CBD has been sought for its healing properties. Illustration: George Wylesol
In late June, the US Food and Drug Administration could approve the Epidiolex, a pharmaceuticalized form of CBD for several severe pediatric seizure disorders. According to data recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the drug can reduce seizures by more than 40%. If Epidiolex wins approval it would be the first time the agency approves a drug derived from the marijuana plant. (The FDA has approved synthetic THC to treat chemotherapy-related nausea.)
In early May, a federal court declined to protect cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical produced by the cannabis plant, from federal law enforcement, despite widespread belief in its medical value.
The ruling was contrary to existing evidence, which suggests the chemical is safe and could have multiple important uses as medicine. Many cannabis advocates consider it a miracle medicine, capable of relieving conditions as disparate as depression, arthritis and diabetes.
CBD first came to public attention in a 2013 CNN documentary called Weed. The piece, reported by Dr Sanjay Gupta, featured a little girl in Colorado named Charlotte, who had a rare life-threatening form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.
The perception of its widespread medical benefits have made the chemical a rallying cry for legalization advocates.
Epidiolex was developed by the London-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows cannabis on tightly controlled farms in the UK. It embarked on the Epidiolex project in 2013, as anecdotes of CBD’s value as an epilepsy drug began emerging from the US.
Working along the same lines as chocolate, CBD is thought to influence serotonin receptors and help in the regulation of tension, uneasiness and low mood. Obviously, with any mechanism involving sophisticated neurochemicals, there are a lot of variables to explore. Researchers are keen to understand the full scope of the interaction between CBD and 5-HT receptors, with studies underway.
Psychotropic substances affect our mental state, our sense of reality, and our perception of the world. Although it’s a term that can refer to prescription drugs, it’s most commonly used to describe recreational drugs.
It may be hard to believe, but something we all eat and enjoy regularly contains psychoactive compounds. We are, of course, talking about chocolate! Specifically dark chocolate, but chocolate nonetheless.
How does CBD affect the mind?
With an understanding of how CBD might influence the mind, we now come back to the original question: Is CBD psychoactive?
The example of chocolate as a psychoactive substance was provided on purpose. Both the sweet treat and CBD share a common trait—their activation of serotonin receptors (5-HT).
Like chocolate, CBD can positively affect our mind, just as a psychoactive substance should. However, we haven’t based CBD’s comparison to chocolate purely on the interaction with serotonin receptors. Both compounds are likely to have adverse effects when taken in excess. Even substances that are good for our health need a balanced approach, especially as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not. We need more research but CBD may be prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting. If you decide to try CBD, talk with your doctor — if for no other reason than to make sure it won’t affect other medications you are taking.
CBD has been touted for a wide variety of health issues, but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications. In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and, in some cases, it was able to stop them altogether. Videos of the effects of CBD on these children and their seizures are readily available on the Internet for viewing, and they are quite striking. Recently the FDA approved the first ever cannabis-derived medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD.
CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.
The bottom line on cannabidiol
Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability. CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does. A significant safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So, you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label. In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements. We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.
CBD may offer an option for treating different types of chronic pain. A study from the European Journal of Pain showed, using an animal model, CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat. More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims of CBD proponents about pain control.
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Cannabidiol (CBD) has been recently covered in the media, and you may have even seen it as an add-in booster to your post-workout smoothie or morning coffee. What exactly is CBD? Why is it suddenly so popular?