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CBD: What It Does, Who It's For And Where It's Headed

With Meghna Chakrabarti

CBD products are all the rage. What you need to know about the marijuana ingredient that’s being used for conditions including insomnia, anxiety and epilepsy.


Amanda Chicago Lewis, investigative reporter for Rolling Stone. She has reported extensively on the marijuana industry. ( @msamandalewis)

Julie Nardy, she’s a buyer and salesperson at Clovers Natural Market, which has been selling CBD products for a little over a year.

Dr. Kevin Hill, director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of psychiatry Harvard Medical School. Author of “ Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed.” ( @DrKevinHill)

Interview Highlights

On the state of CBD in the U.S.

Amanda Chicago Lewis: “CBD is for sure everywhere. It really started to hit the mainstream in 2013 when Sanjay Gupta talked about it in his famous documentary ‘Weed’ that aired on CNN, and the demand based on that documentary led to a spread in the seeds , and explosion in the growth, especially beginning in 2014 after it became a little bit easier to grow hemp in the United States. And so I think that after enough harvests passed and enough people became familiar with it and wanted to start their own CBD companies, now you see it everywhere.”

On understanding cannabis as “a drug development toolkit”

ACL: “One thing about the popularity of CBD that might be nice is that it’s waking people up to the fact that the word ‘cannabis’ is similar to the word ‘dog,’ in that it could have a pretty huge range of expressions, right? You could see a chihuahua and you could also see a husky, and both of those are dogs. So someone described cannabis recently to me as less of a drug and more of a drug development toolkit, and I liked that phrasing a lot, because it helps talk about the fact that what we think of as marijuana — one thing that gets you high, always the same plant — is in fact sort of a black box of compounds that you could breed in and out. THC and CBD are only two of many compounds.”

On the research surrounding CBD

Dr. Kevin Hill: “It is quite a compound. I mean, it’s an extremely promising compound but we really need to be clear about where the level of research is. So there is a difference between pre-clinical and animal research, and randomized clinical trials where thousands of patients have used a medicine so it can be studied properly. So with cannabidoil, CBD, we really only have very very strong evidence for a couple of conditions, whereas unfortunately we’ve got people using it for myriad conditions at this point.”

On the efficacy and safety of CBD

KH: “I think there may be some placebo effect involved here, but I also want to emphasize, I’m very, very excited about cannabadiol. There are many conditions for which there is strong pre-clinical evidence, and that leads the way to additional clinical trials. But, importantly, there are things that we don’t know about it. We don’t know the chronic effects of cannabidol used, we don’t know the interactions it may have with other drugs that people may be taking, and so there’s a dire need for research. I think it’s critical for people who are profiting from the cannabis industry to bear some of this responsibility for funding. It’s better to get the answer than to continue to have people take CBD for conditions that we really don’t know much about at this point.”

ACL: “Yeah, I just want to say that with all this cautionary science being thrown around that the World Health Organization has found that CBD is safe in any amount. So yes, we direly need more research, but it’s also a generally safe thing to be taking, and the biggest issue is probably the lack of regulation. So, like other supplements in the U.S., you don’t really know what you’re actually getting because it hasn’t been tested, so you might be buying something that says CBD and it actually doesn’t have CBD in it.”

KH: “And so just to clarify what the WHO said  — I was asked to be at that meeting, and I presented to the expert committee on drug dependence, and so they are all very, very optimistic about cannabidoil. And what they said was that it should not be scheduled, and therefore opening the door to that level of research that I was alluding to. They also pointed out that, again for epilepsy, evidence is very, very strong. For other conditions, it really isn’t as strong at this point. So there is a critical need for more work to be done in this area.”

On selling CBD

Julie Nardy: “We’re a locally owned health food store here in Columbia, [Missouri,] and our owner, she is on the cutting edge as far as what supplements are going on out there. And we decided to bring it in because we thought that it was a good product, we thought that it could help a lot of people, and we were right. We have a lot of people coming in for a myriad of issues, and I can’t tell you how many people come in that have a friend or a relative that has tried it. I’m totally in [agreement] with Amanda on this, it’s something that has so much anecdotal power, and I’ve never seen something explode like this where we have people every day that are new customers that come in that want to try it because they’ve heard about it.”

On where federal policy on CBD stands

ACL: “The truth is, doctors aren’t educated about cannabidoil, they aren’t really educated about the cannabis plant, this isn’t something that gets talked about in medical school. It’s a new frontier of research for sure. And, ultimately, should we pump the breaks on what’s happening with CBD? I’m not a doctor, I’m a realist. This isn’t going away, and the problem has really been the policy and not the research because the policy is holding up the research. The policy is the reason why we have creams that Dr. Hill’s patients are using that don’t seem to have actual CBD in them, right? The policy is causing this inconsistent law enforcement application which ultimately has a disproportionate effect on people of color and people in vulnerable populations. So, you know, we can talk about the science all day long, and what’s there and what’s not there, but the thing that’s really got to change is federal policy.”

From The Reading List

Rolling Stone: “ Mitch McConnell: Drug Warrior, CBD Champion?” — “Yesterday, the Senate passed a version of the 2018 Farm Bill that would legalize so-called ‘industrial hemp’ – legislation that has long been a pet project of one of the most powerful men in America, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). His office immediately issued a self-congratulatory press release about the sanctity of the American farmer and the enormous economic opportunity that will soon be available to former tobacco growers in his home state of Kentucky. These are the talking points McConnell has been pushing since the beginning of the year: that hemp is ‘a completely different plant than its illicit cousin,’ marijuana, and that Americans are clamoring for more hemp products, spending $820 million last year on ‘everything from clothing to auto parts,’ mostly made out of hemp grown overseas.

“But hemp and marijuana are not actually different plants, and some experts say that McConnell’s desire to legalize hemp is not really about hippie rope necklaces and home insulation. It’s about a drug – a compound with such immense medical potential that the FDA just approved a pharmaceutical-grade version for children suffering from intractable seizures. We are talking, of course, about cannabidiol, or CBD.

“Ever since Sanjay Gupta showcased the healing powers of CBD in his August 2013 CNN special Weed, America has been obsessed with the stuff. For the uninitiated, CBD is a cannabis compound that doesn’t really get you ‘high,’ as THC does. Instead, CBD has a calming, anti-inflammatory effect that advocates and salespeople claim can do everything from reduce anxiety to kill cancer cells. At health food stores and marijuana dispensaries across the country, you can now find CBD lotions and CBD capsules and CBD beard balms and, yes, even smokeable cannabis that is high in CBD.”

Chicago Sun-Times: “ Cannabis 101: A guide to CBD oil, what it is, how it works, who can use it” — “Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-intoxicationg chemical compound that comes from the cannabis sativa plant. CBD is one of over 100 such compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are found in the plant.

“Unlike THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol, another cannabinoid — CBD doesn’t get users stoned. In recent years, CBD has grown increasingly popular, with patients and experts reporting that it can be used to treat a range of health conditions, including epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and even anxiety in dogs.”

Discover: “ What Is CBD Oil and Why Do People Take It?” — “One of the most controversial drugs in America can’t even get you high. Derived from marijuana, CBD, or cannabidiol, could help treat a range of medical conditions, early research suggests — but its Schedule I status has made it hard to study, leaving researchers and patients in the dark.

“Although it’s usually found as an oil, CBD can be infused into snacks and drinks, or come in transdermal patches, vaporizers, suppositories, and concentrates or ‘dabs.’ It can be made synthetically, but it’s much easier to just harvest CBD from a plant like hemp or Cannabis sativa, using either ethanol or CO2 extraction.

“CBD has been suggested as a treatment for everything from anxiety to addiction to depression, but much of the research is still preliminary. Accordingly, global policy around the molecule is very much in flux.”

Business Insider: “ Video: What is CBD oil and how did it become a $1 billion industry?

Bloomberg: “ Coca-Cola Is Eyeing the Cannabis Market” — “Aurora Cannabis Inc. led pot stocks higher after Coca-Cola Co. said it’s eyeing the cannabis drinks market, becoming the latest beverage company to tap into surging demand for marijuana products as traditional sales slow.

“Coca-Cola says it’s monitoring the nascent industry and is interested in drinks infused with CBD — the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that treats pain but doesn’t get you high. The Atlanta-based soft drinks maker is in talks with Canadian marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis to develop the beverages, according to a report from BNN Bloomberg Television.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

FILE - In this April 29, 2014 file photo, an oral administration syringe loaded with high CBD hemp oil for treating a severely-ill child is shown at a private home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Colorado is poised to award more than $8 million for medical marijuana research, a step toward addressing complaints that little is known about pot's medical potential. Among the research projects poised for approval on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, are one for pediatric epilepsy patients, and another for children with brain tumors. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
FILE - In this April 29, 2014 file photo, an oral administration syringe loaded with high CBD hemp oil for treating a severely-ill child is shown at a private home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Colorado is poised to award more than $8 million for medical marijuana research, a step toward addressing complaints that little is known about pot's medical potential. Among the research projects poised for approval on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, are one for pediatric epilepsy patients, and another for children with brain tumors. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)