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Experts weighing benefits of CBD

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Though anecdotal accounts exist about the health benefits of cannabidiol, or CBD, products, medical experts say more clinical trials are needed. The Food and Drug Administration has approved only one CBD-based medicine, Epidiolex, as a treatment for rare and severe forms of epilepsy. File photo

With the proliferation of cannabidiol, or CBD, products for sale around town, some consumers may be wondering whether they deliver all the health benefits proponents are touting.

Medical and scientific experts say more testing is needed before the answer is known.

Proponents believe CBD helps combat anxiety, arthritis, back pain, digestive problems and even pets’ ills.

“While we have some evidence that there is some medical benefit of CBD oil for seizures, we don’t really have good clinical data to back up any of the other anecdotal claims,” said Timothy Grigsby, a professor of kinesiology and public-health researcher at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Clinical trials are needed to separate the effects of CBD from placebos, he noted.

“We need (Food and Drug Administration) regulation to both inform the public about potential harms and about what CBD does and doesn’t do,” he added.

Others see plenty of benefits in the emerging trend.

“Humans have an endocannabinoid receptor system in the body that these compounds interact with on a cellular level,” said Charles Rodkey, owner of Rodkeys, a North Side apothecary selling hemp CBD products. “These products activate your body to do the work. Unfortunately, some laws have been roadblocks to the necessary studies … but that is changing rapidly.”

The public is also seeking more CBD products to see for themselves whether there are benefits, he added.

“Every day we see more and more people utilizing CBD or hemp, whether for general relief from inflammation, anxiety, general stress or insomnia. The anecdotal health benefits are vast,” Rodkey said.

This spring, state legislators discussed the product and its primary source, hemp. In June, hemp and hemp extracts with limited amounts of CBD and THC were legalized in Texas.

The cannabis plant family includes both marijuana and hemp. The plants look quite similar, and the two contain 100-plus chemical compounds. The most common, and best known, compounds are CBD and THC, the latter of which produces the famous “high” as well as some negative side effects.

CBD alone does not produce a high, but claims as to its health benefits have proliferated. Both plants have some THC and some CBD, but marijuana has a much higher percentage of THC.

For now, the FDA has approved only one CBD-based medicine, Epidiolex, as a treatment for two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. However, many people, hopeful about CBD’s celebrated efficacy, are buying products from CBD oil to gummies, candy, capsules, dried buds and pet treats.

“The distribution of  cannabinoid receptors in all of us is wide, especially in the nervous system and the immune system,” said Dr. Gil Robinson. “Therefore some potential medical uses for these substances is inevitable. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘how important’ the role for these substances will be.”

Last fall, Cynthia Franklin, a senior research associate at University of the Incarnate Word’s Feik School of Pharmacy, began testing wares sold locally. In 15 CBD oils from different shops, CBD and THC levels varied widely from what the labels said.

Franklin said she found more THC than the labels claimed in eight of 11 oils she tested for it. One oil contained zero THC or CBD, she said.

Other inconsistencies she noted included recommended dosages and whether stores charged sales tax.

Materials containing CBD and THC are still illegal federally, she added.

Assistant dean and chairman of pharmaceutical sciences at the Feik School, Sushma Ramsinghani, is another of Franklin’s co-authors.

“They’re getting CBD from plant products, and it’s going to be a challenge to control the quality,” she said.

“Pharmacists are ultimately agents of public health. We’re trusted to counsel people about these fads, and we need hard data to convince the Food and Drug Administration to regulate these products,” added Feik School pharmacy professor Paulo Carvalho, another of the San Antonio CBD study’s co-authors.

The FDA held hearings on CBD in May, but regulations could take a year or even longer.

Carl Blond, a San Antonio nephrologist, said he’s heard patients and even hospital staffers singing the praises of CBD oil.

“It’s not a medicine, but it’s expensive, and some elderly people are spending $50 or more a month because they say it helps their arthritis, or some other problem,” he said. “As far as benefits, we know one thing for sure: It’s a big financial benefit for the people selling it.”

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