Beyond the Buzz: Balancing promise of CBD with need for scientific research
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Those who have long supported legalizing cannabis often promote the plant’s medical benefits, and now, after nine states have passed laws legalizing it, science is starting to look into proving that claim.
“The difficulty with traditional and Western medicine is that there is a lot of promising preliminary data, but there have not been controlled studies to any great extent. So the scientific literature is sort of currently insufficient to either prove of disprove the safety or the efficacy,” Dr. David Wilkinson said. “But in the same sentence there is all kinds of preclinical research … that shows that CBD has a really broad range of therapeutic effects. The implication being that if there is evidence in the pre-clinical studies it’s likely that there will be evidence in human studies.”
Wilkinson, who is an emergency medicine specialist for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, said the hospital’s emergency room does not prescribe cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD. But he said he does include those therapies in the conversations with patients.
“With all the conversation we are having about reducing opioid use or creating alternatives to opioid use, including the program that we did in the emergency department, one of the things I think we have a responsibility to do is help educate patients about what those alternative are,” Wilkinson said. “CBD is going to play a growing role in the conversation.”
It’s a dialogue that’s just starting to reach into the medical community.
“This is my view and not really the view of the medical community as a whole, or UCHealth,” Wilkinson said. “It’s really kind of where I’ve arrived after looking into this. Most of what we talk about reflects the opinion papers that both the National Institute of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have recently published.”
Wilkinson said he has researched hemp-based CBD that contains less than 0.3% percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. Both hemp (the male part) and marijuana (the female part) come from the cannabis plant.
However, Adam Nelson, head alchemist at Billo in Steamboat Springs, said that the amounts of THC and CBD used to be more balanced than they are today.
“The plant evolved for millennia, and it used to have fairly balanced ratios of CBD to THC before humans started tinkering with the specific breeding,” Nelson said. “Over the past 30, 40, maybe even 50 years, they have bred out all of the CBD in pursuit of extremely high THC concentrations. That is great for getting high but not so good for people looking for that well-rounded therapeutic effect from a cannabis product. Now, the trends are all of our products in the edibles and concentrate usually have THC to CBD in some sort of ratio.”
Nelson said the blended products with THC and CBD tend to produce better results that CBD alone. But the ratio allows people to find relief from pain and inflammation without the high that would stop them from doing day-to-day things, like going to work.
Nelson said the use of CBD can help people with everyday pain, chronic pain, anxiety, mood symptoms and insomnia. Some people use it to stop smoking. He says it has promise for those dealing with substance abuse, neuropsychiatric disorders and has been widely used to treat epilepsy.
Nelson credits the use of CBD and marijuana for saving his life after discovering he had advanced Lyme disease.
“When I was in recovery from that, I had all kinds of wide-ranging neurologic dysfunction,” Nelson said. “When I started to get better, I was so sick, and chronic pain is a really hard thing to live with. I started originally with THC just being able to numb the whole experience and finally get to sleep at night. At that same time, CBD just started coming into the news, so I came out here and talked to some of the people who were the early producers. I started taking high doses of CBD, and like three weeks later, I was running 6, 8 or 10 miles where I couldn’t hardly get down the driveway before.”
The marijuana dispensaries in Steamboat Springs offer CBD in a wide variety of forms from tinctures, concentrates, capsules, topicals, sprays and vapes. Nelson said CBD affects everyone differently, and the results are not always consistent. Many people have to try out several ratios before they find the one that is right for them.
Wilkinson said he is intrigued by what CBD has to offer, but he thinks it is going to take time and research to prove what many seem to already know.
“In those states that have legalized it, people are using CBD on their own, so there is this growing body of hearsay and personal experience that is driving the fact that these things, for some people, seem to work well for certain medical problems,” Wilkinson said. “That makes it temping for researchers in those states to consider what kinds of clinical trials they can do without risking the federal piece. These states are going to drive the conversation about legitimizing it.”
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