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What do we make of the growing excitement — and confusion — about Cannabis sativa, hemp, CBD, and THC? Will there ever be an end to ads and mailers for one new cannabinoid product after another? Doesn’t it seem so many claims about these products cannot keep up with consumer demand? And isn’t the FDA strangely, or maybe typically, sending mixed signals to a skeptical public?

Let’s try to make some sense of it all, so that by the time you finish reading this, you might at least have a better understanding of the often controversial and conflicting narratives about Cannabis.

Back in 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the federal Marihuana [that’s how they spelled it then] Tax Act into law. An oddly written statute, it prohibited possession of marijuana while imposing a tax on it. In any event, marijuana was (and in federal law still is) regarded as an evil drug, owing to one of its chemical agents, tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC. As a “psychoactive” chemical, THC, when ingested, alters the way the brain functions, changing mood, perception and behavior. It actually wasn’t until the 1960s that science identified THC as marijuana’s intoxicating agent, or what causes the “high.”

An unfortunate casualty of the marijuana ban has been a species of Cannabis sativa known as hemp. The fact that paper, rope, building materials, even food and fuel were derived from different parts of the hemp plant made it a valuable farm product for thousands of years. George Washington grew it at Mt. Vernon, as did farmers all over the U.S. But facts like that gave way to emotion, and politicians fanned the flames, where hemp finally disappeared from America’s agriculture, that is, until the federal Hemp Farming Act of 2018 revived growing it.

As reputable researchers felt comfortable studying a plant that was no longer banned, startling new science emerged. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa, and is now understood to be rich in hundreds of compounds known as CBDs (cannabinoids). There is concern that CBDs may or may not contain low levels of THC, but even so, these CBDs lack the psychoactive effect we discussed. More importantly, these CBDs have been found to have quite a variety of health benefits.

Consider the work of Dr. Ethan B. Russo, a board-certified neurobiologist who has authored more than 75 publications about the value of CBD therapy. One of his most significant research projects found that our bodies are actually designed to absorb CBDs of all types. In fact, he reports, human organs and tissues contain CBD “receptors.” Moreover, these CBD receptors form a network within us. Scientists call this recently discovered network the body’s “Endocannabinoid System,” and it has created quite a stir in the medical professions, as well as the FDA and Big Pharma.

As these receptors in the body absorb hemp-extracted CBDs, research has found significant stress relief is the result. Also, the National Institute of Health lists a host of studies to date that confirm pain relief owing to CBDs reducing swelling in muscles and joints. This has not only helped with arthritis, but also protects arthritic joints from further damage.

When patients received certain CBDs, fractured bones healed faster, as published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Even more amazing, new brain cell growth in the hippocampus were attributed to CBDs by a research team from the University of Madrid.

Add to all this a truly exciting research project, underway at NYU School of Medicine, already showing preliminary results from CBDs’ effective treatment of disorders related to alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress. One of that medical school’s assistant professors, Dr. Esther Blessing, who heads this study, says that CBD “is the most promising drug that has come out for neuropsychiatric diseases in the last 50 years.”

Enter our esteemed U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While such respected sources as Neurotherapeutics, PubMed, Arthritis Research and Therapy, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine report on literally thousands of studies and findings about CBDs, still the FDA seems to just mosey along.

We are learning of convincing research on how CBDs aid sleep, reduce tension, ease nerve pain, slow aging, revitalize skin tissue, even balance blood sugar. Studies continue on the potential of CBD’s to treat cancer and schizophrenia. Yet the FDA plays the role of the party pooper, the wet blanket, wearing the long face that never smiles.

To their credit, the FDA has issued some helpful safety concerns about CBDs. They report that CBDs might pose a risk when combined with other drugs or alcohol; that CBDs might cause gastrointestinal issues, even liver injury. At the same time, and still very slowly, the FDA has approved one CBD-based, new drug, Epidiolex, for treating child seizure diseases.

One can’t help but suspect the role of the corporate conglomerates who manufacture pharmaceutical drugs, aka “Big Pharma.” The very business model of Big Pharma, producing synthetic and chemically processed drugs for huge profits, is turned on its head by the CBD movement. The cozy relationship Big Pharma enjoys with the FDA, as so many industries do with their government “regulators,” could be at play, forever behind the scenes, of course. Let’s not forget that Big Pharma and our FDA “watchdogs,” along with many in the medical professions, misled the nation with their “safe” opioids, plunging millions into merciless addiction. For many, death came far too early.

Now the nontoxic, revolutionary CBD alternative attracts all generations, with its natural properties that the human body is designed to absorb and put to remarkably helpful use. We have to acknowledge, however, that there is little in the way of quality control. So as the CBD movement gains momentum, and as it sells in great quantities online and in stores, in one form or another, let’s keep informed and decide carefully.

One common sense precaution is to avoid CBD products that fail to specify what is in it, and exactly how much CBD is contained in a dose or serving. It’s a whole new industry growing quickly, and the market is largely unregulated, as with most natural supplements.

We all know the rule: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s neither – be warned and run. But in these simple, awesome compounds from a plant known as canabanoids, have we found an exception?

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Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg