Until recent years, with cannabis labeled as an illegal Schedule I drug, research has been limited. Now that over 30 states have legitimized medicinal cannabis, and given the current opiod epidemic, research into cannabis benefits in healthcare and pain management has seen an increase.
Yet, medical knowledge about CBD and THC remains uncharted territory. Some CBD manufacturers are being investigated by government agencies after making wild, indefensible claims such as CBD can cure cancer (it doesn’t). According to Peter Grinspoon, MD, contributing editor to Harvard Health Blog, more research needs to be done since the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD to treat any particular medical condition is still not known. He does concede that CBD may be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, depression, and chronic pain.
However, side effects have been reported including nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, and irritability. CBD can also increase the level of the blood thinner coumadin in patients and can raise levels of other medications.
What many people don’t realize is that CBD is sold as an unregulated supplement. The ingredients and potency contained in one CBD product can be totally different to another. Since CBD is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis and an essential component of medical cannabis, many wrongly assume CBD is regulated like medicinal cannabis.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. Consumers cannot be assured of any active ingredients listed on the label nor of any added unknown elements.
However, the FDA recently approved a CBD oral solution (Epidiolex) for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These are two rare and severe forms of epilepsy affect children as young as two years of age and the drug has been approved for use by children. This has become the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from cannabis.
The addition of THC to products could provide further benefits. THC is a pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory, and prevents vomiting. Using the whole cannabis plant could also provide extra synergetic effects. Medical studies using THC are focused on its potential health benefits including increasing appetite and decreasing nausea. Patients diagnosed with cancer, multiple sclerosis, or fibromyalgia have reported finding relief with THC products. In fact, studies with THC have demonstrated to have 20 times the anti-inflammatory potency of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone.
Most significantly, in test tube studies, cannabinoids are inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells and promote the death of cancer cells. While cancer studies have shown THC has promise in treating cancer, there is also its potential to suppress the immune system and enhance tumor growth.
Licensed cannabis-based drugs currently on the market include:
- Dronabinol (Marinol) / Nabilone (Cesamet): Synthetic forms of THC used to counteract nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy as well as stimulate the appetite in AIDS patients.
- Nabiximols (Sativex): Combining THC and CBD and used to relieve symptoms of MS and pain in cancer patients.
- Epidiolex: Concentrated CBD oil used as an anti-seizure medication for children with epilepsy.