The medical benefits of various compounds in the cannabis plant have been used since the late Eastern Han Dynasty in China. The cannabis plant has been looked at using modern medical methods since 1838. And yet discussion of these studies has remained up in the air, backed by confusing and jargon-laden legislature. The battle for legal cannabinoid tinctures and oils continues for patients everyday across the country, and we’re taking a look at the narrative so far.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD is a cannabinoid, one in 113 compounds found within the cannabis plant. Each compound interacts with the receptors found naturally in the human body, most notably THC which connects with receptors in our brains and immune systems to create a psychoactive effect. THC’s psychedelic effect is arguably what keeps cannabis a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act in the United States, alongside heroin and other opium derivatives. CBD, on the other hand, has no psychoactive effects, and interacts with the receptors that help regulate pain perception and inflammation.
Today, CBD can be prescribed in various isolated forms in states that have legalized it and/or medical cannabis. This includes supplements, tinctures, and lotions to name a few. CBD is the most commonly found cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, making up 40% of its extract.
The Medical Benefits of CBD
The structure of CBD and its effect on the body was first studied by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a chemist and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. Mechoulam was the first to isolate cannabis compounds in 1964 and analyze their structure to determine their specific roles in the body. As recently as 2013, Mechoulam’s research team found CBD to act as an agent for reducing inflammation, suppressing seizure activity, relieving nausea and vomiting, combatting psychosis, fighting neurodegeneration, healing anxiety and depression, and even eliminating cancer and tumor cells. This is mainly because CBD works on the receptors outside the endocannabinoid system, for neurotransmitters in the body such as the seratonin receptor (for contributing to feelings of well-being and happiness) and the adenosine receptor (for promoting blood flow and strengthening the immune system).
Currently, CBD is well-known in the United States for combatting seizures, epilepsy, and even schizophrenia. A strain now known as Charlotte’s Web became popular after a young girl named Charlotte Figi diagnosed with Dravet syndrome became an icon for challenging medical marijuana laws across America. Her battles with epileptic seizures were controlled after taking her first CBD dose at age 5. Since Charlotte’s story started gaining headway on media outlets as large as CNN, many parents of children struggling with epilepsy have taken to using CBD doses -- whether legal or illegal in their state of residence -- and pushing to change local legislation. One such young girl, four-year-old Haleigh Cox, helped governor Nathan Deal of Georgia sign in a bill to legalize CBD oil for patients suffering from select conditions.
CBD Legalization in the United States
This kind of CBD-only medical legislation appears in 16 states across the US. In addition to passing new policies, various studies have also popped up in these states. Since reports of CBD healing seizures and epilepsy are mainly anecdotal, universities and companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals have started conducting their own research on other undocumented medical benefits that CBD could have.
However, conducting cannabis research on human test subjects is notoriously difficult in the United States due to the Schedule I label placed on it. It wasn’t until August, 2016 that the DEA considered reevaluating this label, only to choose to keep it. The report released did help open the door to new potential studies for cannabis though, for aiding symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder and diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This new openness has affected not only state-level legislation, but it has made CBD extracts available to patients nationwide through online stores and mail order services. The DEA’s ruling that CBD products below the legal threshold for THC helped make these services technically legal.
The DEA’s Recent Ruling
A mere 4 months after the DEA’s first ruling, the DEA released a second ruling to make CBD oil and extracts illegal at the federal-level. This new line of code in the Controlled Substances Act allows the DEA to track products containing CBD separately from cannabis, and is meant to bring the US into compliance with international drug-control treaties.
Despite the fact that this code was written mainly as a clarification, the legal gray-area that CBD operates in has helped generate all these new sources for CBD across the country, and the legal status of these sources could now be called further into question. Fortunately, an amendment known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was passed in 2014 to prohibit the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with state-level medical marijuana policies. This amendment is renewed once every year, and if it disappears in 2017, it could now mean the end for new businesses and jobs created in the medical marijuana sector, and worse, the end of the supply for patients relying on CBD oils to control their symptoms.
The Bottom Line
The United States working to mimic international drug-control treaties is the opposite move currently being taken by countries such as Canada, which released a report just last week detailing how federal cannabis legalization will work in the upcoming year. By acknowledging and acting against these international treaties, Canada is putting itself in an interesting position internationally. Meanwhile, the United States continues to struggle with implementing proper policy to protect their sickest citizens. For many patients, a healthy future rests in the hands of lawmakers and federal administrations. Others may continue to drive cross-country to receive the medicine they need while risking cargoing a Schedule I substance, while others still may choose to uproot their lives, leave their homes, and move to a state with the proper policy safeguarding their individual healthcare.