Darren McCrea turns to CBD lotion to ease inflammation. That CBD is cannabidiol, a cannabis extract that doesn’t cause a high.
McCrea deals with multiple medical issues, including rheumatoid arthritis. He’s the former owner of SpoCannabis, which first opened as a medical marijuana shop, and also uses marijuana to ease symptoms. But McCrea said he applies a CBD lotion topically for inflammation, such as when he had a swollen elbow from an injury.
“When I had bursitis on my elbow, it was at least 2 inches across and 2-and-a-half to 3 inches long,” said McCrea, 51. “I went to the doctor and they said they probably would have to drain it. I started putting that CBD lotion on, and it disappeared in probably a week to 10 days.”
McCrea saw a similar effect for his mother a few years ago when she had a diabetic ulcer on her big toe, and doctors talked of amputation. “I gave the lotion to her and she continued to put it on and in a couple of weeks it was completely gone.”
Jessica Charles of Bluegrass Hemp Oil demonstrates the dropper use of Genesis Blend hemp extract at the store in Spokane Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
His wife, Bobbie Ann McCrea, said she doesn’t use CBD or marijuana products, but she’s heard feedback from friends about how it helps them. Even their dog benefits from pet-directed CBD products that help with inflammation and calming.
“Among people we know, it helps them function,” she said. “Helping with fibromyalgia is a big one people have told me about.”
CBD is a derivative of cannabis found in both marijuana and hemp plants. However, marijuana has a much higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that causes intoxication. Hemp has higher levels of CBD.
Many CBD products from hemp – including oils, ointments, lotions, drink mixers and vaping oils – contain no THC or less than 0.3 percent. Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion in the availability of such products, thanks in part to the 2014 Farm Act, which opened the door to the industrial hemp production. The 2018 Farm Act is expected to open it even wider.
“There is a national movement to allow more growth of hemp for industry,” said Dr. Matt Layton, a physician and researcher at Washington State University Spokane. He’s with the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Another product gaining in popularity are hemp seeds, and they have CBD, he said.
In 2018, Washington state House Bill 2334 passed into law that permits the use of CBD products from unlicensed sources, so long as the CBD product has a THC level of 0.3 percent or less.
Like other herbal remedies, CBD products tend to carry general messages of “relief from” back and knee pain or other symptoms. Claims aren’t supposed to say they’re a cure for a specific diagnosis, said Layton, who researches addictions along with natural products and pharmaceutical drug interaction.
That supplement delivery is why the CBD products are found on some shelves in Washington and Idaho alongside other dietary supplements, he added.
“The whole thing with dietary supplements and non-FDA regulated stuff like that, it’s a lot like St. John’s wort,” he said. “You don’t actually take it for depression as a diagnosis. You take it for mood improvement.
“What they’re saying is CBD is a supplement, not an FDA drug for any particular condition, so that’s why they can make sweeping claims about helping symptoms like pain without actually being tied down.”
Meanwhile, drug enforcement officials regarding CBD items are “basically not batting an eye, because it’s not THC; it’s not psychoactive,” Layton added.
“The FDA could pull it from shelves if they thought there was a safety concern; that happened for example with Ephedra and stuff like that had a claim of being a weight loss supplement, and then people started getting sick.”
In 2004, the agency banned dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids, after roughly 155 deaths were blamed on that amphetamine-like stimulant.
“No one’s worried about the safety profile of CBD because there has been tons of research in animal models that shows it incredibly safe and almost impossible to overdose on,” he said.
“In humans, there’s tons of information from states that have medical marijuana. They aren’t dropping dead from that, but they are dropping dead from opioids.”
Lagging medical research
Layton is interested in medical research with human study participants to measure CBD and THC effectiveness in pain relief, involving randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials. However, federal restrictions on cannabis so far have halted that body of research, he said.
“This is what we want to do, we want to study THC and CBD in spinal pain, back pain, neck pain, but in order to do that, we’d have to go through the FDA.”
Humans have natural cannabinoid receptors involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory. The body also has something called anandamide, a natural neurotransmitter that binds cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, he said.
Some therapeutic benefits of CBD have been tested in animal models, Layton said. It’s believed to act the same way in humans. “We just haven’t had the chance to prove it.”
“There is more CBD availability as a supplement, but as far as the medical and clinical claims, I’d love to test those,” he said. “There should be science backing it up … to understand the scope of the issue including opioids. Are they’re natural remedies so people don’t have to take opioids?”
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following clinical trials did approve a prescription Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy in patients 2 years of age and older. It’s the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana.
Bill Hiscox is co-owner of True Nature Creations LLC in Spokane Valley, an online retailer of CBD products from hemp plants.
Hiscox names a combination of factors on why people are hearing more about CBD. For one, the hemp industry has exploded.
“The hemp industry has undergone a change in legal standing over the past few years,” he said. “With the passage of the Farm Act of 2018, hemp has become legal in all 50 states on the federal level. That opens up the legal landscape and makes it permanent.”
States and federal agencies now will be making adjustments and regulatory changes, he added.
“CBD has become recognized in the past five or six years to be as important or more important than THC,” he said. “The focus for a long time was on medical marijuana and legal marijuana.
“With the evolution of the hemp industry, that made it possible to obtain CBD from hemp that has no THC, rather than from a recreational cannabis source or a marijuana source. It’s steadily gaining traction in the media. It’s reaching a crescendo now as all these things come together with legalization and awareness.”
In November 2017, the World Health Organization released a preliminary report on the health effects of CBD that said it’s generally well tolerated with a good safety profile. Any adverse effects might be a result of drug interactions between CBD and existing medications, a summary said.
The report discusses “great potential for healing,” Hiscox said.
“People are trying it for themselves,” he added. “People tell us they’re buying it for pain relief, to reduce anxiety, inflammation relief, auto immune diseases, skin conditions. The list goes on and on.”
For consumers buying in Washington, CBD might be a little confusing in the mix of the state’s legalized marijuana shops, with some also selling specific CBD products that can have varying percentages of THC.
Hiscox said many hemp product retailers do third-party testing voluntarily for quality, and they follow guidelines for consumer protection laws, truth in advertising and requirements for supplements under the FDA and Department of Agriculture.
He said True Nature Creations’ products are manufactured under state and federal health laws and independently tested. Products include topicals such as lotions and creams, as well as hemp oil capsules.
“On the hemp side, it’s no different than any other herbal product,” he said. “It comes from a natural plant, and it’s as legal as any other herb.”
Another local store, Blue Grass Hemp Oil in Spokane Valley, opened in February 2018, said manager Tom Polyniak. It sells CBD oils and lotions locally through a family-owned company based in Kentucky that handles growing the plants, harvesting and making the products.
“Back in 2014, we were awarded a pilot project licensed in Kentucky,” he said. “My brother and sister-in-law own the company along with a partner,” he said.
“When my nephew was 3 years old, he came down with seizures, and the pharmaceuticals were doing more harm than good. They did research and found CBD from hemp could help, so they dove into it and became an advocate in Kentucky to get the crop approved in that state.”
Some customers tell him they apply lotions to joints for pain or apply some CBD oil under their tongue, he said.
Joel Bordeaux, co-owner of Global CBD, opened a retail store in 2017 in Sandpoint to sell hemp-derived CBD products also sold online.
He said Global CBD products will be in the grocery chain Super 1 Foods this month, and the company has already stocked items at Pilgram’s Market.
“Our products have no THC,” he said. “We put them through what’s known as isolation process to remove THC. Our products are safe for employees, and probation or parole individuals, because there’s no THC.
“That’s why we could be in business prior to the 2018 Farm Bill passing.”
Bordeaux, who said he had a prior marijuana conviction in Idaho but anticipates that eventually being pardoned, believes marijuana and hemp have been wrongly classified by federal law. He thinks people are seeing a revolution.
“We’ve known for many decades that CBD is good for us,” he said.
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