Cannabidiol (CBD) oil began gaining serious attention within the medical marijuana market in 2009, when a selection of CBD-rich cannabis strains was found in northern California.
Since then, it has been lauded as tetrahydocannabinol’s (THC) less appreciated, medicinal chemical compound sibling. While both cannabinoids—and the plethora of other compounds found in the plant—have been shown to have beneficial qualities for medical marijuana patients in legal states, CBD has been gaining attention and energizing the industry for the past few years.
Medical Benefits without the High
While THC elicits potent psychoactive effects—leading to psychologically uplifting experiences —CBD keeps users grounded in reality, but is still in high demand. It has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of several ailments, without the feeling of being “high.” According to several studies, CBD has anticonvulsive, antianxiety, antipsychotropic and antinausea properties, all which lend to its desirability as medicine. It has helped patients with the side-effects of chemotherapy, lessened the frequency of epileptic seizures and calmed anxiety.
CBD has also helped patients with pain, particularly neuropathic pain, which is caused by nerve damage. In an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, Dr. David Casarett commented on his own research and experience with the cannabinoid. Casarett is the author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana.
“An anesthesiologist and a pain researcher I spent some time with, researching this book, is very interested in the use of marijuana to treat neuropathic pain,” said Casarett in the interview. “And he’s becoming increasingly convinced that it might actually be CBD and not THC that’s responsible for some of the benefits for neuropathic pain.”
While he might have been previously skeptical of medical marijuana, Casarett now supports legalization.
“I’ve come to realize there really are medical benefits to medical marijuana,” says Casarett. “For many of the patients I spoke with, medical marijuana is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s a treatment that they’ve come to rely on.”
Children have also benefitted from CBD. The most well-known case is that of Charlotte Figi, an eight-year-old Colorado resident with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that is extremely hard to treat. In 2013, Charlotte and her family went public with the news that orally-administered hemp oil dramatically reduced the frequency of her seizures. Her name continues to live on: Charlotte’s Web, the popular CBD-tincture, was named for her and her positive experience with the medicine. Since then, CBD oil and tinctures have become a staple in holistic regimens across the country.
CBD may be ingested in a number of ways. Here is an introduction to a few of the most popular methods:
Like Charlotte Figi, there are many patients who have incorporated CBD oil into their medical routines. The oil is often extracted with naptha or isopropyl, which separates the CBD from other chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Then, the oil can be ingested directly, mixed with a beverage—such as a smoothie or tea—or swallowed in a CBD capsule.
High-CBD tinctures have gained attention for their discreetness and dosing ease. Of course, leading the market is the aforementioned Charlotte’s Web, which is sold with varying potencies measured in milligrams, so patients can choose how much medicine they would like to ingest based on the severity of their symptoms. These tinctures are often extracted with alcohol or vegetable glycerin. There are a number of other brands of CBD tincture are available at dispensaries across the country. Most are taken sublingually.
The most common ingestion method for any medical marijuana is through inhalation. This may be accomplished with a traditional, hand-held pipe or through a vaporizer. There are a number of high-CBD strains currently on the market, including the hybrid strain Cannatonic, testing in at around 6-17 percent CBD; Harlequin, a sativa-dominant strain sought for its CBD content; and ACDC, a hybrid that has tested in at an impressive 20 percent CBD, with a small percent of THC. These strains are consistently popular among medical patients seeking clear-headed effects. CBD has also been known to counteract the negative effects of THC, such as paranoia.
DEA Cracks Down
Like other aspects of the cannabis plant, CBD is considered federally illegal. While it was easily bought by non-medical patients online or through mail-order because of its existence in a legal gray-area, it was, as of December 2016, clarified by the DEA with, “Extracts of marihuana will continue to be treated as Schedule I controlled substances.” The announcement came as a subtle change to the Federal Register. The Administration’s reasoning is because a small amount of other cannabinoids could potentially be found in CBD extracts.
So what does this mean for patients who have been using CBD extracts to treat various ailments? What does it mean for people who have been purchasing CBD without a medical card?
There are some safeguards in place to protect medical patients. The most notable of these is the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was passed in 2014. This amendment prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. However, the law will need to be annually reauthorized. Its next reauthorization is set for April 2017.
Furthermore, there has been talk regarding the DEA’s ability to make a law — which technically, they can’t do, only Congress can. There is the possibility this change to CBD products’ status will be overturned by a federal judge.
Whether this is a step made by the DEA to usher in a new era of marijuana prohibition following a relatively progressive time, or another way to maintain control over the growing cannabis market, it should be noted that CBD has become an addition to many patient’s daily lives. It has changed the lives of people like Charlotte Figi. It is prescribed by physicians to treat difficult illnesses.
The outcome of the next four years is unpredictable; for now, many hope they will still have access to cannabis.