions should be rooted in evidence. As such, we condone further research of CBD, especially with regards to its potential for smoking cessation and treating those recovering from heroin addiction. It is part of our mission to inform both our clients and the public of the potential risks of using certain substances – like that of CBD – and how to think critically about these “promising” substances.

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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals