For several years, cannabis researchers have been zeroing in on the health benefits of a marijuana extract known as cannabidiol, a.k.a. CBD.
It’s long been believed that CBD does not get people stoned, unlike the plant’s psychoactive and better-known extract, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. And it has been argued that this helps patients who might be seeking relief from pain and other conditions but who don’t want to get high every time they take their medication.
However, a recent study by four U.S. researchers led by John Merrick at Pace Analytical Services in Oakdale, Minnesota, suggests that CBD can be degraded into THC in a highly acidic environment, such as inside a human stomach. If this result is confirmed in subsequent studies, this would cast doubt on the widespread impression that CBD does not tamper with people’s perceptions of the world around them.
Merrick’s experiment was designed to replicate what happens when CBD enters the gastrointestinal tract. The researchers demonstrated that psychoactive cannabinoids can be created when CBD is placed in simulated gastric fluid. That’s because of how CBD interacts with acids over a period of time.
“Delivery methods that decrease the potential for formation of psychoactive cannabinoids should be explored,” the researchers concluded.
Kamloops emergency physician Ian Mitchell has a keen interest in research into cannabis extracts. In a blog post entitled “How heartburn can help get you high”, Mitchell noted that the researchers determined that there was “no degradation of CBD in the buffered physiological solution”. THC only emerged in a highly acidic environment.
The compound would have to be transferred through the bloodstream to the brain to result in any psychoactive effects. And Mitchell pointed out in his post that the study didn’t examine if THC levels in human blood increase after CBD ingestion. In addition, Mitchell highlighted that the researchers work for a company marketing “transdermal CBD”, which refers to the extract entering the body through the skin.
“By pointing out the problems with oral administration, their product appears more appealing, so there is certainly the potential for a conflict of interest,” Mitchell wrote. “It doesn’t mean the research is wrong, but it would be ideal for it to be repeated by a lab with less financial interest in its outcome.”
In his concluding paragraph, Mitchell questioned the wisdom of governments introducing CBD-only laws if this extract can be naturally converted into THC.
“Transdermal CBD may make sense,” he added, “but similar results may be available with enteric coating.”
The study was published in April in a journal called Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. In their paper, the researchers cited a previous study showing that a significant number of pediatric patients with epilepsy “showed a relatively high incidence of adverse events” after taking CBD.
In a 2015 presentation to U.S. senators, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, explained that there is growing interest in CBD oil and high-CBD strains of marijuana for the treatment of children with “intractable seizure disorders including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome”.
“In addition to epilepsy, the therapeutic potential of CBD is currently being explored for a number of indications including anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, schizophrenia, cancer, pain, inflammatory diseases, and others,” Volkow said.
Her organization is working with the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke on animal models of epilepsy to examine how CBD can be used to treat seizure disorders, including whether it can be used in conjunction with other medications.
Volkow also stated in her presentation that CBD has been shown in animal models to reduce the viability of cancer cells and decrease the growth of tumours.