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OPINION: DOES CBD REALLY WORK?
There’s a popular new movement in the health supplement market that’s causing a heated debate: CBD. Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is one of many compounds found in the Cannabis plant that is reported to have medicinal benefits. Unlike medical marijuana CBD doesn’t produce an intoxicant effect (or “high”)—giving it a much wider appeal. Sales have soared in recent years, with users of CBD making some wild claims about its efficacy.
Similar to medical marijuana, people using CBD report some truly unbelievable health benefits. It is said to treat a laundry list of problems—some of which have frustrated modern medicine for decades. Anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders, schizophrenia... the list goes on. In fact, the only CBD drug that’s been approved by the FDA is used to treat childhood epilepsy, which otherwise is notoriously difficult to treat. But many medical experts doubt that CBD is as effective as proponents claim.
Speaking of the FDA, what role do they play in this whole thing exactly? The FDA, or Food and Drug Administration, is (among other things) the federal agency responsible for the research and approval of new medicines. If a new drug hits the market and then turns out to be extremely harmful, it’s the FDA who ends up being responsible-in-part for that. And there are many examples over the years of that very thing happening. So it’s understandable that they would want to make every effort to assure that new medicine is safe for the public.
The problem is that testing a new drug takes anywhere from years to decades. Oftentimes the negative effects of a chemical don’t become apparent until years later (see: DDT, fen-phen). But in today’s world of digital revolution, cultural movements happen faster than they used to. And in CBD we have a perfect example. The medical testing of CBD was not approved until 2015, due to the legal restriction against studying scheduled drugs. Marijuana is still a Schedule-1 substance and until very recently so were all its constituent compounds. Therefore, almost no official research exists on the benefits of CBD. And yet it is widely available across the country.
It’s true that studies have been done. But as I mentioned earlier the FDA’s standards for new drugs are very high—and justifiably so. If it’s expected to be approved for mass marketing, a new drug typically needs years of peer-reviewed studies behind it. Until that condition is met the medical experts are simply not able to make a concrete statement in favor of CBD. Even if an individual doctor can see miraculous positive change in their patient as a response to taking CBD, the medical community is not allowed to endorse it until it’s proven to be safe.
Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Let’s say that penicillin (or some other powerful antibiotic) were discovered today. Let’s also say it was derived from an already-legal and naturally-occurring plant. Early research would discover that this drug has amazing healing powers. Word would begin spreading pretty fast, and before long the first products containing it would show up on the market as health supplements. People would start taking it and be blown away by the range of conditions it cures. They would potentially tell thousands of people about it via social media, and soon it would be selling in the hundreds of millions.
But because it’s a new and un-tested drug, the FDA would not have approved it as a real medicine. Doctors would be unable to prescribe it because it might turn out to be poisonous years later. And so (with the best of intentions) the medical community would widely reject the claims of this drug’s medical value. They would call it snake oil, or cite the placebo effect (which is itself a medical mystery) and never acknowledge the testimony of individuals—even hundreds of thousands of them.
This is the position that I personally believe CBD is in. People who use CBD almost universally say that it improves their lives. All you have to do is look through the testimonies online to see that it’s true. And while you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, there are just so many positive reports that it’s hard to believe the whole thing is a hoax. And besides, western medicine has categorically failed in treating some of these problems; things like epilepsy and chronic pain are essentially incurable. So if you have one of these serious medical conditions CBD may be the only game in town.
I think that’s why the proponents of CBD are so vocal, and why it’s become so popular. Modern medicine has failed many of these people. The frustration of spending your life trying to find relief and being told there is none must be immense. And now all of the sudden an over-the-counter dietary supplement is alleviating your symptoms better than prescription medication. If you found yourself in that position, you would want to tell everybody about it.
To summarize, “we” as a society don’t fully understand the medical benefits of CBD. There is still a very legitimate danger in so widely distributing an un-tested chemical to the American public. But the main reason that there isn’t more research on the topic comes down to bad political decisions of the past. CBD was discovered in 1940, but it couldn’t legally be researched until only just recently. Perhaps if things had gone differently CBD would be a household product like ibuprofen. Maybe it should be. But if you are one of the many individuals who lives with a difficult medical problem, CBD may prove to be a life-changing product. No one can say for sure, but hundreds of thousands of Americans would tell you to give it a try. Maybe that’s enough for now.
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