Saviour or snake oil?
Is CBD – a non- psychoactive, widely and legally available cousin of marijuana – a medical marvel or just another fad, asks Jennifer O’Connell
All of a sudden cannabidiol – better known as CBD – i s everywhere, purporting to cure assorted ills from insomnia to inflammation and anxiety to acne. You can vape it, drink it as a tea or hot chocolate. You can apply it as a lip balm, moisturiser or mascara. You can consume it in capsules, drops or chocolate infused with “lavender and black pepper”. You can take it as a power shot before a workout. You can even get some for your dog.
The question for many of us, however, is why would you want to? Is this non- psychotropic, readily available and legal cousin of marijuana the miraculous panacea that the rave reviews online appear to promise?
Or does all the hype – the New York Times recently referred to it as “the chemical equivalent to bitcoin in 2016” and “the new avocado toast” – mean that the wisest approach might be one of scepticism?
Let’s start with the chemistry. CBD is a cannabis derivative, one of hundreds of compounds in the plant that scientists know about so far. It doesn’t contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC), and so it isn’t banned.
David Finn, professor of pharmacology and therapeutics and co- director of the centre for pain research at NUI Galway, explains the difference: “Cannabidiol is one of the most- studied constituents within cannabis, along with THC. THC is the constituent that’s responsible for the well- known psychoactive effects – the euphoria, the short- term memory loss, the high. CBD is not associated with the same kind of pharmacological effects. However, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on the brain.”
Tommy Keating is one of three owners of CBD I r e l and, an onl i ne s t ore and bricks- and- mortar operation in Waterford city. The bright, airy premises was deliberately chosen because of its position opposite the Garda station, and its vast expanse of windows, to counteract some of the public confusion over whether CBD is actually legal. It is, as long the THC is below 0.2 per cent and no health claims are made for it.
The shop sells takeaway CBD coffee, tea and hot chocolate ( containing 10 per cent CBD), CBD chocolate, capsules, protein balls and granola bars, and a range of oils and vapes. Keating offers me a CBD latte. I sip it gingerly. It tastes like a regular latte, with no unpleasant herbal aftertaste. It doesn’t make me giggle or fall asleep.
“I equate it to non- alcoholic beer,” says Keating. “The high from cannabis with THC will change your thought process – it can slow things down or speed things up. It might make you paranoid, or you might find things funny. CBD doesn’t have any of those effects. A lot of people report that they just get a nice feeling of relaxation from it.” However, as with other better- known constituents of cannabis, the effects vary from person to person, and even with the time of day.
I can’t say that I notice any major effect from the coffee. ( Full disclosure: this isn’t my first time. A friend introduced me to CBD chocolate a few weeks ago and I had a square after dinner. I felt completely normal, and slept well, but the next morning I had trouble waking up. My arms and legs felt pinned to the bed. Keating suggests that might have been something to do with the interaction of the CBD and the volume of wine consumed at dinner.) After the CBD latte, I work productively, slightly later than usual, and sleep well, but that could be the placebo effect. A sample size of one is meaningless.
Keating’s shop also sells CBD as a type of grass, or “buds”, or in a solid form, called a polm. Disclaimers say neither is recommended for smoking, but evidence on the internet would suggest that quite a few people try anyway.
So are all his customers students trying to wean themselves on to a “healthier” version of marijuana? Keating laughs. “Not at all. The average age of people coming in here is in their 60s or 70s.”
That’s because, he says, the majority of his customers aren’t l ooking for the non- high high. Instead they’re interested in “the reported health benefits. I had a guy in the other day buying flowers for his 70- year- old mother. She sent him in to get it for her, because she wasn’t able to sleep.”
This is where purveyors of CBD have to
■ “The high from cannabis with THC will change your thought process. It might make you paranoid, or you might find things funny. CBD doesn’t have any of those effects.”