Snake Oil or Truly Miraculous?
By Kay Turnbaugh
What is this magical nutritional supplement cannabidiol (CBD)? Is it as miraculous as people claim?
A cannabinoid, CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant. It’s a proven antioxidant and antiflammatory, and it’s also been cited as an antidepressant, antioxidant and anti-tumor agent. It’s being used to help smokers quit their nasty habit. People claim it helps suppress muscle spasms and migraines, and is a sleep aid. Its neuroprotectant properties are being studied. In fact, the U.S. government holds a patent on CBD as a neuroprotectant and antiflammatory.
According to the California-based nonprofit Project CBD, scientific and clinical research—much of it sponsored by the U.S. government—underscores CBD’s potential as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, antibiotic-resistant infections, epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Project CBD says that CBD has demonstrable neuroprotective effects, and its anti-cancer properties are currently being investigated at several academic research centers in the United States and elsewhere.
What Is CBD?
Chemical components of cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system. CBD is one of more than 100 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Among the several hundred compounds in cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the one that gets you high. Both CBD and THC have healing attributes, and researchers say that the therapeutic impact of the whole marijuana plant is greater than its single-molecule parts. In other words, CBD works better when combined with even a tiny amount of THC.
Most of this research is promising, but doctors are reluctant to discuss the use of CBD. That’s because marijuana is still classified by the federal government as a drug that has no medical benefit, like heroin—and also because there is a lack of research into proper dosages and possible side effects. Even though many veterans reported relief from PTSD symptoms from marijuana, Veterans Administration doctors wouldn’t discuss it as a treatment option. In response, the American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime-veterans’ service organization with 2.3 million members, has launched a campaign to reduce marijuana restrictions and reclassify it in the same category as legal prescription painkillers. A reclassification would ease constraints on research.
The NFL, CNN and CBD
In the meantime, anecdotal evidence is strong that CBD helps with a variety of medical issues.
Five years after NFL and Bronco quarterback Jake Plummer retired in 2007, he had microfracture surgery on both hip joints and had both labrums (part of the shoulder socket) reattached. “While on my back for weeks in recovery and rehab, I asked myself for the first time, ‘What the hell did I play football for? This sucks.’” He told readers of his guest column in Monday Morning Quarterback that he became depressed.
Between surgeries, he moved to Colorado, got a medical-marijuana license and started using THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, for pain. A few years later he was introduced to CBD, and that changed his life. He is now a spokesperson for CW (Charlotte’s Web) Botanicals in Colorado Springs, one of the leading producers of CBD. Plummer, a Boulder resident, is leading the campaign for research into cannabis and CBD as an alternative to the harmful narcotics used today by NFL teams.
Plummer joins fellow NFL legend Leonard Marshall, who has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Marshall formed Brain Trust Unity, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other head-trauma victims. Marshall had been prescribed some “seriously intense” medications, and he didn’t like their side effects. After using CBD for less than a year, he was able to stop taking all those medications and says he felt like himself again. Marshall is now a brand ambassador for Elixinol, a global CBD company with U.S.-based operations in Colorado.
Col. Phillip Blair, a retired physician based in Florida, is an advisor for Elixinol. He says the fact that CBD could be a neuroprotective for CTE-prone athletes is “something everyone in sports and medicine should embrace.”
After the airing of a CNN documentary with Dr. Sanjay Gupta about Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose constant seizures subsided with CBD treatments, hundreds of families have migrated to Colorado in the hope that CBD will help children who suffer from epilepsy and also cancer, autism and Crohn’s disease.
Not to be left out of the list of recipients of the beneficial effects of CBD, our pets also seem to be finding relief from arthritis and other kinds of pain. Pet Releaf in Englewood was created to provide healthy CBD products for pets. Alina and Steve Smith cofounded Pet Releaf when their dog Mattie was suffering from increasingly worse arthritic pain. Their veterinarian prescribed an opioid, which worked, but “our loyal friend of 14 years was absent.” Using CBD gave their dog a new lease on life.
Too Good to Be True?
Without more research, we don’t know if any or all of these claims have merit, but so far CBD has no clinical indication of negative side effects, including addiction, although WebMD reports possible side effects of dry mouth, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, drowsiness, mild digestive upset, and a possible increase in tremors in Parkinson’s patients.
Is CBD the magic potion we’ve all been waiting for? The evidence is strong for the possible benefits of its use, and it’s causing quite a buzz among scientists, health professionals and patients. But for now, that question can only be answered by you.
For more information, visit www.projectcbd.org.
What to consider when shopping for CBD
Oil strength. The percent volume of CBD in the product should be listed on the label and expressed as the percentage of the total volume. It usually ranges from 0.1 to 0.26. It’s up to you to find the concentration that works for you.
Purity. Look for what else the oil contains, such as preservatives, additives and solvents. Since CBD is derived from hemp stalks, leaves and flowers, and because farming methods are diverse, CBD products can contain pesticides, chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
Lab analysis. A certified lab analysis will tell you how pure the CBD oil is and prove that the product is free from harmful chemicals.
Source of hemp. Pet Releaf uses organic hemp and CBD grown in the European Union. The company says other products use Chinese (and sometimes Russian) hemp because it is cheaper, but it’s not organic and is often grown in toxic soil.
Method of extraction. Toxic solvents, including butane and heavy alcohols, are often used to extract the CBD oils from the plant. Look for an oil that has been extracted using the supercritical (or subcritical) CO2 method. Olive oil can also be used, but it is perishable and should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Whole hemp plant or hemp seeds only. Hemp seeds are cheaper and are a source of Omega 3, 6 and 9, but they don’t contain any CBD.
Oil from hemp vs. oil from marijuana
CBD oil from hemp is not the same as the oil that is extracted from medical marijuana. CBD oil from medical marijuana can contain varying amounts of THC. As a result, this type of CBD oil is considered a Schedule I drug and is not legal in many states in the U.S. and countries worldwide. Because industrial hemp is naturally high in CBD and contains only traces of THC, the hemp oil produced from it is safe and nonpsychotropic. So, according to Project CBD, if you are looking for a safe and legal CBD oil product, CBD oil produced from industrial hemp is a sound choice, because it’s naturally rich in CBD and has almost no THC.
Which form is best?
- Tinctures are the most accurate for dosage—you can increase and decrease your dosage by the drop. Tinctures are also available as a spray.
- Therapeutic blends combine CBD oil with natural ingredients meant to boost the healing powers of CBD oil.
- Balms are absorbable through the skin, which makes them a good choice for reducing aches and pains quickly.
- Vape oil. The CBD oil is heated to where it turns into a vapor that can be inhaled using a vaporizer.
Kay Turnbaugh is the author of several books, including The Last of the Wild West Cowgirls and Around Nederland. She is coauthor of the hiking guide Afoot & Afield: Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Rocky Mountain National Park.