CVS Pharmacy has announced it will sell hemp-derived CBD products in 800 stores, according to NBC News. Products include topical products like creams, sprays, and salves that contain the non-psychoactive substance cannibidiol, a close relative to the marijuana plant. National opinions of hemp and CBD are rapidly changing.
Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee will be the flagship states to carry CBD-based products at 800 of the drugstore chain’s locations, the NBC article said. The cannibidiol products are limited to skin treatment products, rather than including food, in accordance with a statement by the FDA reiterating the illegality of introducing a drug into the food supply. The statement said that hemp would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but “just as important for the FDA and our commitment to protect and promote the public health is what the law didn’t change: Congress explicitly preserved the agency’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.” Still, this change is representative of the growing interest in —and understanding of—cannabis and cannabis-derived products and compounds on the national market.
CBD Oil – A Crash Course in Cannabis Terminology
The Latin name for the cannabis plant is Cannabis sativa. So where did the term “marijuana” come from? “The cannabis plant became known as marijuana in the 1900s, using the Spanish word to make a distinction from the hemp plant used to make rope,” said Dr. Roy Benaroch, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. Next, cannabinoids refer to a group of dozens of varying chemicals found within the cannabis plant.
“Although there are dozens of biologically active cannabinoids, the two found in the highest concentration are THC—that’s short for tetrahydrocannabinol—and cannabidiol, often abbreviated CBD,” Dr. Benaroch said. “THC is the psychoactive compound.” Whether ingested or smoked, THC is the chemical in cannabis that produces the mind- or perception-altering effect in users. On the other hand, CBD “has been shown in animal and other early studies in the 1970s and 1980s to have anti-seizure properties,” Dr. Benaroch said.
To be clear, the lotions, roll-ons, and sprays that CVS will be selling are derived from CBD—cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive chemical—as opposed to THC, which is the chemical that gets users high.
Medical Marijuana: Separating Fact from Fiction
Websites and magazines often make grandiose claims about marijuana being some kind of miracle cure for various illnesses. Although CBD has proven useful for some patients with epilepsy and chronic pain, many special-interest publications and mainstream media have been guilty of exaggerating its possibilities.
For example, Dr. Benaroch said he encountered a headline on a website that claimed over 90 percent of medical marijuana patients benefited from the treatment. Some cursory research led Dr. Benaroch to several other websites with similar headlines—but the sources they cited were all either one another or a specific article they misinterpreted from the Jerusalem Post. “Now, the Jerusalem Post is a legit, professional news organization, and their article never mentions the 90 percent figure quoted in those blog headlines,” Dr. Benaroch said. “The article only says that ‘most users benefit,’ not 90 percent. Even the Jerusalem Post article is sourced from a presentation at a meeting, a presentation that hasn’t been published in peer-reviewed literature.”
However, studies have shown some promise, if not as much as certain websites claim. “A New England Journal study from 2017 used a randomized, controlled design to look at CBD for children with one specific, very difficult kind of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome,” Dr. Benaroch said. “In this study, adding CBD to the usual medical regimen was significantly more effective than placebo, providing the first really solid evidence for CBD in seizure disorders.”
Doctors and other researchers are making progress studying and experimenting with various chemicals in marijuana as a medical agent, including its potential applications for seizures, anxiety, chronic pain, and more. The recent announcement from CVS is indicative of the increasing interest in marijuana for non-recreational purposes, although clearly some of its practical uses are still exaggerated and oversold. Only time will tell which medical advancements can be made with the substance and which are wishful thinking.
Dr. Roy Benaroch contributed to this article. Dr. Benaroch is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. He earned his B.S. in Engineering at Tulane University, followed by his M.D. at Emory University.