What is CBD oil and why the sensationalism?
A million dollar industry has mushroomed up out of a cloud of cannabis smoke. Hailed as a boon to people in pain or undergoing palliative care, medical marijuana (cannabis sativa) has wiggled its way into modern orthodox medicine and now it has become legalised in many countries. But the presence of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the habit forming psychoactive content remains a controversial aspect, especially in CBD oil that comes from hemp. Both remedies are being enthusiastically prescribed for anxiety, pain and nausea. People rave about the effects, but there are a few problems. Not everyone escapes the THC takeover of specialised receptors in the brain, however minimal the content may be. Some patients seem to over react to a dose of the natural, much acclaimed “full spectrum CBD entourage” and experience effects that indicate exposure to THC such as getting high, feeling groggy or extreme hunger. They tell us that CBD oil is not for everybody, but how do we know? Are there any competitors out there in the plant kingdom that are free of such risks? There most certainly are!
Cannabinoids, the story behind CBD
Cannabis as a source of the magic CBD oil is currently the focal point of pharmaceutical as well as globally awakened agricultural, production and trading opportunities worth over $150bn. But why are cannabinoids thus named? They are a group of neurotransmitters that come from plants, called phytocannabinoids. They were first discovered in cannabis sativa in the 20th century. Now dubbed the endocannabinoid system; this newly discovered network has been modifying signals around the human body since Adam, using cannabinoids (neurotransmitters) that we make ourselves. Called endocannabinoids, we have dozens of them to activate nerves and mediate pain, pleasure, anxiety, inflammation and other responses.
Cannabinoids or CBS’s do not deal with the cause of the problem - they only calm down reactivity. For instance, overactive mast cells may induce an excess of histamine and a flood of cytokines that set off untoward inflammation. As a result, a cannabinoid (a specialised neurotransmitter that is either made by you or extracted from a plant) will serve to shut down the reactivity. Inflammation is paramount - affecting our cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune or digestive systems especially, so a remedy that calms down inflammation is highly prized. Cannabinoids could show promise in competing with cortisone, for instance and other anti-inflammatory drugs, especially analgesics in some instances. But one needs to remember that symptomatic relief is one thing and alleviating the instigator is another. This is why they say that CBD is not for everybody, especially people who are sensitive to gluten and keep on eating it! They perpetuate leaky guts, inflamed blood vessels or arthritic joints and so on.
CBD’s and the THC problem
The exclusion of THC is a constant problem and special strains of hemp are being cultivated to reduce it. At great expense, constant monitoring is essential to keep levels below 0.03 % or whatever is deemed safe enough. Rather like saying that the snake is not really venomous - but keep it away from children. CBD is present in other plants that are 100% clean with zero THC so there is no real justification for harping on the cannabis species. Even the synthetic or CBD isolates are not good enough, it seems because the full spectrum effect of the cannabis derived phytocannabinoids include HTC - said to be a necessary part of what has been dubbed the entourage effect.
CBD oil is targeted at neural disorders such as anxiety, inflammation, migraines, pain and seizures but cannabis is not the only source we have. When made in the human body, they are called endocannabinoids but people with chronic diseases have a limited output, often due to micronutrient deficiencies and toxins. Supplementing with Flaxseeds and nigella sativa (kalontjie) can also provide us with plenty of CBD and zero THC. They have no adverse effects on perception, sensory awareness, behaviour or reaction time. But they fail to thrill and intrigue the imagination of a cannabis-crazed market. We have endured generations of opiates, narcotics and amphetamines and many people have been badly – if not fatally affected by them. Natural is not necessarily safer when it comes to neurochemistry.
Most of the CBD studies so far have only been carried out in laboratory settings using animal models, especially rats. There is a marked absence of human randomised cross-over, placebo-based double blind studies. CBD research when compared to the other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin does not have a long track record. There is still much to be determined about the therapeutic dosage, effects and interactions of CBD oil and marijuana. Some of the randomised human trials and testimonials often show conflicting results. People who swear by CBD oil cannot explain why others get high or feel very hungry. Tiredness and drowsiness are often reported – especially when treating anxiety but results are not conclusive. There are no official package inserts and we are told that CBD is not for everybody, but people spend a lot of money experimenting and hoping to get a kick out of it or a miracle cure.
In 2016, the FDA tested several “CBD oils” and discovered that eight brands were found to contain zero or barely any CBD! Many contained illegal quantities of THC, the get-high factor. As for a dash of CBD in your coffee and on a pizza (yes, people believe it) there is plenty of evidence to show that this is a profiteering scam. Doses of 5 – 10 mg of CBD are not likely to relieve anxiety and mellow you out. A 300 mg shot of oil taken under the tongue is what is usually recommended. However, a 9 US $ cup of CBD-splashed coffee is a very good demonstration of how effective placebos are, especially when it comes to demonstrating the psychoactive (anxiety relieving) effects of inert substances. The bottom line is that CBD neurotransmitters degrade when gulped down or may only take effect 4 hours later. Yet with a shot of THC masquerading as CBD one can aim high!
How THC interferes with brain chemistry
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is a naturally occurring component within the marijuana plant that has recently been scientifically linked to anxiety control, appetite stimulation and pain relief. Although natural, THC has a number of adverse, if not highly risky side effects. THC has attracted a lot of attention and the argument to legalise the smoking of so-called medicinal marijuana as a palliative is highly suspect and certainly not the best option. There are short term effects from smoking “medical Marijuana” ranging from dizziness, dry mouth, impaired memory, anxiety, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, delayed reaction time, poor coordination, an increased risk of heart attack or stroke and impaired sexual performance. Would this be the best joint prescription to relieve anxiety and depression?
Long term consumers of THC sometimes experience a steady decline in the health of their hearts and lungs, a lower IQ, impaired reasoning ability, antisocial behaviour, problems with relationships and increased potential for addiction to pave the way for opiates and other highly addictive recreational drugs. Both marijuana and CBD can interact with other medications as they are metabolized in the liver by the same enzymes as many other drugs via the CYP450 pathway. If you take antidepressants especially SSRIs (including Zoloft and Prozac) and opioids, seek medical advice before embarking on a cannabis trip as you could land in a lot of trouble – even if you are not breaking the law!
The cannabis business is blooming!
Although potentially lucrative, there are a number of problems involved with CBD production and marketing. THC levels need to be constantly policed and crops need to be well protected in greenhouses. As newcomers competing with Big Pharma and synthetic analogues, the all-natural green cannabis route is challenging. An agricultural licence costs over $33 000 a year before the seeds are even sown. With oil CBD there is a paucity of clinical evidence in terms of human studies and long term statistics. Pharmaceutical companies aim to promote the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for cancer management, especially the side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea. Also for epilepsy and seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism, fibromyalgia and a range of auto-immune diseases. It remains to be seen how effectively they can compete with top herbal and Homeopathic remedies that already have an established an excellent track record in treating such conditions.
Modified strains of cannabis / hemp are already being researched and cultivated for regulated medicinal use. In June 2019 Afriplex, a South African health product manufacturer, received their licence to manufacture and test cannabis products. House of Hemp has just been handed their Cannabis Cultivation License from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). They have already been producing experimental marijuana crops with a higher THC content than 0.03% in greenhouses for a number of years. No wonder they had to lock the stuff up. Local dope smokers took offence because they had no access to legal supplies at the time! In Lesotho, a neighbouring country the cannabis crops are grown at high altitudes – really high in remote areas.
A litre of CBD oil fetches up to $20 000 and Medigrow, a foreign backed enterprise helps to generate employment and incomes for the local Lesotho population. A third of them are HIV positive, so ironically it is cannabis that has rescued them from poverty at least. Meanwhile, their illegal cannabis – or dagga trade has always been lucrative and they have an excellent market for it in South Africa. As for growing crops of herbs that can help improve their HIV associated ailments – perhaps they could grow them at lower altitudes. Nigella sativa or black seed for example, is capable of curing HIV. It is cheap, cost effective and legal. There is plenty of evidence that it works and a quick look at the internet will outline a number of highly successful protocols.
Does THC belong in the brain if it usurps our CB1 receptors?
Anandamide and not THC is the true CB1 receptor agonist that alleviates unpleasant sensations. Also known as human THC, this endocannabinoid holds the key to pain relief and feeling groovy. Ananda is the Sanskrit word for bliss and the endogenous neurotransmitter anandamide is one of the first things a baby ingests from Mother’s milk – apart from MSG (monosodium glutamate). Both stimulate the appetite, improve digestion and encourage the baby to suckle, tank up and then get sleepy. Exercise increases blood levels of both anandamide and β-endorphin (an endogenous or self-made opioid) and this is how we achieve a runner’s high. However, it only lasts about half an hour- enough time to relieve aching muscles and lift the spirits. That is why people prefer the THC effect, because it dominates the CB1 receptor for a longer period – cheating, in a way because you don’t have to do any running. Both are addictive, however!
THC does not degrade so quickly - it overstimulates the CB1 receptor and causes secondary effects: anxiety, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. THC does not belong in a human brain because it ousts the natural anandamide cycle. As such, the body stops producing this neurotransmitter and this is how one becomes addicted to THC. You basically can’t function without it because the THC takes over the CB1 receptor at the expense of anandamide. Fortunately, anandamide is also present in cacao beans and truffles, lest a deficiency arise.
Here’s why chocolate addiction is for real
Anandamide has been isolated in Cacao, the source of dark chocolate. It also has an affinity to CB1 receptors, so like THC they help to smother anxiety, make one feel groggy, unmotivated and forgetful. Now you know why some people chill out on chocolate when they are not smoking pot. Think of a baby enjoying the same effect from breast milk! Cacao also contains enzyme inhibitors that prevent the breakdown of anandamide in the body, thus increasing its uptake and contributing to sensations of ‘bliss’. This prolonging effect is duplicated by CBD oil but practically speaking, it is only really active in amounts that exceed 200mg per dose. CBD oil is best taken under the tongue, giving it direct access to the bloodstream. So it is best to slowly suck your chocolate to get at the anandamide. As one of the CBD team, it is the best option to rehabilitate a CB1 receptor that has been abused by THC. When the body starts to restore endogenous levels of anandamide, keep away from THC to rehabilitate your brain and get high from exercise, sex, cold showers and lots of chocolate instead.
There are a lot of CBD enriched chocolates and cocoa powders available on the market. In total they are allowed to provide a maximum of 20mg of CBD per product and a square per day is recommended to impart the miraculous "calming effects and heal the endocannabinoid system." According to the list of CBD chocolates that are available online there is no mention of what the cocoa was for. What - nothing about anandamide? Although CBD oil is said to help a cancer patient to overcome nausea after chemotherapy, a doctor friend of mine gave bitter dark chocolate to a patient instead. She asked for more - now we know why. Adding milk to cacao blocks the body’s absorption of the healing nutrients they say, so take it neat!
Why the cannabis plant is not the best source of phytocannabinoids
For centuries, a number of very popular plant remedies such as Flaxseeds, Kalonjie seeds and Echinacea have been used to sustain as well as enhance human health. Ironically, they are very rich in cannabinoids and especially terpenes, just like cannabis but they have profound healing properties. Although CBD glows brightly in the current limelight, other herbal remedies have always been around to help control pain, epilepsy, Parkinsonism, anxiety and so on while simultaneously elevating ones mood and enhancing a sense of wellbeing. These remedies contain myriads of phytochemicals that are known to interact with all the major systems of the body – not only the endocannabinoid signalling system. Furthermore, they help to alleviate drug dependence; as well as improve learning ability, memory and alertness. (Unlike the risky presence of THC in broad spectrum CBD oil). All these time honoured remedies are rich sources of CBD (cannabinoids) with pain relieving, anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory benefits, so why are we still waiting for the greener “grass” to grow?
If the object of the exercise is to calm you down after a stressful day, a cheap cup of chamomile tea would step up your GABA output. Rub a few drops of lavender or vanilla oil onto your temples for good measure. Respectful herbs like valerian and passiflora provide a peaceful night's sleep without giving you a thick head in the morning and bloodshot eyes. However, cannabis devotees may still prefer to inhale THC from the burning Bush. Try mixing a teaspoon of ground up flaxseeds with some cocoa powder, vanilla seeds and black pepper for a burst of phytocannabinoids! Savour the concoction with boiling water and honey and when blissed out, do not drive a car or operate heavy machinery. This is a recipe from the pantry, where food can be taken as medicine - just as Hippocrates recommended when he said: “let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food.” Ironically, Cannabis Sativa is not a food.