CBD oil: Natural does not mean it is safe

At the age of three months, Charlotte Figi had her first seizure. She was later diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. Her seizures continued, increasing in both frequency and severity. In a CNN interview, Charlotte’s mother Paige said that at the age of three, Charlotte was having up to 300 seizures per week. They could last for up to four hours.

After all other medical treatments had failed, Paige contacted a local cannabis-producing company. Paige had heard about the use of cannabis to treat seizures. Within the first week of taking CBD oil, Charlotte’s seizures had reduced drastically. The company that produced this high CBD strain later changed the name of the strain to Charlotte’s Web.

Not only is CBD becoming more popular in the field of medicine, but it is also showing up on menu items in bars and restaurants. It is even sold in pet products. In the U.S., CBD is legal in all 50 states with different degrees of restriction, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Forbes predicts that the CBD industry is worth billions. More and more people are using it to treat a wide array of health conditions. It has certainly worked for Charlotte. But is CBD a safe and effective medical treatment?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an active ingredient in cannabis found in the hemp plant. It has the nickname “Hippies’ Disappointment” for a reason. Unlike THC, the CBD component of cannabis does not make you feel high. The strain used in the treatment of Charlotte’s seizures has a ratio of CBD to THC of 30:1, meaning there is 30 times the amount of CBD than there is THC.

Charlotte’s Web is among a growing number of companies marketing cannabis for medical reasons. Dr. Maureen Allen is a Chronic Pain Physician in Nova Scotia. She is asked about CBD on a daily basis. The patients she sees are seeking CBD not only for pain, but also for issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. She said that even though the use of CBD is widespread, the unbiased clinical trials supporting its effectiveness do not yet exist.

“We have more anecdotal evidence rather than good, randomized controlled trials that are not industry-sponsored,” said Dr. Allen.

Amber Tsakalos is a sales ambassador at Green Treets, a retail chain selling CBD products in Miami. She hears from her customers that CBD helps them and does not think that a lack of evidence should stop people from trying CBD.

“People are almost desperate,” she said. “They’re really looking for something natural.”

Dr. Allen agrees that some of her patients like the fact that CBD is natural, but added that just because it is natural does not mean it is safe.

“There are many substances in medicine that are natural that are also very dangerous if we’re not using it properly.” Dr. Allen gave the example of the poppy, the source of opium, which is lethal if taken in high quantities, as evidenced by the opioid epidemic in the world today.

Despite a lack of research, it is clear that many individuals are seeking treatment for a variety of conditions with CBD. Charlotte is certainly one of those people. According to the same CNN interview, at twelve years of age, Charlotte continues to take CBD and only has about three to four seizures per month.

“We do know that people are benefiting,” said Dr. Allen. “[But] we’re very cautious and would like to see the evidence that helps support this therapy.”

Sarah Fraser is a family physician who can be reached at her self-titled site, Sarah Fraser MD. She is the author of Humanities Emergency.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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