Evidence of CBD's healing benefits is growing, but due to federal classification as a Schedule I drug, cannabis research in the United States lags.
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Cannabidiol has risen to instant stardom in Colorado’s legal marijuana industry thanks to relief users experience from pain, inflammation, nausea and even seizures.
Cannabidiol, more commonly referred to as CBD, is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, meaning that unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, using CBD alone does not cause one to feel high or stoned.
CBD first came to widespread fame in 2013, when CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, filmed a special with a Colorado family whose daughter had Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that isn’t controlled by medication. The family found relief for their 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, in a strain of cannabis high in CBD that is now called Charlotte’s Web. The frequency of the girl’s seizures went from about 300 a week to just two or three per month.
It was enough to convince many medical professionals, including Gupta, to rethink their positions on the validity of medical marijuana.
“I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana,” Gupta opined in 2013. “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
Because of this evidence and shift in thinking about CBD, more and more research is being sought on the substance as it gains mainstream traction as a legitimate medicine.
In 2015 Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control about the therapeutic potential of CBD, citing anti-seizure, antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-tumor, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety properties.
Locally, CBD users in Summit County report benefits and healing effects for pain, inflammation, psychosis and other symptoms, said Ridge Currington, director of operations at Tumbleweed Dispensary, with seven locations from Frisco to De Beque. He said anyone looking to explore new types of natural medicine would be a good candidate for CBD.
“Marijuana and CBD work differently for every individual. There are no promises or guarantees when it comes to marijuana, just testimonies from folks who it has helped or not helped,” Currington said. “People should try the different marijuana compounds for themselves and keep a journal of the effects for future reference.”
CBD is generally regarded as safe, and research currently shows little to no known side effects from its use. Currington said many users in Colorado do enjoy combining CBD use with a small amount of THC when searching for a specific desired effect. He said combining the two has been known to provide excellent anti-inflammatory and pain relief.
Volkow testified that while current research was “insufficient to draw firm conclusions,” CBD has already been shown to have neuroprotective properties for several neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration caused by alcohol abuse.
“There is significant preliminary research supporting the potential therapeutic value of CBD, and while it is not yet sufficient to support drug approval, it highlights the need for rigorous clinical research in this area,” Volkow said.
Research and laws
Clinical research, which means it’s conducted on human subjects, is increasing, but because marijuana is a Schedule I drug and illegal at the federal level, conducting and funding legal scientific research is difficult.
Marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug — the same classification as heroin — in 1970, and the lack of sound science surrounding its effects was noted at the time. Schedule 1 drugs are considered the most addictive and have “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, which has stated that CBD on its own is also classified as a Schedule I drug.
So despite support for medical marijuana, including both THC and CBD components, in the medical community and increasing research that supports the validity of marijuana’s healing properties, the federal government has not altered its position.
Last November, the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded that CBD does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm. CBD alone is not currently a scheduled substance by international standards — it’s only considered a scheduled drug as a component of cannabis — and the WHO stated there was no desire to change its classification.
“A fuller review of extracts or preparations containing almost exclusively CBD will take place in June 2018, when the WHO expert committee will undertake a comprehensive review of cannabis and cannabis related substances,” according to the WHO.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. (The psychoactive component is THC.)
CBD is found throughout the seeds, stalk and flowers of cannabis plants and is easily extracted from the plant in the form of cannabis oil.
CBD prevents the breakdown of a chemical in the brain that affects pain, mood and mental function. People take cannabidiol by mouth for anxiety, bipolar disorder, a muscle disorder called dystonia, seizures, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.
Source: MedlinePlus from the National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine.