Medical community not high on CBD, despite growing public acceptance

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Businesses selling CBD products are seemingly sprouting up everywhere in the Mid-South, with even large chains joining in on the trend, but medical experts still aren’t confident the products work as advertised.

CBD, a non-intoxicating chemical in cannabis, is advertised to treat conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, depression and insomnia, among many others, but none of those treatments are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning the science behind CBD is still hazy.

Megan Mulligan, an assistant professor in the Department of Genetics, Genomics and Informatics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, researches the effects of cannabinoids such as CBD. She said while some people claim to benefit from CBD and several clinical trials have demonstrated therapeutic qualities, there’s no guarantee the CBD product the person is buying actually contains what is advertised.

“It’s not regulated by the FDA, so you can’t be sure,” Mulligan said. “There are two concerns here. You don’t know what dose you’re actually getting because you don’t know about the actual purity, and you don’t know if there are other contaminants.”

Mulligan said while CBD most often poses no real threat, without proper regulation, other ingredients that may be harmful could be added to the product a person buys at a store.

“You’re trusting the person that sells it to you,” Mulligan said. “You can’t get proof unless you submit it to a lab and see the diagnostics yourself.”

She said one known risk is taking CBD along with some other prescription drugs, and it’s extremely wise for a person using prescription drugs to consult a doctor before using CBD.

The reason it is not regulated is because CBD is classified with cannabis as illegal and a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no approved medical uses. One approved CBD drug derived from cannabis was approved in 2018; Epidiolex is now used to treat pediatric seizures.

Mulligan said clinical studies have shown CBD has a very low risk of adverse side effects, so it is generally considered safe. But with the science falling behind the retail CBD industry, she said there is no guarantee the products in stores are safe and correctly advertised.

The owners of one of the many local stores selling CBD, South Main Hemp, are confident in the safety and truth of their products through lab tests and milligram amounts shown on the products.

“That would tell you how much to take and which bottle is good for you,” owner Kim Novarese said. “The products that we carry are qualified companies that all of their products are lab-tested.”

Novarese said they get a Certificate of Analysis for each product they sell, showing lab tests that identify the components of the product. She said it’s smart for anyone looking for a CBD product to ask the retailer or manufacturer for this certificate.

Novarese and her husband Phil started South Main Hemp this spring after Phil used CBD for pain and nerve problems.

Phil said he was on powerful opioid medication for nerve damage in his leg and foot so severe he could barely walk. With the risks of opioid medication, Phil said his doctor advised him to look into CBD, which he did.

He said after about three or four weeks of regular usage, he was able to come off the opioids. While Phil said it doesn’t take all his pain away, it works equally as well as the high-dosage opioids he was on, and CBD doesn’t have the harmful qualities or side effects of opioids.

“It makes it manageable where I can go through every day and walk and not have to do pharmaceuticals,” he said. “The pharmaceuticals work, but they’re bad for you.”

Even though retail CBD products can come with lab analysis, Mulligan said more research needs to be done before doctors can confidently prescribe CBD.

“These extravagant claims for curing cancer or other things would be something to watch out for,” Mulligan said. “It might be some type of false advertising.”

Mulligan said she’s hopeful that research will catch up soon, and medical professionals will know more about benefits and drawbacks of CBD.

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