Back in the 1960s and ’70s, when young people were sneaking around smoking pot out of sight, who could have imagined the current climate of acceptance for all things marijuana. We may have joked about the illegalities, but no one was about to walk down the street with a joint in their hand. Now in many states, you can walk into a retail outlet and choose from dozens of options, from marijuana for smoking, to vape pens to tinctures, salves, transdermal patches, gummies and soft drinks made from marijuana plants.
While the cultural tides are turning, marijuana remains controversial thanks to its psychoactive effect. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a different matter. CBD is one of over 100 known cannabinoids derived from hemp or marijuana plants. Unlike the THC from marijuana, it is not psychoactive, but it does seem to have other effects that can provide benefits.
Why am I writing about CBD? It’s not a nutrient and so far, there’s no recognized impact on nutritional status. But use of CBD among people 65 years and older to treat various medical problems is growing rapidly. Knowing the facts is a good idea.
- reduces pain. This is the #1 reason for use. CBD works by inhibiting release of pro-inflammatory molecules and blocking transmission of pain signals. Added benefit: it cannot cause addiction, so is a better choice than opioids. Arthritis is one major reason for use among older adults.
- anti-anxiety, likely by way of effect on serotonin release
- increases appetite. This might not sound like a great effect for dieters, but can be extremely important for people who have lost significant weight due to cancer or cancer treatment
- topical anti-inflammatory activity that can help with skin problems that cause itching.
- reduces hyper motility of GI tract. So could normalize bowel function, probably due to anti-inflammatory properties
How much should you take? I can’t answer that for anyone. Sales staff at dispensaries will certainly have advice, although they cannot provide any medical-oriented recommendations.
One thing to keep in mind: there are plenty of claims for CBD benefits for serious medical problems like seizures, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, PTSD and sleep problems. Research on the effect of CBD on these conditions used extremely high doses: 100s of milligrams/day. You cannot buy those doses at your local dispensary. Even if you could, a high intake of CBD can cause side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, hypotension, tachycardia and abnormal liver function tests. Excess CBD could increase the blood thinning effects of warfarin and can interfere with many medications. Do not start taking CBD until you discuss it with your doctor.
Most over the counter products contain 2-10 mg/dose. Be sure to look for actual CBD content listed. “Hemp Oil” may sound good, but is not likely to contain much actual CBD. And remember: there are over 100 known cannabinoids, so a label that just says “cannabinoids” might contain little actual CBD.
- CBD is fat soluble, so if you’re using edibles, take it with a meal or snack that contains some fat, to enhance absorption. Very little may be absorbed if you take it on an empty stomach.
- Edibles can take 30-90 (or more) minutes to become effective. This delay can lead to overdosing. You might think you should have experienced some pain relief quickly and you take more. Eventually you’ve consumed too much. It can linger in your system for hours.
- Despite widespread availability, CBD is still officially illegal. You cannot fly with it. It’s not considered a dietary supplement.
Come to think of it, there are nutritional aspects to CBD:
- you need to consume edibles with a fat-containing meal
- CBD can increase appetite, which is a boon for people who are struggling to eat due to cancer or other severe medical problems
- A colleague who has studied CBD says that hemp/marijuana plants are bioaccumulators, meaning they draw toxins and heavy metals out of soil. Her advice is to only purchase organic products, which should not have been grown on contaminated soil.
So will our future health feature a blast from the past? In our youth, marijuana was a daring way to get high. As we age, it may become a widely accepted way to reduce pain or calm mood, without getting high at all.
photo of cannabis plant from US Fish and Wildlife Service