Dr. Martin Bluth explains the truth behind CBD and how to navigate the best options for your health concerns.
By Dr. Martin H. Bluth
I remember chuckling at Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong and their crazy antics while on a pot-stoked “trip.” The stigma of marijuana, the focus of Cheech and Chong movies, has gone through a few highs (no pun intended) and lows over the past few decades, ranging from incriminating — it was considered a federally illicit drug under the Nixon administration — to providing health benefits. The last few years have seen a resurgance in marijuana and its effective cannabinoid components, where 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and nearly a dozen have also approved it for recreational use.
So which is it? Do we accuse or acclaim cannabinoids? The answer, as you may suspect, is both.
A quick primer: Cannabinoids are derived from the cannabis plant, which includes species such as sativa, ruderalis and indica. These species have been further bred to produce dozens of subspecies to promote select components of the plant. These include the commonly known version of marijuana, which contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component that provides the notable psychoactive “high,” as well as dozens of other components including cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce any high at all. There are other cannabinoid components derived from the cannabis plant, including cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabinol (CBN), among others that vary in concentration and psychoactive effects. There are also other components, called terpenes, which impart the characteristic smell and can augment the overall effect. The ratio of THC to CBD modifies various clinical effects and determines if cannabis is considered illegal in some states (THC concentrations greater than 0.3% are considered an illegal substance under federal law).
Interestingly, CBD, often derived from hemp or purified from THC-containing preparations, has exploded onto the medical marketplace as the cure for almost everything. It has beed lauded a therapy for arthritis, depression and seizures, among other maladies. However, CBD processing, preparations and concentrations vary. Such differences can have a profound effect on how a person reacts to it. The way an individual is exposed to it can also affect the response. Edibles (drinks or foods) need to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and can take a few hours to feel an effect, whereas tinctures can be taken under the tongue and dried components can be inhaled via smoking or vaping for a more immediate effect.
Further, all preparations are not created equal. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association assessed the validity of 84 CBD products from 31 companies. Researchers found that about 70% were mislabeled, meaning the product contained either a higher or lower concentration of CBD compared with what was listed on the packaging. So, if you bought a bottle claiming to contain 10 mg of CBD, but it only contained half that amount, you may not feel any relief from what ails you. Additionally, certain products may contain components that should not be there. For example, the soil used to grow cannabis and hemp plants for CBD products may contain heavy metals (arsenic or cadmium), infectious agents (mold) or pesticides, which may harm the user.
So how do we navigate all this toward using CBD for improved health?
“There are emerging regulatory bodies in the state of Michigan that ensure CBD formulations meet health and safety standards and are thus safe for human consumption,” says Jonathan Kane, chief scientific officer at Lion Labs, a licensed cannabis processing facility based in Lansing. “CBD processed and sold in the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program are subject to oversight by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency and must provide concentration of CBD and pass safety compliance testing, which includes analysis for residual solvents, microbials, pesticides, heavy metals and foreign matter.”
These regulatory measures, Kane says, are the main difference in over-the-counter CBD products (which have little regulation) compared to CBD products manufactured and sold through the medical cannabis industry.
For consumers trying to evaluate products, there are a few resources. Consumer Reports provides unbiased reviews of CBD preparation based on scoring criteria. You can also talk with a health expert well versed in CBD and its preparations, such as an apothecarist, pharmacist and physician, who can help determine what formulation, strength and administrative route is best for you. They can help you determine if the chosen product is working or if you need to modify the strain, dose and/or route of administration to achieve relief.
The cannabinoid arena will undoubtedly grow in the future. Clinical and scientific investigations will provide additional information on what types and combinations treat different ailments most effectively. Until then, be mindful of what you purchase, how you ingest and if it’s helping; trial and error may be required. However, with patience and perseverance, you are apt to find the cannabinoid formulation that works for you.
Dr. Martin H. Bluth is the founder of Bluth Bio Industries, professor of pathology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, laboratory director for Accutox Medical Diagnostic and medical director for Kids Kicking Cancer. Visit bluthbio.com for more information.