Cannabis cures: are CBD oil's health benefits overhyped?

People are putting marijuana into everything and extolling its wonderful health properties, but the experts advise caution

24 March 2019 - 00:11
Coffee, herbal medicine, face masks ... cannabis-infused products are all the rage.
Coffee, herbal medicine, face masks ... cannabis-infused products are all the rage.
Image: 123RF/Craftswoman

Hear ye! Hear ye! Weed is (kind of) legal and that means we're due to be inundated with all manner of cannabis-infused doohickys promising to do everything from give us a light buzz to curing cancer and athletes' foot.

If you've been paying attention you'll have noticed that The Devil's Lettuce has already made its way into certain beer brands and even onto the festival circuit.

One of the fastest-growing areas for ganja-related thingamabobs is oils and herbal medicine. Like spandex around a fat guy's stomach during lunch time, the market for cannabis oils, pills, lotions and such, is expanding rapidly.

As is usually the case, this type of expansion comes with more questions than a toddler with the word why. Perhaps the most pressing of these is why anyone would bother putting eau d'Mary J in anything?

BITS IN EVERYTHING

If you're up on trends you will have noticed that Europeans, Americans and some avant-garde South Africans are putting dagga bits into just about everything. Coffee, face masks, chocolate, bath oils, herbal medicine ...

As attitudes and legislation around cannabis changed so did its mainstream consumer applications. Thus our new obsession with CBD oil was born.

Marijuana has more than 100 different chemical compounds that affect us humans and one of the most popular to extract and put into things is called cannabidiol or CBD.

The reason why CBD is more popular than a young Jane Fonda in spandex has a lot to do with its healing properties. It also helps that it doesn't get you high.

According to Peter Grinspoon, a contributing editor at the Harvard Medical School blog: "CBD has been touted for a wide variety of health issues, but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruellest childhood epilepsy syndromes, which typically don't respond to anti-seizure medications."

It also helps treat anxiety, insomnia, pain, inflammation, movement disorders and multiple sclerosis.

Combine that with the general cool factor that seems to hang in the air around anything weed related and it becomes easy to see how US CBD oil sales grew from less than $250m in 2014 to more than half a billion dollars in 2018.

Even SA is in on it. If you are that way inclined a few well-placed clacks on your keyboard will take you to the Bobby Greenhash Foundation's (BGF) website, a repository for cannabis, and natural health and diet products for those with an aversion to the mainstream.

Founded by Bobby Greenhash, his eponymous foundation is aimed at providing support, guidance and product to people looking to safely use marijuana. He started it in response to watching his mother lose her battle with cancer.

"When my mom was diagnosed with cancer some years ago, she elected to go on chemotherapy, an option which I was not happy with. My suggestion at alternative medicines like cannabis was scoffed at and I was fobbed off as a hippie and a daggakop for suggesting it," said Greenhash.

His mother died painfully a few months later.

"All her hair fell out and the ravage of chemo and radiation therapy eventually caused her death. From that day on, I became outraged and decided it was time for things to change. The BGF was formed based on the principles that I would never allow ignorance to cost someone their lives again with regards to alternative options of treatment not even being offered to patients."

Their stock room includes: cannabis beauty and cosmetics products, full-strength cheesecake-flavoured chocolate, suppositories and capsules potent enough to get cancer cells higher than that monkey who went to the moon.

HEALING PROPERTIES OVERSTATED

As with almost everything these days, one needs to be careful. Some CBD products are just snake oil and many of its healing properties have been overstated.

"My best advice is, whatever cannabis product you're getting, do some research and get your supply from a reputable supplier. At BGF, we have a research laboratory which is equipped with advanced testing equipment that allows us to determine exact dosages in our products, ensuring consistency," said Greenhash.

Speaking to Vox News associate professor at Colombia University, Ziva Cooper said: "Some products might not have the cannabidiol that is claimed on the label but more importantly some of them actually have THC in it," said Cooper.

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the fun part of weed. It's the bit that gets Scooby Doo and Shaggy to giggle, guffaw and goof off. It can be found in cookies and creams but if you're trying to relax and haven't built up a tolerance for it then it's best to take it easy. THC oil can have very different effects to CBD.

"People run the risk of having increased anxiety, paranoia and maybe thinking that they're losing their mind. Those are the major concerns I worry about when people with a lack of tolerance use high THC-containing products," said neuroscientist Carl Hart on the Netflix documentary Explained.

LEGALITIES

Most important, however, is the question of legality. Sure, the personal use of marijuana won't land you in trouble so long as you don't do it around kids and non-consenting adults, but what happens when you run out? Are you an accessory to your neighbourhood's version of Narcos if the cops catch you buying space cakes from the sweet old lady down the road?

According to Greenhash while selling marijuana is still illegal, entities operating under the regulatory body the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa will not be prosecuted and subject to certain norms and standards.

In the meantime the constitutional court has given government two years, which began last September, to amend the current laws. As it is an election year one imagines those amendments should start flying in quite soon.

No one to stand on ceremony, the man dubbed "The Robin Hood of Cannabis Oil" is going on about his business of infusing SA with cannabinoid-laced treats and treatments.

One thing is for certain though, whether or not you believe his doohickys are legit or just some gateway drug to moral Armageddon, they're still a damn sight better than that ridiculous dagga-infused beer.

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