Q:There’s so much confusion about CBD oil. Can you separate the fact from the fiction?
— S. James, Boise, Idaho
A: Few subjects in the health space these days generate as much controversy—and are the cause of as much confusion—as medical marijuana. But marijuana is having a moment. As more states legalize its use, it’s more important than ever to understand exactly what medical marijuana is, what it is not, and why it matters. (Hint: The answer to why it matters is simple: cannabinoids.)
Cannabis is a genus of plants that includes different species: cannabis sativa (also known as marijuana) is one of them; hemp is another. And this is where it sometimes gets confusing. Because while hemp and marijuana are indeed species of the same plant, chemically, they are entirely different.
All cannabis plants—including hemp and marijuana—contain an array of healthy plant compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are to the cannabis plant what flavonoids are to fruits and vegetables—powerful plant compounds with multiple healing properties. There are about 100 cannabinoids, all native to the various cannabis species. The two most famous are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the cannabinoid responsible for getting marijuana users stoned.
Did you know...
Evidence suggests that CBD oil has potential to treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain.
What is CBD oil?
CBD is found in both hemp and pot, but THC is found only in pot. Legally, THC can’t be found in anything labeled “hemp.” CBD doesn’t get you high at all, but has a number of other properties that we’ll discuss. (If you want to try CBD, hemp oil is the best way to go, and it’s legal everywhere. And CBD is CBD—it’s molecularly identical whether you get it from pot or hemp, and the body sees it exactly the same way regardless of origin.)
In U.S. law, the difference between marijuana and hemp is very clear and has everything to do with THC content. To be classified as hemp, there must be 0.3% or less of THC (that’s less than one-third of one percent.) Marijuana can have a THC content as high as 20%.
Cannabinoids don’t just come from the cannabis plant—we also make them in our own bodies. The ones we make are called endocannabinoids (endo meaning coming from within). The well-known “runner’s high” is actually an endocannabinoid, which increases in the blood during aerobic exercise and then crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
We have a network of cannabinoids and receptors in our bodies called the endocannabinoid system (ES). One of the primary jobs of the ES is to keep the body in balance, a state known as homeostasis. The ES has a profound effect on sleep, appetite, physical exercise, pain, inflammation, female reproduction, metabolism,
anxiety, and immune function.
CBD oil research
Scientists have known there was potential for medicine in the world of plant cannabinoids, but the demonization of pot prevented any real research from getting done in the U.S. But that’s changing. The one place in which it’s legal to grow pot for federally approved research (on the campus of the University of Mississippi) was barren when Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited it for “Weed Two”—his ongoing CNN series on marijuana. A year and a half later when he returned for “Weed Three,” the farm was full of blooming cannabis plants. And scientists are excited about the emerging research.
Researchers at the University of Southern Florida Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute believe that low-dose THC may “slow the buildup of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain.” (Beta-amyloid plaque is typical in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.) There is also preliminary research suggesting that cannabinoids, particularly CBD, may be neuroprotective.
Does CBD oil work?
CBD oil is a well-established anti-inflammatory. Anecdotal reports confirm its ability to moderate pain and inflammation. I have personal experience with this. At the 2018 Expo West (the largest annual Natural Products trade show in the country) there was enormous buzz about the new CBD oils. Barlean’s Organic Oils gave me a bottle to try. As a tennis player, I’ve had chronic shoulder pain for years, and I’m pretty skeptical about over-the-counter remedies. Yet adding the Barlean’s 25 mg dose CBD oil to my regimen made a noticeable difference, reducing pain by 25–50%, allowing me to continue with physical therapy.
There’s research showing that CBD makes a difference in inflammatory bowel disease, attenuates cardiac dysfunction and oxidative stress, and induces antidepressant-like effects. It has also been shown to have a promising role in the management of ALS symptoms.
Uma Dhanabalan, MD, MPH, was so impressed with medical marijuana that she became an outspoken advocate for cannabis as a first-order treatment for many conditions. Dr. Dhanabalan became interested in the healing powers of cannabinoids when her mother, who suffered with a chronic illness, urged her physician daughter to get some to help with the discomfort. Dr. Dhanabalan thought this was crazy—but looked into it anyway. What she found excited her. “Cannabis is not for everyone,” she said, “yet it should be a first-line option not the last resort.”
Should you try CBD oil?
People who have been curious about of CBD hemp oil may have been reluctant to try it—if they could even find it. One study, in 2015, found that nearly 50% of CBD products sold tested negative for CBD; another, more recent study, found that nearly 70% of online CBD products were mislabeled.
And that’s why the entrance of a company like Barlean’s into the CBD market is significant. Many people feel that if they’re going to try a new product like this, the safest thing to do is go with a company they trust. The new CBD oil products make it possible to do that.
I say there’s virtually no downside to trying CBD oil from a reputable source, if for no other reason than its proven ability to reduce pain and inflammation. Remember, virtually every degenerative disease we know has an inflammatory component, and CBD is a known and established anti-inflammatory.