David Olive: CBD is clearly having a moment. But don’t expect it to last
|Toronto Star 22 Feb 2019 at 11:30|
CBD, of course, is an extract from cannabis or hemp whose use has been a social phenomenon across North America for the past few years. It is not psychoactive; the part of the plant that does make you high is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
There are hundreds of widely available CBD products, including skin moisturizers, baked goods, sexual lubricants, ice cream and dog treats. (Taimy Alvarez / TNS FILE PHOTO)
U.S. retail sales of CBD products more than quadrupled last year, with analysts expecting annual sales to top $20 billion (U.S.) by 2022, up from just $600 million or so now. (Jennifer Lett / AP FILE PHOTO)
Products containing CBD are billed as something of a cure-all. They are said to be a remedy for chronic pain, insomnia, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, cognitive impairment and, well, whatever ails you.
The boom in cannabidiol, CBD’s scientific name, has manifested itself in hundreds of widely available products . They include CBD-infused skin moisturizers, baked goods, sexual lubricants, ice cream and dog treats.
But like all booms, this one will end. It will give way to a new, sustainable CBD industry likely built on the Canadian model for legalized marijuana. More on that later.
For now, CBD continues on its steep upward trajectory. U.S. retail sales of CBD products more than quadrupled last year. Industry analysts expect annual U.S. sales to top $20 billion (U.S.) by 2022, up from just $600 million or so now.
CBD-infused food and beverages won’t be legally available in Canada until later this year.
Every era has had its voguish elixir, from sedatives and diet pills in the 1950s to Prozac in the 1990s.
At least those remedies, misused as they often were, had a basis in scientific research. By contrast, there is practically no scientific proof of CBD’s efficacy, in humans or huskies.
CBD has been scientifically proven to be effective in the treatment of two rare types of childhood epilepsy. All other claims for CBD’s health benefits are unproven.
Driving the current boom is mere word of mouth – a compounding of anecdotal reports of health benefits, mostly common in anxiety relief, easing stress and greater mental acuity. But the reported benefits may be real or imagined and caused by CBD or something else.
The eventual fade in the current CBD boom will be triggered by its loss of novelty, the high prices charged for CBD products and a growing disillusionment with products that fall short of their billing in effectiveness.
Yet by that point, CBD will have begun to trade its faddishness for stability in providing proven remedies for a smaller number of health conditions. By that point it would appeal to a bigger market beyond its current embrace by millennials and Gen-Xers and be accepted by seniors.
For now, though, CBD consumers will continue buying unregulated products whose actual content they’re seldom aware of. There is an abundance of fake goods on the market that contain no CBD at all.
And CBD products are remarkably pricey, as high as $160 (U.S.) for just 1,500 milligrams of hemp oil.
The more scrupulous vendors are cleverly vague in the claims made for their products. Their goods are said to “help” with, not cure, your anxiety disorder or your dog’s oxidative stress.
Despite the self-restraint of those CBD marketers who exercise it, government officials in New York state, Maine and Ohio are among the regulators that have cracked down on CBD in the past year, demanding, for instance, that restaurants and bakeries stop adding CBD to their food.
A cautious Ontario Cannabis Store offers just 12 “CBD-Dominant” products. The shelves at Amazon, by contrast, are stocked with dozens of CBD remedies for pets alone.
CBD products got a huge boost with last December’s U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized CBD derived from hemp. (CBD extracted from cannabis remains illegal in the U.S.)
Yet, pending serious research into CBD, the best that can be said of CBD is that it appears to be safe – although it can be harmful in combination with certain medications. No one thinking of using CBD products should do so without first consulting their doctor, though most devotees of CBD-infused skin creams, gummy bears and cocktails fail to do so.
And CBD might have a useful psychosomatic effect. Indeed, you have to wonder how large a role the psychosomatic impact plays in the health benefits reported by CBD consumers.
For instance, CBD-infused coffee usually contains five to 20 milligrams of CBD. It is touted as an anxiety reliever. But what little research has been done on CBD and anxiety suggests that a dose of between 300 to 500 milligrams is required to relieve anxiety.
For all that, however, a sustainable CBD market is on the horizon.
It probably will be a regulated one, in which consumers are assured of the purity and efficacy of CBD products, as Canadian buyers of marijuana products now are. It likely will be modelled on a Canadian cannabis market widely admired among public policymakers, health professionals and consumer advocates abroad as almost “hyper-regulated.”
Canada is a major producer of both hemp and legally cultivated cannabis and stands to profit considerably from a regulated CBD market that demands pure, effective products and reliable suppliers.
Three of Canada’s biggest pot firms, Canopy Growth Corp. of Smiths Falls, Ont., Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. and B.C.’s Tilray Inc. are poised to supply the U.S. market with hemp-derived CBD.
Canopy expects to have a hemp-cultivation facility in New York state in operation by fall , and last year bought a leading hemp R&D firm in Colorado.
Aurora will soon unveil its strategy for supplying the U.S. hemp-derived CBD market. Aurora has an edge in CBD, having long specialized in medicinal marijuana.
And Tilray this week acquired Winnipeg’s Manitoba Harvest , with its vast U.S. supply network including Walmart, Costco Wholesale Corp., drugstore giant CVS Health Corp., grocer Kroger Co. and Amazon.com Inc. Tilray is set to launch a line of CBD products this summer.
CBD does hold significant promise or so the admittedly scant research done to date appears to show. Research is underway on CBD’s use in the treatment of insomnia, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and, yes, cancer.
CBD’s most urgently needed application, if it can be shown effective, is in solving the opioid crisis. Early work in this field has demonstrated CBD’s potential in reducing opioid cravings among people addicted to fentanyl and other opioids.
For all its current ubiquity as a trendy phenomenon, the CBD industry will not achieve respectability until it begins immeasurably improving quality of life. As long as the industry is about CBD-infused cappuccino as a reputed remedy for dry skin, it will have the staying power of avocado toast.