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

The Irish Times Magazine - - CBD -

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

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IM­AGES

■ “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.”

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