When I was in college — back in the days of sex, drugs and Woodstock — pot came in three “flavors”: Mexican, Jamaican and Hawaiian.
Pot was fairly expensive back then (insanely expensive compared to today’s dispensary prices) and of variable quality. Mexican was the cheapest. It usually came with a generous helping of sticks and weeds and you had to strain it through a kitchen strainer to get enough of the flowers to make a joint — a ritual most college students of the time were more than familiar with. Jamaican — also known as “ganja” — was stronger but harder to find. And Hawaiian was to pot what Kona was to coffee — rare, expensive, and the best of the lot.
Pot — also known as mary jane or weed — has had a less than sterling reputation, reinforced by movies such as the 1936 classic Reefer Madness. (From the movie poster: Women cry for it! Men die for it! The sweet pill that makes life bitter!”) Most of America believed that pot was a “gateway drug,” and its association with jazz musicians and hippies didn’t help matters. In 1969, the percentage of people in the US who believed pot should be legal was a paltry 12%.(10)
Well, that was then. America has had a change of heart on pot, as reflected by the fact that by 2014, the percentage of folks who believed pot should be legal had jumped to an astonishing 64%!(10). (The only social issue on which there’s been a faster public opinion turn-around has been same-sex marriage.) No longer in the shadows, medical marijuana has become a legitimate area of serious research. And the research so far is pretty damn promising.
It’s also led to more confusion in the public space than probably any modern commodity except perhaps bitcoin — (which, really, let’s face it, no one understands). But I digress.
A full exploration of the things medical marijuana has been shown to do is way beyond the scope of this article. Let’s just summarize by saying it’s useful for a surprising number of seemingly unrelated conditions such as PTSD, Alzheimers and pain relief. But most Americans — even in these days of changing laws and increased acceptance — have reservations and hesitations when it comes to using a drug that the federal government still classifies as a Schedule One drug, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
And that’s why CBD hemp oil is so exciting.
So to understand what the heck CBD oil is — how it’s related to “cannabis,” where it comes from, what it does, and why we care — we need to spend a couple of paragraphs sorting out the whole “marijuana vs. hemp” thing.
According to Laura Lagano, MS, RDN, co-founder of The Holistic Cannabis Academy (which actually offers a certification to health professionals on the medical uses of marijuana and hemp), here’s the easiest way for consumers to think about it: The plant “cannabis” comes in two flavors: marijuana and hemp. (Full disclosure—this is not how botanists classify it, but trust me, you don’t want to delve into the taxonomy of genus and species and all the rest of the arcane Latin-based classification system of the cannabis family. Much better to simplify.)
Marijuana (pot) and hemp both contain compounds called cannabinoids, which are to the cannabis plant what flavonoids are to fruits and vegetables — powerful plant substances that have important beneficial (and medical) effects. There are roughly 100 or so of these cannabinoids, but the two most famous are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC, is responsible for getting you stoned, and is the reason recreational pot users use pot in the first place. CBD, on the other hand, is a completely different animal and has no ‘psychotropic’ effect whatsoever. It does, however, do a number of other very interesting things. Research shows that CBD makes a significant difference in inflammatory bowel disease(1), attenuates cardiac dysfunction and oxidative stress(2), and induces antidepressant-like effects (3). Researchers at the Byrd Alzheimers Institute at the University of Southern Florida believe CBD could reduce inflammation in the brain.(12)
People who have been curious about the growing reputation of CBD hemp oil may have been reluctant to try it — if they could even find it. One study, in 2015, found that nearly 50% of CBD products sold tested negative for CBD; and another, more recent study, found that nearly 70% of online CBD products were mislabeled (13, 14, 15).
That’s why the entrance of Barlean’s Organic Oils into the fragmented wild west of the CBD market is a really big thing. It’s akin to Howard Stern joining XM radio when XM radio was just beginning to grow and had a mere 600,000 subscribers. Like him or hate him, Stern made satellite radio “legit”. (For the record, Stern joined in 2005, the station then merged with its competitor, to form Sirius/XM and went on to accumulate over 27.5 million paid subscribers.)
The point is, all it takes is one superstar getting into a market to change the face of the marketplace completely.
Barlean’s is a well-respected “elder statesman” in the supplement industry, a family-owned and operated business that made its reputation in oil extraction (for decades, it’s made the best-known and best-selling flaxseed oil on the market). Hemp oil is right up its alley. And If I’m going to take a chance on a product where the standards haven’t really been set yet, I’m going to bet on a company I know has a great track record.
Barlean’s clout in the market will virtually guarantee that CBD oil products will become widely available in the entire US and may have more than a few people wondering if they should take it. “I never just use CBD by itself with my patients,” Lagano told me, “but I incorporate it into a complete program that includes lifestyle and nutrition. I have to tell you, the results I’ve seen have been impressive.”
My opinion is that CBD oil has the potential to be a powerful adjunctive treatment in a host of diseases that have an inflammatory component.
There’s already good research showing that it’s helpful in inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular function and in two studies it was shown to have an antidepressant effect.
Do we need more research on medical marijuana? Sure we do, but let’s get real with a few facts. Annual global deaths from alcohol are 2.5 million (7); from cigarettes, 7 million (8); The number of deaths from drug overdose in the US alone jumped to over 59,000 in 2017 (9). From cannabis the number of deaths is…. zero point zero.
And with hemp oil CBD, we’re not even talking about cannabis (marijuana) we’re talking about hemp, a related but completely different plant, which is legal — let’s see– everywhere. By law, hemp has to have less than 1/3 of 1% THC content — that’s not enough to get a yeast cell stoned.
So as a nutritionist and health professional, I say there’s virtually no downside to experimenting with CBD oil from a reputable source, if for no other reason than its proven ability to reduce pain and inflammation. Remember, virtually every degenerative disease we know has an inflammatory component, and CBD is a known and established anti-inflammatory. (The US government even owns a patent on the use of cannabinoids as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories!) (6)
In California, where I live, and where CBD has been available for years, I’ve heard countless pet owners tell me stories of how CBD has helped their dogs with severe arthritis. And let’s remember, dogs don’t do placebo effects. They either limp—or they don’t. I’ve seen those results with my own eyes and they’re hard to ignore.
Jonny Bowden, “the Nutrition Myth Buster,” is a board-certified nutritionist and the best-selling author of 15 books including The Great Cholesterol Myth, Living Low Carb, the 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth and Smart Fat. To learn more about healthy living, motivation and nutrition, visit jonnybowden.com.
Note: The statements presented in this column should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before altering your daily dietary regimen. The opinions presented here are those of the writer.