Setback hits CBD

PHOTO/MATT BIEKER Little is known about CBD, but the market isn’t waiting.

A major study has produced findings that are unfavorable for cannabidiol (CBD) products at a time when Nevada firms are getting more deeply into marketing them and at a time when farmers were hoping to gain from them in order to make up for Trump tariff impacts they have suffered.

The seriousness of the study could be seen in reports on it at financial services sites and publications like Motley Fool—which called the study “shocking”—and Fortune and Forbes.

CBD is the second most common active ingredient in cannabis, usually taken from hemp, which is normally lower in THC, the most common active ingredient in the plant. CBD products are supposed to contain less than 0.3 percent of THC.

Given the decades-long history of lying and misrepresentation on cannabis, we asked one of the study’s scientists—Bill Gurley of the University of Arkansas school of pharmacy—where the funding for the study came from. He replied by email, “It was funded from our own accounts (interdepartmental funds). No outside agency (federal or private) was involved.”

In addition, the study was published in the British journal Molecules, which is a respected molecular biology publication. The study, “Hepatotoxicity of a Cannabidiol-Rich Cannabis Extract in the Mouse Model,” had nine authors.

“For Wall Street, CBD is nothing more than a gigantic dollar sign hovering over the industry,” Motley Fool reported. For patients, it is something more basic. The growth of its share of the market has been startling. Washington Post: “In 2017, no one knew what CBD oil was. In 2018, folks stumbled saying “cannabidiol” (that’s CBD oil) out loud. In 2019, it’s everywhere.”

On June 11, Stem Holdings, Inc. in Florida announced an agreement with Grön Chocolate and Confections to “supply the popular Grön gummy line to the Nevada cannabis market,” including “high CBD infused products.”

On June 13, MYM Nutraceuticals Inc. in British Columbia announced it has begun the planting process in Nye County of “1.6 million CBD-rich hemp seeds [that] have been germinated, sprouted and grown into seedlings.”

The way CBD has pervaded various markets can be seen by articles in, of all places, Golf Digest: “A golfer’s introductory guide to CBD,” “Is CBD golf’s magic potion?”

All this has happened in the absence of much knowledge or science about CBD, which was hampered by the federal government’s longtime reluctance to allow laboratory work involving cannabis.

After testing at different levels of dosage, the scientists found that at the high dosage, three fourths of laboratory mice were dead or near death within days after injesting CBD. The mice showed incredibly rapid signs of liver damage—within 24 hours.

In addition, the study found CBD can interact with other substances, such as food supplements—which are unregulated—and prescription drugs.

“CBD differentially regulated more than 50 genes, many of which were linked to oxidative stress responses, lipid metabolism pathways and drug metabolizing enzymes,” it reads.

The study’s abstract reads in part, “The involvement of numerous pathways associated with lipid and xenobiotic metabolism raises serious concerns about potential drug interactions as well as the safety of CBD.”

CBD is being used in tinctures, oils, creams and other products, and in consumable items.

Because CBD products are treated by officialdom similarly to food supplements and are unregulated, there is no way to know what the level of ingredients are. Gurley, who gave testimony at the FDA’s first hearing on CBD last month, did a study for Mississippi of CBD products sold in that state. He found that the amount of THC fluctuates wildly.

“In one instance, the CBD content was almost 23 times greater than the content claimed on the label. … In three instances, THC content exceeded .3 percent, with one product containing 45 percent THC,” he told Mississippians.

We asked Gurley if there was any reason to believe that the situation would be any better in states where cannabis is fully legal, like Nevada.

“I doubt that the results would be any different in states where cannabis use is legalized,” he said. “In fact, it may be worse. Until good manufacturing practices are mandated by the FDA/USDA and fully implemented by manufacturers, indifferent quality will be commonplace.”

Florida is considering regulations requiring CBD products to be tested by a third party, to carry a label containing a code that allows consumers to go online and get specific information about that product. Hemp farmers would also be required to allow visits from inspectors.

The word gets out

None of the products containing CBD have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration except one—Epidiolex, which can be used only for two epileptic seizures. In addition, it comes with a warning of possible liver damage:

“Epidiolex may cause liver problems. Your doctor may order blood tests to check your liver before you start taking Epidiolex and during treatment. In some cases, Epidiolex treatment may need to be stopped. Call your doctor right away if you start to have any of these signs and symptoms of liver problems during treatment with Epidiolex: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting[;] fever, feeling unwell, unusual tiredness[;] yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes (jaundice)[;] itching[;] unusual darkening of the urine[;] right upper stomach area pain or discomfort.”

Epidiolex was approved in June 2018 only on this limited basis to treat people with rare types of epilepsy—Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome, which usually afflict children. (In the new study, the scientists employed the Epidiolex guidelines for doasage and safety.)

Firms that sell CBD products cannot say that the substance does anything for people, nor do most of them make such claims. But there are other ways of spreading the word.

For example, at a site called Medical News Today, while there is precautionary language at key points, full use is made of suggestive terms like potential, could and may, as in all these uses on a single page at the site: “Although more research is required to confirm some uses of CBD oil, it is shaping up as a potentially promising and versatile treatment. … However, CBD oil does show a lot of potential for pain relief. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can be used to help manage chronic pain in many cases. CBD oil is especially promising due to its lack of intoxicating effects and a possible lower potential for side effects than many other pain medications … The active cannabinoids in cannabis may be an active treatment for psoriasis. Research shows that they offer potential health benefits that could relieve the symptoms of psoriasis.” (Emphasis has been added.)

For people desperate for a remedy to agonizing symptoms, such loaded language can implant hope that is not necessarily backed up by existing science.

The site is attributed to “Healthline Media UK Ltd, Brighton, UK” and there is a caveat that undercuts the material therein: “The Medical News Today Content is provided on an “as is” and “as available” basis. Medical News Today gives no warranty of any kind in relation to our Feed or our Content and we disclaim all implied warranties, including, but not limited to, satisfactory quality, fitness for purpose, non-infringement, compatibility and accuracy.”

Among the conditions some people claim CBD deals with are pain, anxiety, epilepsy, nausea and hangovers. Those do not explain why it is included in some products, such as beauty treatments. In any event, there is little science behind the claims, and even less knowledge about side effects.

The expertise of some pot shops is suggested by a recent sales pitch sent out to Nevada marijuana merchants: “Whether you or your staff need the best cannabis education, you need to consider signing up for a monthly subscription. Not only do you get videos and audio, but handouts and research articles. Do you know which THC/CBD ratios best treat what condition? Do you know which products are recommended for cancer patients? If you don’t know, please subscribe.”

Just as uncertain are articles that come with headlines like “CBD Oil Is Amazing For So Many Things, but Breastfeeding Isn’t One of Them (Yet).”

Another cautionary instance surfaced in the case of Christina Dixon, who opposed medical treatment for her daughter’s cancer and instead wanted to treat her with CBD. After a court order was issued telling her to resume the daughter’s medical treatment, she removed the girl from Oregon and fled to Nevada. Clark County officials found them and sent the daughter back to Oregon.

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.