You’ve probably heard about Charlotte Fiji, whose rare seizure disorder, Dravet’s Syndrome, was dramatically alleviated by the cannabis extraction, CBD Oil. Her story was featured on CNN and her success has prompted hundreds of parents to petition their state’s legislatures to legalize CBD Oil. But, what is CBD Oil? is it the same as medical marijuana? Does it have psychoactive properties? What is its legal status? How do you use it? And, why is everyone so excited about it?
THE CANNABIS PLANT
To understand CBD Oil, we have to start with its taxonomy. The cannabis plant belongs to the family Cannabaceae and to the genus Cannabis. The two main species of Cannabis are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Cannabis has been used historically for medicinal, ritual, recreational and industrial purposes.
Informally, cannabis is referred to as either hemp or marijuana, though it is known by many other slang names as well. While both terms are used interchangeably, hemp is a broader term that comes from the ancient Greece and was first used in English in the 16th century, while marijuana originated in Mexico in the last 19th century as a slang word for recreational cannabis. Marijuana generally refers to cannabis plants that exceed the federal limit for THC and may be psychoactive, while hemp generally refers to industrial cannabis plants that contain 0.3% or less of THC and are not psychoactive.
Industrial hemp is harvested from cannabis sativa plants as they are the taller and straighter of the two species (see photo above). The uses for industrial hemp include rope, fiber, wax, oil, resin, cloth, pulp, paper, fuel, biodegradable plastics, construction, body products, health food, bio-fuel, mulch, animal bedding, and birdseed, among others.
In addition to its uses for industrial hemp, cannabis sativa can also be used for medical marijuana or for recreational purposes. For these purposes, it can be bred to have higher medicinal or psychoactive properties just as can cannabis indica or hybrid strains. To understand the difference between medical marijuana and industrial hemp, we have to understand a bit about plant breeding.
Take the apple as an example of the diversity of plant breeding. In his book, Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan tells us that the apple is a bitter fruit by nature and was originally grown from seed by homesteaders for hard cider. Because of a national campaign against alcohol in the 19th century, the health benefits of the apple came to be extolled and growers set out to enhance the fruit’s sweetness through breeding and grafting, creating such popular varieties as Red Delicious and Jonathan. Today we enjoy apples right from the tree or in apple pies as well as in hard cider and apple cider vinegar. The apple has outstanding genetic variability and thousands of variations.
Similarly, the cannabis genus is also highly variable and there are thousands of different varieties that can be selectively bred to significantly raise or lower the active ingredients of a strain. For example, one of the active ingredients in cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive component. Plants can be bred to have as little as 0% of THC or as much as 25%.
The active ingredients in cannabis are called cannabinoids, and these are unique to the cannabis plant. Already more than 70 different cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis, including not only THC, but also Cannabidiol or CBD. Other cannabinoids include CBG, CBC, CBN, THCa, THCv, CBGa, CBCa, CBCa, and CBDa among others. While the chemical structure of these cannabinoids is related to THC, their biological effects are quite different as they have no psychotropic potential. THC is associated with pain relief, suppression of muscle spasms, reduction of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation.
CBD is associated with the following:
- Pain relief
- Reduction of inflammation
- Inhibition of cell growth in tumors/cancer
- Suppression of muscle spasms
- Promotion of bone growth
- Anti-bacterial action
- Reduction of nausea and vomiting
- Reduction of seizures
- Protection from nerve degeneration
- Relief from anxiety
- Reduction in blood sugar
- Reduction intestinal contractions
- Treatment of psoriasis
In addition to showing remarkable results in epilepsy, CBD has also shown potent anti-psychotic and anti-cancer effects. A new film, Weed the People, by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein features young cancer patients who have been helped by CBD oil. Here’s the trailer.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Recent research has shown that humans have an endocannabinoid system, which modulates a variety of pathophysiological processes, and that we have cannabinoid receptors in our brains. Cannabinoid receptors also proliferate in the placenta and endocannabinoids are present in human breastmilk. Based on its 2003 research, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) patented cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuro-protectants.
CBD Oil is extracted from either the mature seeds or the mature stalks of the cannabis plant. It can be taken as an ingestible in supplements or capsules, as a highly concentrated oil that can be diluted in olive oil or in a smoothie, or as a topical in creams, oils and salves.
The CBD oil that Charlotte Figgi uses was made from a cannabis strain grown by the Stanley Brothers from Colorado, well-respected growers of medical marijuana. While the Charlotte’s Web strain that they grew for the young Fiji girl was not psychoactive, it’s THC content was still above the legal limit of 0.3% and therefore, its use is legal only in the 22 states and the District of Columbia that have medical marijuana laws. The Colorado Springs Gazette estimates that at least 115 marijuana refugee families from 43 states have moved to Colorado so that their children could get the relief from seizures that cannabis oil brings.
Because of this hardship for families, hundreds have petitioned their legislatures for relief and since January of this year, seven states—Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Utah— have passed limited access laws allowing for the legal use of low THC, high CBD-Cannabidiol products.
However, CBD oil can already be sold legally in all states as long as it has a THC content of below 0.3%, as does CBD oil made from industrial hemp. Below that level, a product is classified and sold as a nutritional supplement; above that level, it is legal only in the states with medical marijuana laws.
Using CBD oil as a nutritional supplement for its anti-inflammatory or anti-oxidant properties is one thing, but a child or adult with a serious condition will want to consult with a healthcare practitioner versed in the use of CBD oil. In legal states, this could be relatively easy to find. In states with new laws allowing the use of CBD oil, look for those who were involved in the legislative push and ask them for recommendations. Here are four doctors who have been featured in recent press and who may be able to offer referrals: Margaret Gedde, MD, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Bonnie Goldstein, Southern California, Ghost Group; John Hicks, MD, Los Gatos, California; and Alan Shackelford, MD, Denver, Colorado.
Here is the Understanding Cannabinoids and Epilepsy Report by James Jeffrey Bradstreet, MD, a highly respected doctor with extensive experience treating autism and associated disorders.
Please add to the comments the names of any doctors you know of who are knowledgeable in the use of CBD oil with children, or any other resources for parents who are trying to figure this out.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.