Read the feature article in the May 19th issue of The New York Times Magazine, and you’re likely to come away thinking, as we did, “Yes…!”
At Home Grow Community, we’ve been pro-CBD for quite a while because we’ve seen, personally, it’s power to provide relief from anxiety, chronic pain and inflammation. We’ve been heartened to hear the stories in the mainstream media of how it helps relieve the side effects of chemo, and the promise it shows for countering sleep problems, depression, MS, and a host of other ailments. When the FDA approved it for treatment of rare forms of epilepsy, because there was scientific evidence of its efficacy, we thought “CBD finally is going to receive the recognition it deserves!” Still, naysayers and skeptics abound—especially in the traditional medical world. All the positive blogs from the cannabis community won’t change their minds. What’s needed is more serious research, and coverage by highly respected media. A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe reported that Harvard and MIT had received grants of more than $9 million to conduct research on the effects of cannabis on human health; on Sunday, May 19, the feature story in The New York Times Magazine dug into the science of CBD, the work that’s been done to understand how it positively effects people, and concluded that there’s a good chance that CBD may prove to be the 21st Century’s aspirin—a simple compound that has surprisingly diverse, positive effects on health.
“Can CBD Really Do All That”, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, is well researched and well-written. It uses the story of Catherine Jacobson, and her quest to find a way to treat her son Ben, who suffers from epilepsy, to understand the research that was conducted on use of CBD to treat epilepsy, and how the FDA came to approve it. Along the way, we learn a fair amount about the science of the endocannabinoid system, how CBD effects it, and why the parallels with aspirin as a wonder-drug may be closer than we’d think.
Catherine & Ben Jacobson’s story
The story starts in 2012. Catherine Jacobson and her husband are at wits-end—they’ve tried 16 different drugs to treat their three-year old son Ben, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. The prognosis is not good for Ben—constant seizures would eventually lead to severe brain damage and death. But at a conference held by the Epilepsy Therapy Project, Jacobson hears about a promising treatment using a cannabis derivative: CBD. Jacobson, a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Francisco, meets other parents of epileptic children, learns about the very encouraging results of a double-blind study in Brazil, and changes the direction of her research to study the effects of CBD on children whose parents are treating them with CBD. Jacobson acquires cannabis on the black market, and through trial and error develops a process to extract CBD. She treats Ben and offers the extract to a parent she has befriended Evelyn Nussbaum, to treat her 11-year old son Sam. While Ben shows some improvement, Sam’s response is much better.
Jacobson, through a family connection, meets Geoffrey Guy, CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals, who had brought one cannabis-derived drug, Sativex, to market in the UK. Together they are able to get access, through the FDA’s compassionate-use program, to the extract in the U.S. to treat both Ben and Sam. The results are positive. To get FDA approval to expand the test, and to overcome the weight of scientific skepticism, they know they will have to bring in top epilepsy experts to conduct clinical trials.
Fast forward five years, and the FDA approves GW Pharmaceutical’s CBD extract Epidiolex to treat two rare forms of epilepsy. The drug works-well for some, not so well for others. The frequency of Ben’s seizure are down by 40%, but he’s still suffering. Jacobson works for a Canadian firm that produces consistent, medical-grade cannabis products. She’s hopeful that more experimentation by doctors with cannabis will lead to breakthroughs like the one she saw with epilepsy.
Explaining the Science of CBD
The Times article does a great job of summarizing how the endocannabinoid system operates, and why cannabis has positive effects on health and mood.
It starts by positing that cannabinoids designed to protect cannabis plants from herbivorous insects by over-exciting their nervous systems, may inadvertently have positive effect on ours. The article goes on to explain how researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system and how it works:
“It’s central to…how the body maintains, and returns to, its baseline state after being disturbed. If a person is injured, for example, native cannabinoids increase, presumably to resolve the inflammation and other damage signals associated with injury. They also increase after strenuous exercise, another stressor, and some scientists have argued that they, not the better-known endorphins, are really responsible for the pleasant post-exercise feeling known as runner’s high.”
“(CBD) seems to interact with multiple systems: increasing the quantity of native cannabinoids in the human body; binding with serotonin receptors, part of the ‘feel good’ molecular machinery targeted by conventional S.S.R.I.’s; and stimulating GABA receptors, responsible for calming the nervous system. With more than 65 cellular targets, CBD may provide a kind of full-body massage at the molecular level.
Other CBD Studies
In researching the article, Velasquez-Manoff uncovered a number of promising CBD studies, including:
- Irish doctor William O’Shaughnessy’s 19th century studies of cannabis use in Indian medicine, which led to widespread use of cannabis in the English speaking world in late Victorian times
- Bulgarian-born chemist Raphael Mechoulam’s groundbreaking study of CBD and THC in the 1960’s, and his work in the 1990’s on cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body (see this excellent documentary on Mechoulam’s work, and the man)
- Antonio Zuardi’s work in Brazil studying the effect of CBD to counter anxiety-provoking effects of THC; studies at King’s College London that confirmed this, and found evidence that CBD can help treat schizophrenia, even prevent it from occurring
- Researchers at NYU are studying CBD as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder
- Israeli scientists have found that CBD can help with bone transplants “…presumably because the cannabinoid calms the immune system and deters it from attacking the patient.”
- Yasmin Hurd of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s studies that show that CBD can reduce drug-seeking behavior, and studies by other scientists that show that CBD can help opioid addicts in recovery avoid relapses
The Times went so far as to say “CBD might be a badly needed new weapon with which to fight the opioid epidemic that claims more than 130 lives daily in the United States.”
Why CBD May Be So Widely Effective
For those skeptics who ask, how can one set of compounds help treat so many illnesses, the Times article has a simple but convincing answer:
“Many chronic disorders, even though they seem distinct, are characterized by dysfunction in the same few pathways. Inflammation and oxidative stress, for example, occur in schizophrenia, metabolic disorders, heart disease and other ailments. The therapeutic magic of CBD and, in some cases THC—and maybe some of the 100 other cannabinoids in cannabis—may come from the ways that, by tweaking the endocannabinoid system, they push the body away from disease toward the unruffled state scientists call homeostasis.”
The article goes on to compare cannabis to aspirin, another drug with widespread effectiveness, used not just for headaches and fever, but to reduce risk of strokes, heart attack, pre-eclampsia and as a supplementary treatment for schizophrenia: “…like CBD, its broad utility may be partly explained by its anti-inflammatory effects.”
Read the Full Article
We thought the Times article one of the best we’ve see yet on the subject of CBD. If you can, read the full article yourself: “Can CBD Really Do All That? How One Molecule from the Cannabis Plant Came to Be Seen as a Therapeutic Cure-All, Fueling Scientific Trials, Self-Experimentation and a Pop-Culture Craze All at Once.”