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Benefits of CBD – fact or fad

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. 

Today we have for you Deepak Anand, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the global cannabis industry. He’s served on the boards of various pharmaceutical associations across Canada, the United States, and Europe. He’s Executive Director for the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association, and he’s an adjunct professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where he wrote and taught Canada’s first and only cannabis course. So very quickly I’ll start. What is wellness to you?

Deepak Anand: Wellness is a state of mind as well as a state of body, and the two working together in harmony and working together well. And that’s what wellness is to me.

AB: And tell me, are hemp and cannabis the same thing?

DA: So, first of all, hemp is a subspecies of cannabis. I think the biggest and most important thing is that hemp is part of cannabis. It’s a variety of cannabis. It’s a type of cannabis. It comes from the same plant. Cannabis ruderalis is sort of the mother plant, if you will, and then there’s various species within that plant. Hemp is just one variety of cannabis. But I think people often confuse cannabis as being THC and being things that give you the psychoactive high, which we’ll talk about. But people are often confused between THC and cannabis being this separate thing, and then hemp being this other thing, whereas really, it’s all the same plant, and it’s all one thing effectively. And so, hemp is a subspecies of the cannabis plant, specifically cannabis ruderalis.

AB: So, hemp is a subspecies of the Cannabis ruderalis plant. Can you explain what are the other parts of the plant?

DA: Yeah, for sure, cannabis is a plant like any other plant. There’re leaves, stalks, stems, all those sorts of traditional things. But I think the two most important things that people should generally keep in mind are colas and trichomes. And this is not specific to cannabis, but I think particularly in the context of cannabis, I think it’s important because cola is sort of what is commonly known as that bud or that nug that typically stands at the top of the flower. It’s effectively the flowering part of the cannabis plant. And then trichomes are basically the little kind of frosting like things that come off the flower themselves. But I think the two most important things that people probably should keep in mind are just cola and trichomes generally.

AB: And these two are what a lot of the products we’re talking about are made from?

DA: Yeah, so typically THC and CBD, which are the two major kinds of cannabinoids or the most important cannabinoids in the plant, are derived from this specific area of the plant as opposed to the leaves and the stem. So, the leaves and stem, of course, carry CBD and THC and a whole bunch of other cannabinoids within it. But these specific colas and trichomes are really where a lot of the active ingredients of the API [Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients] is actually extracted from when it comes to CBD or THC.

AB: And what exactly is CBD? I never fully understood that.

DA: So, CBD stands for Cannabidiol. It’s basically one of several hundreds of cannabinoids that we were actively learning about. The plant has over 400 known cannabinoids and the one that is psycho-active but not impairing— a lot of people use it for therapeutic purposes.

AB: So, you’re saying it’s psycho-active. Will you explain that?

DA: For sure. One of the most sort of common myths about CBD is that it’s not psycho-active, but in fact it is psycho-active. And psychoactivity stands for anything that sort of alters and has implications on the brain and things that actually break the blood-brain-barrier. So, that is what psychoactivity kind of stands for. And so, CBD like THC, which are two kinds of common ingredients in the cannabis plant, are both psycho-active. And CBD is a psycho-active element of the plant.

AB: And can CBD be addictive at all?

DA: No. I mean, CBD on its own generally is not known to be addictive. Talking about things that CBD is added to that can cause an addictive feeling, much like depending on where you are. I’m in North America. You’re in the UK. In the UK, there’s a number of products that CBD is added to. So, you talk about gummies, you talk about chocolates, candies, those sorts of things. And so, there’s a number of things that, you know, CBD gets added to and of course, I mean, you know, you could get addicted to the sugar element and so, you know, there’s different components. It depends on how CBD is actually consumed which could add an additive effect to it. But on its own, as a compound, if you take it as an oil, for example, it doesn’t really taste very pleasant. And I personally can’t see how people would get addicted to something like that because it actually tastes quite bad if you were to just take CBD on its own.

AB: And what are the main benefits of CBD?

DA: So, CBD is known to have tons and tons of benefits. The one thing that I will caution is it’s not a panacea. In many ways. A lot of people think it’s a panacea, in the sense that it’s going to be the silver bullet that’s going to cure a whole bunch of diseases. And let me be the first to tell you that that’s not the case. Having said that, there are several benefits of CBD. I mean, people find benefits in their sleep [patterns], people find benefits in kind of how their metabolism performs. You’ll find benefits in their aches and pain. It can be applied topically; it can be ingested orally. There are many, many ways to be able to consume CBD on its own. Backache or a neckache…there are topical ointments with CBD that people find beneficial in many ways. There are wounds that CBD is proven to be healing. In fact, there are studies currently being done by Dabur research group in India. And so, they’re conducting research that sort of impacts wound healing at a much faster rate than wounds would normally heal. So, we’re learning more and more about it as more and more research is conducted. There is much more that we’re learning about CBD and generally about its applications. But there are a number of therapeutic applications, and anecdotally people find a lot of benefit in it. So, a lot of people say that they can sleep better once they’ve consumed CBD. So, we’re seeing now anecdotally a lot of that happen as well.

AB: It’s not harmful for people who take it to go to sleep?

DA: Yeah. So, I would say again, just like any other product that you’ll be consuming, I mean, knowing that cannabis and CBD, which CBD is part of, it is psycho-active and it does have implications. It’s always better to check with your physician about consuming anything, starting a new regimen as it relates to any kind of product. And so, I would sort of caution my comments with that and say: always check with your physician. So, people do find benefits with sleep as it relates to CBD. Often CBD is added to many other things that induce sleep, such as melatonin as an example. And depending on where you are, melatonin is legal. At least in North America you can get it over-the-counter and people are mixing CBD with it and people find that this fat-added element of CBD actually benefits them sleeping… So it really varies from person to person but anecdotally we’re seeing a lot of feedback from people saying that CBD works. In many other cases, THC has proven to be beneficial for sleep. So, it really depends on the person, the metabolism, the compound. It depends what other ailments you have. But generally, there seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence around CBD helping sleep.

AB: You mentioned pain relief. CBD is used for pain relief. Can you just use it rather than ingest it? Can you use it topically?

DA: Depending on the market of course that you’re in and this is again where it gets very nuanced because despite Canada having legalized CBD and cannabis for the last three years, it’s still very hard to get topical products over the counter. In the UK, it’s very easy to get topical CBD products. So, yes, it can be used topically. It has been proven so far to be safe, although there have been extensive studies being performed on this. But generally, it is proven to be safe, so far based on the products that are currently on the market. And yes, there are a lot of therapeutic applications that people find beneficial on CBD.I know, just as an anecdotal point, my wife uses CBD topically, and it helps a lot with her muscle pains. And so, I see a lot of people using it for that purpose.

AB: And tell me something Deepak. What scientific evidence do we have? I mean have there been a lot of studies that have been done? Because cannabis has been around for centuries, right? And CBD also now has been around for a while.

DA: Yeah. So, the research, Anshu, is still developing in this area. Cannabis, generally, as we talked about the cannabis plant at the outset, the problem with sort of the criminalization of cannabis so far has been that the research that has been able to be done on it has been severely stifled because we’ve sort of taken this poor plant and put it into a category of all these banned substances or quote unquote “drugs” and has, as a result, taken out all of the therapeutic aspects of it and the ability for people to be able to research it. I mean, when I got into the cannabis industry eight, nine years ago, there were very few people trying to do research. Because even if you wanted to do research, if you were a licensed institute that wasn’t going to sell this product, that only wanted to take a look at the relevant aspects from a medicinal perspective, you weren’t able to depend on the country that you were in because it was illegal at the federal level. So, with respect to research, yes, a lot has already been done. There are hundreds of studies already out there, many of them on CBD specifically. But as we start to decriminalize this on a global basis, more and more countries are now starting to come online and saying, let’s actually understand and do some research on this and understand what the therapeutic benefits are. And so, a lot of studies are actually taking place on CBD. And so far, we haven’t seen anything sort of negative come out. There’s been this misnomer that people will sort of be living off walls. Cannabis has been legal in this country for the last three years, and we haven’t been seeing people sort of going crazy and the world hasn’t fallen, sky hasn’t fallen. And so generally, nothing super negative so far as it relates to the negative impacts of CBD in cannabis.

AB: Can you tell me what you think are the main harmful effects or side effects of CBD?

DA: As I was saying, there aren’t really a lot of known kinds of harmful side effects of CBD. There really isn’t very much that is actually known. It depends on the metabolism; it depends on the ailments that people have. There could be negative impacts on the liver for certain groups of people, but again, they’re very isolated and they’re very limited to very specific kinds of diseases and ailments. I think generally, if you were to put a blanket coverage, there isn’t a huge negative side effect of CBD. Generally, people have seen more positive side effects. Now, of course, there are people with mental health, there are certainly people that might be under the age of 18 that might not want to consume cannabis generally, in some cases, CBD more specifically, depending on their ailments and diseases. But generally, there isn’t any sort of major side effect or outcome from that perspective.

AB: And is there something which says that CBD should not be taken by people who have low blood pressure?

DA: Again, I haven’t really seen any studies myself. I would always recommend people with higher or low blood pressure to check with their physician and kind of get the best advice from the physician. Depending on what other drugs you might be taking, there might be an impact that CBD could have with respect to other medications. So, it’s always good to kind of check with the physician. I think it’s very hard to give specific examples when and where CBD should and should not be taken. And so, it’s always best that people check with their physicians for advice on taking CBD.

AB: Okay, wonderful. And tell me, does it make the appetite go up by any chance?

DA: So, cannabis, I think, and this is where most people confuse CBD with THC and cannabis generally. I think what we’ve done is… In the UK, specifically in Europe, [they have] sort of bifurcated these two things, and like I said at the outset, for treating cannabis as a separate plant, and then there’s hemp and CBD as the separate plant. And so now we’re only going to focus on CBD because of regulations. That’s not the case. I think if you’re someone that has true sleep issues and that might have other ailments, THC could actually be super beneficial in not just getting you stoned or high. That’s what it’s typically known for on the recreational side, but on the medicinal side, it does actually help with the sleep element and the appetite element as an example. So, a lot of people that are coming off of chemotherapy or have a lot of nausea usually find a lot of appetite sort of stimulating effects that actually THC has more than CBD. And this is where you really need to look at cannabis as a whole, because there’s something within the plant that’s known as the entourage effect. And what the entourage effect is that all of these cannabinoids that we were speaking about earlier, THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, all work together in the body to create this melody, if you will, of many sorts, to be able to add that therapeutic effect. In many cases it could be sleep, in some cases it could be pain relief. The science and the jury are still out with respect to whether we should be looking at isolated cannabinoids, THC on its own, THCB on its own, CBD on its own, or we should be looking at this as an entourage effect. And I think generally people are finding that the entourage effect, which is a combination of all these cannabinoids, both THC and CBD, is what’s actually proving to be beneficial so far.

AB: Interesting, very interesting. And tell me earlier you mentioned that there’s a lot of myths around CBD. Can you tell us what is the biggest myth that you want people to know about?

DA: There is a common sort of myth that CBD is not psycho-active, when CBD actually is psycho-active. It’s just not impairing. I think when people are trying to differentiate THC and CBD, THC is the one that is psycho-active and impairing. It causes that sort of alcoholic-type impairment effect that you will have when you consume alcohol. Whereas CBD, on the other hand, is still psycho-active. It’s just not impairing. So, I think when people are trying to say it’s not psycho-active, they actually mean to say it’s not impairing. But there is a drastic difference between impairment and psychoactivity. And I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that people should learn.

AB: You know, how CBD has been known to help people with mental health conditions. So, why is it not used more in mainstream medicine if that is the case?

DA: Mental health and cannabis is generally a subject that requires a lot more research. I wouldn’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions that CBD definitely helps people with mental health or doesn’t help people with mental health. I think that generally, some researchers and particularly those that are dealing with mental health do have some harmful implications. Not with CBD on its own, but certainly with cannabis. So, I would caution people with mental health to definitely look at their physician and get advice from their physician around consuming any cannabinoid products, whether it be THC or CBD. But mental health is an area that I think we need to do a lot more research on. And there is a lot of research being done currently around the different cannabinoids in mental health, but it’s one that we still definitely haven’t proven if it does or doesn’t cure certain illnesses. And I think that is the hard part with cannabis, we know anecdotally and many patients report that they feel much better when they consume cannabis. But the challenge is when you go to a physician, they’re like, okay, tell me definitively it cures this disease. Tell me how many milligrams, tell me how many times I should be taking it a day, and prove to me that ten milligrams taken twice daily is going to help. And unfortunately, we’re just not there with respect to where cannabis is. A lot more research is needed to be able to get to that point. And I suspect that we will get to that point, but we’re not there yet.

AB: That’s actually very useful information. There’s so much we don’t know about the subject. One of the things people just say is, yes, it helps. It’s been known to help. So, it’s good to know we’re not definitively there yet.

DA: Generally, it’s much safer than many other things that people put into their body, including alcohol and tobacco in many cases. I would like to clarify for those that might not know. You don’t have an alcohol system in your body. You don’t have a tobacco system in your body, meaning when you consume alcohol, there aren’t any receptors that are actually doing things within your body. When you smoke a cigarette, nothing’s going off in your lungs besides carcinogens that’s going to negatively impact you.

With cannabis, we all have an endocannabinoid system, each and every human being and animal. No physician is sort of saying, no, you have a liver, but you don’t have an endocannabinoid system. There’s no debate. And so, when you look at getting an exogenous compound, meaning something outside the body, to have an impact on that endocannabinoid system, and that is what cannabinoids are. Breast milk, as an example, has cannabinoids within it. So, we have naturally produced cannabinoids in our own body. And I think it’s very important to be at least aware of that. 

And I think the challenge that we see in medical schools today is we don’t have any conversations happening about the endocannabinoid system. I mean, could you imagine, if you were to go to a physician and you were to have an issue with a certain part of your body, and the doctor is like, sorry, I don’t know about that because I was never taught about it. It’s just not acceptable. And so, I think this is why we need to be demanding more physicians actually start to educate themselves around the endocannabinoid system, because there is no disputing that we have it in our body. We just need to learn what it does and how it impacts it.

AB: So, now this is very interesting. Why aren’t there enough conversations and enough research? Why isn’t there enough research about the endocannabinoid system in our bodies?

DA: Yeah, part of this has really been the war on drugs. I think what we’ve done is we’ve taken this plant, as I said earlier, and put it into this box of drugs and just drugs, a bad pharmaceutical type situation, which we basically accepted for many, many years, and that’s not true. And that’s created a lot of stigma around, particularly around physicians. So, that’s one part of the challenge, the war on drugs has kind of led to the stigma. That hasn’t really helped the cause. The second issue, as I was saying earlier, is we haven’t really gotten a lot of studies that show what the negative side effects are. How many milligrams of a certain cannabinoid taken, how many times a day is going to help? Right? I think that’s how physicians are used to thinking. They’re not used to thinking, let’s look at this holistically, let’s look at this as everything, including everything you put into your body, including the food that you eat, that may not have any pharmaceutical implications, but has other implications in your body. I think physicians are not taught to think that way. And so, I think the combination of those two aspects, both stigma as well as sort of this lack of certainty, definitively pointing with very high and specific degrees of specificity around what the cannabinoid content should be, has led to sort of a holding back, if you will, of this. But now what you’re seeing generally in the population is people are saying, all right, enough with this. I find CBD to be beneficial to me. I understand there could be some impacts, but I’m okay taking that chance because if I feel better at night, I can sleep at night. It reduces my back pain; it helps me with my nausea. I’m going to go ahead and do that. And who are you to tell me that I can’t do that? And now what you’re seeing is years and years and years later, people have been consuming CBD. Whether people like it or not, whether it’s good or not, people have been consuming it and the sky hasn’t fallen. So, that’s sort of where we’re at.

AB: Also, now tell me, people are told people feel like it turns their body alkaline. I don’t know if this is another myth that it prevents disease by taking it. I know you’re saying it’s not a panacea, it doesn’t sort out all kinds of issues. And also, how do you suggest people try it?

DA: Yeah, look, I can’t speak about alkalinity. I don’t believe that it is, but again, I can’t speak to things that I might not know. So, I’ll reserve that for obviously a healthcare practitioner or a physician to comment on with respect to how much people should take. I mean, generally, the advice in the cannabis space, whether it be CBD or THC, is to start low, go slow. There really isn’t a lot of negative impact. You would take a high dose of CBD generally, or THC for that matter. Despite having some outcomes, like not being able to be operative completely for some time, there aren’t really a lot of negative side effects, meaning it isn’t going to cause permanent damage, if you will, in the organs of your body. Again, it’s always beneficial to check with your physician around, taking any new item or any new sort of exogenous product that you might be consuming, including CBD. I’d say generally, what people should know is to start low, go slow, take a small dosage, try it out, and see how you feel. Obviously, check out the legality of where you’re located and whether you can or cannot have that product on you. And start low, go slow.

AB: That’s actually very useful. Now tell me, what advice do you have? This is my last question to you. What advice do you have for people listening in?

DA: Don’t think of CBD generally as a panacea. It is not this miracle drug that’s going to cure every single illness. You could consume this product just so you feel better. And there’s a difference between getting better and feeling better and it’s okay to be consuming that for that purpose. And there’s been a lot of myths around the cannabis plant generally that people should take with a grain of salt. Also on the flip side, I will say that cannabis is not a benign substance and it does have negative effects, particularly on young developing brains. So, people under the age of 18 might want to be very cautious around their consumption of cannabis generally. And so again, before you take anything, be sure to check with your physician about what you should be taking or not taking, or how much you should be taking. But also on the flip side, it’s maybe not as harmful as tobacco or alcohol, but again, know what you’re adjusting, where you’re buying these products from, making sure that they’re safe tested and well regulated.

AB: Thank you, Deepak, that was such a brilliant chat. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you leading your best life.