CBD over traditional medications: Is it safe?

By: Jonathan Roberts

Customers choose from various hemp products at East Tennessee Hemp Co. 

Photo by Jonathan Roberts.

     As hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products gain popularity, people are turning to them over traditional medications – especially since the opioid crisis continues to devastate Central Appalachia.

     Abandoning traditional medications might not be advisable or safe says one East Tennessee State University professor.

      “(Quitting opioids) is one of the many things CBD marketers are adding to list of things CBD can do, and they’re doing sort of willy-nilly without a ton of evidence behind it,” said Dr. Matthew Palmatier, who teaches a course on cannabinoids and their effect on the brain at ETSU.

     Still, the hemp industry is budding, and over a dozen dispensaries have opened in the Tri-Cities alone over the past two years — not counting the numerous businesses that offer CBD products as add-ins for products such as coffee, smoothies and tea.

     “We see a lot of arthritic patients coming in, that and anxiety are probably the two big ones that we see — a lot of times people (using opioids) have to keep upping their dose, but with this, you don’t. It’s all natural, and it’s a lot better, healthier,” said Corbin Bednarczyk, director of sales at East Tennessee Hemp Company.

     CBD products, however, are completely unregulated, and only one CBD-based product has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, an anti-seizure medication for children, Epidiolex.

     Regardless of regulation, the CBD industry has turned into a modern-day gold rush expected to become a $16 billion business by 2025 according to Forbes. As CBD’s popularity grows, the risks also increase for people who may not know what they are consuming. Studies have found some online products do not contain as much CBD as they advertise.

     In October, the FDA published a list of companies falsifying the amount of CBD that was actually in their products, saying that “it is important to note that these products are not approved by the FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease.”

     Fortunately for American consumers, more research is on the way. In September, the National Institutes of Health announced they would be funding nine studies exploring CBD’s actual impact on health issues like anxiety, arthritis and chronic pain.

     “The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis,” said Dr. Helene Langevin, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, in a statement.

     The cost? About $3 million. However, only one study — done by the University of Utah — will be testing on people as the other studies will focus on animals, mostly lab rats and mice. None of the studies use tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

     Palmatier sees the studies as a good first step but thinks there needs to be more concrete evidence to support CBD’s declarations, adding that without further research, he would be hesitant to suggest anyone turn to CBD over traditional medication.
 

This project was born out of a desire to cover the issues that face our community and region, specifically the Appalachian Highlands, The Blue Ridge Mountains, and Greater Appalachia.