Jun 24, 2019 12:00 AM


Few health-related products are as buzzed about—or as controversial—as cannabidiol, also known as CBD. This unique molecule, derived from cannabis, has captured public imagination, with claims that it can treat a number of ailments and diseases and vastly improve one’s health. The truth is somewhat more complicated, as CBD use in FDA approved pharmaceuticals has thus far been limited to only treating some forms of epilepsy via a drug known as Epidiolex.  Likewise, there are other factors, such as how much CBD is actually in a CBD product, that can impact effectiveness.

What Is CBD?

Although it is derived from marijuana, CBD is not the same as THC, the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug. In fact, as Dr. Karen Wilcox of the University of Utah says, “When used properly, there are very few side effects. The primary thing that people should worry about are drug-drug interactions.” CBD produces no “high,”  and has been shown to protect neurons in the body from certain types of stress, which makes it ideal for combating neurological conditions like epilepsy.

How Does CBD Work?

While CBD has been studied and scientists know that it can interact with neurons and possibly other types of brain cells, it is unknown at this time exactly how it works. Dr. Wilcox is very frank about this: “It’s really unclear why Epidiolex works for the treatment of epilepsy. We’re not exactly sure. People are often surprised to find out that drugs can be approved by the FDA if we don’t know their mechanism of action, but as long as a medication is scientifically proven to be effective and safe, it can be approved, even if we don’t know how it works.”

Is All CBD the Same?

Although CBD is derived from marijuana, there are many ways to get it. Some distributors get it directly from cannabis, while others are able to extract it from hemp. Some varieties of marijuana and hemp have more CBD, while others have more THC. This is just one factor that shows how complex the world of CBD products is.

There are federal laws that prohibit the use of CBD derived from cannabis. However, CBD derived from hemp is legal, as long as it is below a certain amount. Other than that, there are few laws telling manufacturers and distributors how much CBD needs to be used to make a CBD product. For this reason, many of the CBD products found in stores or online may contain such tiny amounts of the chemical that it has no effect at all on the body. According to Dr. Wilcox, “The thing that people have to be aware of is that if you walk into a store or order a CBD product online for your pet, for example, what you get may not be what is advertised. With the exception of Epidiolex, which needs to prescribed by a doctor and is only approved for the treatment of epilepsy, there’s very little quality control over commercially available CBD products.”

How Does CBD Help with Epilepsy?

The only FDA-approved drug made with CBD is called Epidiolex. This particular drug has been shown to help children who suffer from certain forms of epilepsy. In some cases, these children have seen the number of seizures they suffer from drop drastically, greatly improving their quality of life. Of course, it is not one hundred percent effective, as some children with epilepsy do not see any change while others see only a moderate change.

Still, the improvements in seizure control seen in some of these children are enough to demonstrate the amazing potential of CBD and the need for further study and experimentation.

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