You can sum up the latest "it" drug with three letters.
You can find it in oils, tinctures, creams and gels. It's even in gummies. Your Facebook feed is probably filled with testimonials of people who have tried it — and if they're like Christina Dupee, a mom of three in Park Forest, they'll tell you it's a game changer.
"I was in shock," said Dupee, who uses the supplement herself and on her children.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis plants — marijuana and hemp. While it contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the amounts are too small — or less than .3 percent — to make you high.
CBD oil has been noted anecdotally for its health benefits, and it is touted to treat a wide range of ailments, including anxiety, pain, sleeplessness, depression and eczema.
Research is beginning to back those claims. Some studies, for example, indicate that oral forms of CBD may be an effective pain treatment. In 2018, the Federal Drug Administration approved a CBD-based drug to treat epilepsy.
And last year, a World Health Organization report noted its promise, saying that CBD appears to be safe and tolerated well by the people who take it.
"To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD," the report's authors wrote — meaning people are feeling better, but they aren't getting high.
Dupee, for example, uses CBD to treat her 4-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. She researched its use and legal status extensively before she tried it. She's glad she did.
Her son had difficulty sleeping and napping, and often demonstrated his frustration with aggression, the way many children on the spectrum do. He also wouldn't speak.
But a coconut oil-based CBD treatment changed all that, Dupee said. The change wasn't instant, but he began to sleep through the night, say his ABCs aloud and even smile instead of frown.
"When he watches cartoons, he will imitate them, and he will even do dances when he watches 'The Wiggles.' He would ignore it before," she said.
CBD's cult-like status is skyrocketing sales. In 2017, New Frontier Data estimated that the CBD-product market grew 40 percent to $367 million in sales. By 2022, economists estimate, sales for hemp-based CBD products alone will reach $647 million.
"We knew people were looking for these products, but who knew we would have grown so fast?" said Dafna Revah, owner of the chain CBD Kratom. She first set up shop in 2014 and has opened eight more across the country since then — with three in Chicago.
Her clients aren't looking for edibles to get stoned. The average age range for customers is 35 to 55, and they are serious about pain management and anxiety relief.
"Pain cream is our number one seller," she said.
Despite its popularity, CBD is not a wonder drug, physicians caution.
"There's very limited evidence to date on the efficacy of CBD," said Melinda Ring, the executive director of Northwestern Medicine's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. She prescribes it for patients who are looking for alternatives to prescription medications for issues such as anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain.
"The strongest data is for the treatment of seizures in some rare epilepsy disorders," she said. "For other conditions, ranging from glaucoma to movement disorders, the data is promising." But it is still limited, she said.
Much is still unknown about CBD, researchers and doctors say, including side effects, adverse reactions and proper dosages, so curious first-timers should be aware.
Ring explained that in laboratories, doses of CBD range from 20 mg to 600 mg, so doses lower than that are unlikely to provide any benefit.
"I advise patients that hemp products often times contain very low doses of CBD — 0.025%, as is naturally found in hemp oil," Ring said. Patients should also look for hemp extracts or products listing the exact amount of CBD, with suggested doses clearly stated, she added.
Ring also said she advises patients to use reputable products that have strict quality control.
That can be a difficult task because CDB sits in a kind of regulations purgatory.
Cannabidiol, with the except of the new epilepsy treatment, is not considered a medicinal drug and as a supplement, it is not regulated by the FDA. Products on the shelves have been found to contain little-to no CBD in them.
CBD's legal status also is murky and open to interpretation. Under federal law, it's technically illegal, although a 2014 amendment permitted the cultivation of hemp in some cases, as well as the marketing of its products. Hemp-based CBD oil, however, is widely available across the country. A few states ban it outright.
In 2018, Illinois lawmakers, too, legalized growing and selling hemp for industrial purposes, and the hemp can't contain more than 0.3 percent THC. There also is no law permitting or criminalizing hemp-based CBD products, and as Revah points out, selling hemp-based products is generally considered legal. However, marijuana-based CBD for medicinal use is legal, but the products are available only in state dispensaries and can be bought only by licensed individuals.
Revah, who now carries a roll-on CBD oil for pain, said she and her staff take this to heart. They spend hours training on the research surrounding CBD and strive to offer top-of-the-line products, but they try to arm their clients with quality information to make the best decisions for their ailments.
"It's like the Wild West out there," she said. "But we believe people should not live their lives every day in pain."
This article first appeared in Chicago Sun-Times.
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