The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Cannabidiol: Rising Star or Popular Fad?
By Jenny Wilkerson and Lance McMahon
Cannabidiol or CBD, has become a household name. On many social media sites, people suggest "but have you tried CBD oil?" on posts pertaining to any health-related issue.
CBD, a minor constituent of marijuana, is widely touted as nature's miracle by CBD enthusiasts. It does not get people high, unlike marijuana's main constituent, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, given the recent surge in its popularity, you'd think the molecule is magic.
We are behavioral pharmacology scientists, and we study how drugs act on the body. Specifically, we have an interest in developing new drugs for the treatment of pain that possess lessened drug abuse potential, and therapeutic interventions for drug abuse. Although there is scientific interest in the use of CBD for both pain and drug addiction, as well as many other medical indications, there is a lot that we still do not know about CBD.
CBD and THC: How Do They Work?
Drugs affect the body by binding and acting at various protein molecules, usually on the surface of the cells in the body, called receptors. These receptors then send signals that can impact bodily functions.
Marijuana has an effect on the body because many animals have receptors termed "cannabinoid receptors." There are two known cannabinoid receptors that are responsible for the effects of marijuana. Only one of them, the cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R), is responsible for the high from marijuana. These cannabinoid receptors are predominately found on nerve cells located throughout the body, including the brain.
CBD doesn't get people high because CBD does not bind or act on CB1R. CBD also does not bind or act on the other cannabinoid receptor, the cannabinoid type 2 receptor (CB2R), predominately found on immune cells. In contrast, THC binds and activates both of these receptors.
Studies indicate that CBD does, however, act on several other types of receptors. These include the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor, which can help regulate sleep, mood, anxiety and pain. CBD may also indirectly alter the body's own cannabinoid receptor activity.
However, scientists do not yet understand the exact manner in which CBD acts on the body. Likewise, many health-related anecdotal claims pertaining to CBD are not founded on solid scientific evidence, and may be due to well-documented placebo effects.
There is strong evidence, however, that CBD has enduring health benefits in the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
It has been nearly six years since the story of the Charlotte's Web strain of marijuana broke into national and international media. This strain of marijuana was named after Charlotte Figi, who struggled with intractable pediatric epilepsy until she was given oil extracted from the strain, which contains a higher CBD-to-THC content.
Charlotte's father saw an online video of a child from California with seizures who was being treated successfully with marijuana. As it turns out, the active compound that was helping Charlotte was not THC but CBD.
Based upon clinical evidence, GW Pharmaceuticals developed and licensed its own CBD extract, a drug now called Epidiolex. Clinical trials with Epidiolex for the indications of Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome, two forms of pediatric epilepsy, were resoundingly positive.
In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex for treatment of these two forms of epilepsy in children that have not responded to other treatments.
Meanwhile, as the clinical trials for Epidiolex were underway, a landmark study from Indiana University demonstrated a possible mechanism for CBD's astounding effects on Dravet and Lennox Gastaut syndromes. These two syndromes are associated with genetic mutations in two genes that are important in the regulation of sodium ions.
A Specific Understanding
Nerve cells regulate the way they send signals by how ions, or molecules with either an overall positive or negative electric charge, flow in and out of their cells. The most common ions that regulate nerve cell signaling are sodium, potassium, calcium and chloride. These ions move in and out of the cell via pores known as ion channels.
In many forms of epilepsy, however, the movement of ions is not properly controlled. This leads to aberrant firing of the brain's nerve cells and seizure activity.
In both forms of the epilepsy for which CBD is effective, there are alterations in the channels that control the flow of sodium in and out of nerve cells, or what is called a "sodium channelopathy."
The study from Indiana University found that CBD can directly inhibit the aberrant flow of sodium ions in nerve cells that have sodium channelopathies. Importantly, CBD does not seem to impact the flow of sodium in healthy nerve cells.
Although CBD has marked effects on these sodium channelopathies, this does not mean that CBD will produce meaningful benefits to other forms of epilepsy.
Other forms of epilepsy are linked to regulation problems related to the flow of potassium ions in cells. This type of pediatric epilepsy is resistant to all known therapeutics, including CBD.
A Potential Pain Therapeutic?
There are also claims that CBD can be used to address pain. And indeed, mounting evidence in pre-clinical laboratory studies show that CBD may be of use for the treatment and prevention of neuropathic pain, or an amplified response that may be due to nerve cell damage. In a mouse model of this type of pain, CBD injections prevented and reversed the development of one hallmark sign of neuropathic pain, called mechanical allodynia. This is the sensation of pain due to a non-noxious stimulus, such as the feeling of clothing on an area of skin that has a sunburn. A new study from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, shows that oral administration of CBD produces these same effects in rats with a similar type of pain.
In both of these studies, the scientists discovered that these effects are likely due to actions at serotonin receptors. A study from scientists at the University of Kentucky suggested that CBD applied to the skin, or transdermal CBD, may reduce inflammation in a rat model of arthritis.
However, additional studies from the laboratory at Temple University show that CBD does not work for all types of pain when tested in animals.
An important caveat to these findings is that not all compounds that produce effects in rodent pain studies will work in humans. Further, most of these studies examined the effects of injected CBD. So far, there is little evidence showing therapeutic effects of either edible or transmucosal, the administration of a drug across a mucous membrane, CBD for pain. There is only limited evidence for the use of transdermal CBD. Thus, until more scientific studies are conducted, the hype that CBD can successfully treat various forms of pain in humans is premature.
CBD: Beyond the Laboratory
Still curious about all the hype? Before running to the local supermarket health food isle to purchase CBD to conduct your own at-home trial, there are a few more points to consider.
Most CBD products sold in grocery stores are touted as "hemp-derived." That is, they come from a cannabis plant that has a purportedly extremely low amount of THC. Typically, hemp-derived products are made from the stalks and roots of the plant. This is in contrast to marijuana, which can contain varying amounts of THC and comes from the flowers of the cannabis plant. Recently, hemp-derived products were removed from the Controlled Substances Act.
However, it remains unclear if hemp-derived CBD works in the same exact manner as marijuana-derived CBD. Further, the FDA does not approve of CBD products as dietary supplements, or the marketing of any health-related claims. Also, the agency prohibits the addition of either THC or CBD to food products sold in interstate commerce for human or animal consumption.
As long as there are no associated medical claims, the FDA allows the use of hemp oil and seeds in cosmetics. However, the usefulness of hemp products in cosmetics also remains to be determined.
Further, as many of the items on the supermarket shelf are not approved by the FDA, there is limited oversight into their production, and the amount of CBD, if any, that these products contain are often mislabeled or misleading. Thus, it is too soon to say if CBD is truly a rising star, or merely a fad that will burn out and fall to Earth.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the name of the company, GW Pharmaceuticals, that developed Epidiolex.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
- CBD Oil: What You Need to Know - EcoWatch ›
- Cannabis Oil vs. CBD Oil: Health Benefits and Legal Considerations ... ›
- 8 Science-Based Benefits of CBD Oil - EcoWatch ›
- The Health Benefits of Cannabis Oil - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.