Most people know that cannabis has been an illegal narcotic in the USA for several decades. Though medicinal marijuana extract used to be easily purchasable at local pharmacies back in the 19th century, radical changes in the law have occurred due to rigorous pressure from a variety of industries, leading to cannabis becoming a prohibited substance.
In light of recent revelations regarding marijuana’s potential health properties, however, people are slowly changing their minds.
When considering marijuana and whether or not to legalize it, though, it’s important to remember that there are two main cannabinoids within the plant: THC and CBD. THC is the psychoactive substance, the part that gets you high. But what exactly is CBD? Is it safe to use?
Well, the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence has recently published a report on CBD, stating numerous facts about the cannabinoids and recommending whether or not it is safe to use. Before we take a look at the report though, what exactly is CBD?
What is CBD?
CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, which works alongside THC – the infamous substance that gets you high. Despite its poor reputation in the community and in the government – mostly due to lobbying efforts from competing industries – marijuana has a large number of medical properties.
CBD works by interacting with something called the endocannabinoid system, which is a body system that exists to help regulate the growth and reproduction of cells, most notably cells in the brain and skin, as well as the central nervous system.
Cannabidiol (the scientific name for CBD) has an effect on the body by interacting with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. The system was of course named after cannabis, as it was only by imbibing marijuana that researchers were able to realize that the receptors even existed. When these receptors are triggered, the body’s natural healing processes appear to accelerate, and responses like pain and inflammation become dampened.
There have been a great deal of studies conducted into the benefits of CBD for the body’s endocannabinoid system, such as one study by Carrier et al. for the journal of the National Academy of Sciences which details, among other things, CBD’s ability to help suppress inflammation in the human body.
Although there have been a lot of independent studies conducted into the safety and use of CBD, there still remains the official position of WHO, the World Health Organization. Without the approval of this institution, not a lot of change will be made into CBD’s legality for a long while.
So what does WHO and the Committee on Drug Dependence have to say about CBD?
Effects on the Central Nervous System
One of the first things the global report states about CBD is its method of effect. Firstly, it makes note of the fact that it doesn’t trigger the CB1 receptor in the same way that THC does, demonstrating that it creates very different effects than the psychoactive compound.
Because the CB1 receptor doesn’t physically interact with CBD, the standard behavioral characteristics associated with the CB1 receptor – and indeed THC – are not demonstrated (things such as decreased locomotor activity and anti-nociception). In other words, CBD doesn’t appear to hamper your ability to move around or experience sensations such as pain.
Alongside this, CBD was demonstrated to not affect heart rate or blood pressure, unless the person was already under stress or exertion. In fact, it helped lower the effect of stress on the heart rate and blood pressure.
Most notably, CBD appears to have no psychological effect whatsoever on the behavior of the user. The scientific and cannabis communities have known this for years, but it’s important that such an authoritative organization as WHO has come out and more or less clarified as much.
Dependence and Abuse Possibilities
One of the most significant fears for people when considering using CBD, or indeed marijuana in general, is the risk of addiction or dependence – often referencing the infamous 1970s anti-marijuana ads that reefer was “a gateway drug” that would get you hooked and set you on a path to using much more dangerous substances like cocaine, heroin, and LSD.
Well, the Committee for Drug Dependence has now categorically stated that CBD is non-addictive. Even better, they also made note of the fact that a tolerance to CBD does not currently exist.
This of course is a major problem with some narcotics, as once you develop dependence, you require more and more of the substance to experience the same effects. In fact, it is a huge cause of death for opioid addicts, as they have to use greater and greater amounts of the drug to experience the same feeling – massively increasing the risk of overdose.
With CBD, there is no such tolerance or addictive possibilities, meaning that you won’t find yourself needing to take CBD, nor will you need to take larger and larger amounts as time goes on.
With regard to the likelihood of abuse, the report makes note that CBD does not increase the firing rate of dopaminergic cells – in layman’s terms, it doesn’t cause a release in dopamine, the chemical that leads to a feeling of euphoria.
Basically, CBD doesn’t make you happy when you use it, meaning that it has limited potential for abuse (due to the fact that abusing it doesn’t really do anything). The report also makes note that there has yet to be any known cases of abuse or negative effects caused by an overindulgence of CBD.
This means that, in addition to there never being a case of death or hospitalization caused by too much CBD, it essentially is impossible to cause negative effects often associated with the overindulgence of other drugs or medications.
The Therapeutic Usefulness of CBD
The report sadly only contains a short section concerning the usefulness of CBD as a therapeutic drug, but this will hopefully change in the coming years as more money becomes available for research. It does however mention the fact that CBD has been used successfully to treat multiple sclerosis in several countries via the form of the drug nabiximol.
Thankfully, the report goes on to list the huge range of potential that CBD has in improving people’s lives: “CBD is being actively explored for a range of indications consistent with its potential neuroprotective, antiepileptic, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic and antitumor properties.”
Essentially, WHO has out-and-out made the claim that CBD has the potential to help with a great deal of medical conditions. Most notably, the report highlights the effectiveness of CBD when used to treat forms of epilepsy, as well as its status in advanced clinical development when used to treat neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.
This section of the report is significant when supporters of the legalization of CBD want to argue their point, as it states in no uncertain terms that it might be able to help treat or manage a wide range of conditions. Though it sadly only touches on a variety of differing conditions that people have attempted to treat with CBD, it makes specific mention of successful cases wherein CBD has been used legally throughout the world.
The World Health Organization Recommendation for CBD
This final section, the World Health Organization’s recommendation for CBD, is the official position of this worldwide institution regarding what the world should do about CBD.
WHO once again has made note of the fact that CBD has no abuse potential, as well as the fact that it does not create a cycle of reward activity within the human brain. It also doesn’t have the psychoactive effects of THC, nor does it pose a risk of psychoactive overindulgence or negative effects. It doesn’t even have any of the public health problems, such as impaired driving, that people usually assume from cannabis-based substances.
Regarding the legality of CBD and marijuana, WHO sadly does not suggest a change in its scheduling status as a grouping of cannabis. However, when produced for pharmaceutical purposes – and most importantly, when extracted from the likes of THC – WHO recommends that CBD be specifically reviewed for legality on the world stage.
Although mired in legal terminology, WHO has been quite clear in its consideration that CBD is both harmless and useful medically. From the last section of the report, however, it would appear that full, worldwide legality as supported by the World Health Organization is still quite a way off.
So, is CBD Safe to Use?
The report published by the World Health Organization is not the final say on the future of CBD. Indeed, everything WHO suggests or recommends still needs to be rigorously tested in each individual country. This means that, though WHO is not currently advocating for a change in the scheduling of marijuana, there is still hope to be had in its future.
Regarding the safety and usefulness of CBD, however, the World Health Organization report couldn’t have been clearer. CBD is not addictive, not habit-forming, does not cause any known side effects, and is not the same as THC in its effects on the human body.
Thanks to the WHO report, you can categorically state that CBD is safe, and may potentially be used to help treat a wide range of medical conditions, both physically and mentally. The future of CBD is still uncertain thanks to its current status in a legal grey area, but one thing remains sure: CBD is safe, and the World Health Organization agrees.
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