JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2021067. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.21067
Consumer products containing cannabidiol (CBD) have markedly increased in popularity.1 Although many of these products are marketed in ways that may suggest potential effects on a variety of bodily functions, the precise health conditions that consumers believe they are treating with CBD products is uncertain. Is a consumer seeking a general wellness benefit, or are they attempting to treat a specific health condition? That is, is the consumer using CBD as a medication? If so, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may have an important role to play in combatting unsupported claims of medical benefit. The article by Leas et al2 addresses this issue, and their analysis of user testimonials on the largest social media forum devoted to discussing CBD provides support for the idea that consumers are using products containing CBD to treat conditions that have FDA-approved, effective therapeutics. Although this finding is not unexpected given the substantial increase in sales and marketing of CBD-containing products,1 these data highlight a potential patient population that may be substituting CBD for evidence-based care.
Media portrayals of CBD as a health aid and a proliferation of products from cosmetics to candy that tout CBD as an ingredient contribute to the perception that CBD is a benign natural product.3 In addition, CBD is often cited as the component of cannabis that is nonpsychoactive likely because it does not contribute to the typical cannabis intoxication. Unlike Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is a cannabinoid that does not make people high, and so this drug is not popular for recreational use. However, FDA approval of a CBD formulation to treat severe seizure disorders shows the capacity of CBD to alter brain activity. In addition, preclinical work shows that CBD has psychoactive properties based on its association with lessening the symptoms of such conditions as anxiety and addiction.4,5 Furthermore, CBD may also interact with medications or diminish their efficacy owing to its effects on components of drug metabolism.6 For these reasons, it is important that consumers understand that CBD should be regarded as a psychoactive chemical with multiple biological effects and is not just an uncomplicated dietary supplement.
A challenge to using evidence in the CBD debate, as Leas and colleagues2 suggest, is that the evidence base is still developing at a pace that is outstripped by the uptake of CBD. For instance, the study suggests that some persons with an addictive disorder are using CBD to treat their own condition. Such use of an unproven treatment could mean that effective treatments are not properly used; in some cases, this could result in serious harm.
Also see Self-reported Cannabidiol (CBD) Use for Conditions With Proven Therapies