According to Mayo Clinic Director of Integrative Medicine and Health Research Program, Dr. Brent Bauer, CBD has exceeded every other supplement in history when it comes to sales and rapid rise in use in the US.
While Bauer says he’s “very optimistic that there will something very beneficial there,” when it comes to the potential therapeutic effects of the nation’s favorite cannabinoid, he doesn’t think it’s going to “be magic.”
Other doctors have higher hopes.
Here we’ll take a look at what doctors have to say about CBD.
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Doctors Who Praise CBD
CNN’s chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has made several headlines for his stance on using CBD and medical cannabis. Once staunchly against the use of medical marijuana, Gupta has since come full circle when it comes to medicating with cannabis.
In 2009, Gupta wrote an article that was featured in TIME magazine entitled “Why I Would Vote No on Pot,” maintaining, among other things, that “marijuana isn’t really good for you.”
Just four years later, Gupta had changed his mind and wrote a very public apology in an a 2013 CNN article.
Gupta mentioned Charlotte Figi, the young Colorado girl who was having 300 seizures a week by the time she was three. The only thing that worked? A high-CBD strain of marijuana that reduced her seizures down to 2-3 per month.
Today, Gupta is a doctor dedicated to educating the masses about CBD and the benefits of medical marijuana. He’s spoken openly about CBD on national television with Dr. Oz, created “Weed”, a docuseries highlighting the benefits of medical marijuana, and has written numerous articles pertaining to the positive advantages of CBD.
Gupta and Dr. Oz have both called for more research on CBD “to help real Americans with medical issues,” with Gupta maintaining “there’s a legitimate medicine in here.”
Dr. Ethan B Russo, MD, board-certified neurologist, psychotherapy researcher, and celebrated cannabinoid researcher, is another doctor that praises the benefits of CBD.
Russo is the Director of Research and Development for the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI) and considered a leading expert in CBD and other cannabinoids.
In a 2019 interview with Project CBD, Russo mentioned CBD’s anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic properties, maintaining the cannabinoid “complements a great number of the effects of THC, in that both are analgesics, painkillers, both are anti-inflammatory, and because cannabidiol has the ability to counteract some of the prominent side effects of THC it’s a very valuable thing to have in any cannabis preparation.”
It was Russo who brought the term “entourage effect” to mainstream attention in a 2018 article, which was based on Raphael Mechoulam (considered the “father” of cannabis) and Shimon Ben-Shabbat’s research in 1998 that suggested endocannabinoid system demonstrates an “entourage effect” and that the sum of medicinal plants are typically considered more effective than their isolated parts. Russo made claim for the entourage effect, bringing increased attention to the synergistic potential whole plant medicine contains.
Not All Doctors Are On Board with CBD
Not every doctor across the country is praising the CBD’s potential benefits, however.
Fox News contributor and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center physician Nicole Saphier, MD is one of them.
While Saphier is aware of the numerous benefits CBD potentially contains, she reserves “caution until long-term data proves its more than just a fad.”
She’s aware of the potential benefits CBD contains and says the “evidence is clear that CBD has FDA-approved benefits for treating epileptic seizure disorders, the research is still sparse regarding many other touted health claims.”
This is something most doctors agree on, despite their stance on CBD.
Cannabis researcher and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Ryan Vandrey, is working with other research scientists to better understand CBD’s effects and conditions it might benefit.
Vandrey maintains that while his preliminary research reveals that people who take CBD and other cannabis products report increased quality of life and satisfaction regarding mood, pain, sleep, and overall health compared to those who don’t use cannabis products, they can’t say CBD is necessarily effective for these things.
“The outcomes of this study highlight the need for additional research on hemp/CBD products in controlled clinical trials,” says Vandrey, “especially for autism, anxiety, depression, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and epilepsy conditions other than Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.”
Vandrey does go on to say that while he believes “there is a real therapeutic potential for cannabinoids…we cannot abandon the methods used to bring all other medications to the market.”
The only FDA-approved CBD medication is Epidiolex. While doctors maintain that it’s a good option for some patients, they say it can still come with serious side effects and doesn’t necessarily work for every patient or as well as initially anticipated.
Jason Grover is the CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals, the company who produces Epidiolex. Grover says, “This medicine is not a medicine that works for everyone, but it is one that is playing a very meaningful role in the lives of thousands of patients.”
Doctors Maintain Quality is Key
Although Epidiolex might be the only FDA-approved CBD medication, there are countless CBD products easily available online and at retail locations nationwide.
Doctors and industry experts alike agree that if you decide to take CBD to make sure you’re using a high-quality product you can trust. The industry is still largely unregulated, and it can be hard to know what you’re getting.
A 2017 review of over 80 CBD products found that only one-third of the products tested contained accurate CBD and THC concentrations listed on product labels.
Karen Mauck, M.D., is a journalist and internist at the Mayo Clinic. She says, “I think it’s just too early to just try anything you get at the gas station. Unless you’re a much more educated consumer getting it from these medical dispensaries, I think it’s too early to take them for any sort of therapeutic effect right now.”
Most Doctors Agree More CBD Research is Needed
The Mayo Clinic urges doctors to maintain a “clinical curiosity and a healthy skepticism” when it comes to CBD.
Sure, CBD isn’t approved by the FDA, but this doesn’t mean countless people aren’t taking it on a regular basis. As the industry continues to expand, more and more people are going to get curious and try CBD for themselves.
When doctors are educated on the effects of CBD, they can better guide their patients in the best direction when it comes to taking it.
Mauck is confident that with more research and time, the potential benefits and risks associated with CBD will become clearer.
Until then, most doctors encourage patients to do their research. Bauer says that he tells his patients to do their homework and make sure they take to their health care provider before using CBD products.
Dr. Jordan Tishler is the Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and President of the Association of Cannabis Specialists.
“CBD is being used over the counter in a range of ways that is not supported by the science,” Tishler says. “There is still much we don't know. But aggressive marketing, hype, and word of mouth have made CBD like a drug version of the emperor's new clothes. Everyone says it works, but lab studies suggest that it's really not what people think.”
He also maintains that “not enough medical studies have been done to offer any kind of clear guidance.”
What do doctors advise to those interested in trying CBD for themselves?
“My advice always is, first and foremost, to talk to your physician before you try any new drug, including CBD,” Vandrey says. “Just because you can buy it at CVS and Walgreens, and because there's generally no impairment and potential for abuse, doesn't mean that it's without risk and an appropriate treatment for you. That discussion should focus on what treatment options are available and what the relative potential for risk and benefit would be for each option.”
Featured image by Anh Nguyễn Duy from Pixabay
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