A form of medicinal cannabis, CBD is gaining traction for its purported calming effects. It’s infiltrated the fitness industry, too, thanks to claims its anti-inflammatory properties can aid post-workout recovery, relieve aches and pains, and enhance blood flow. And the hype is real, with everything from active wear and pillowcases to potato chips and nail polish infused with CBD
now on the wellbeing market overseas.
As for the science, studies back CBD
as effective, although rather than looking
at wellness, they tend to focus on specific ailments such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, PTSD, epilepsy, insomnia and arthritis. Regardless, it’s big business. Valued at $3.7 billion in 2020, the global CBD market is tipped to see a year-on-year growth of more than 21 per cent to 2028.
In Small CBD Doses
So, what are we talking about here? Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD has no psychoactive effects. In other words, it doesn’t give you a high.
Both cannabinoids have been available in Australia since medicinal cannabis was legalised by the Federal Government in 2016, but only via prescription. That is until February 1 of this year, when CBD was down-scheduled from Schedule 4 (prescription medicine) to Schedule 3 (pharmacist-only medicine) by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Now, it’s legal to purchase products containing low-dose CBD (150mg or less) over the counter. But you can stick a pin in any plans to pop to your local pharmacy. While CBD may be legal, it’s not actually available. How come? There are currently no products approved for sale by the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). Oh.
“The way it’s set up is that the companies that supply these products have to go and run clinical trials to prove their CBD is effective at that dose range [of 150mg],” says Professor Iain McGregor, academic director of Sydney University’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics. “At the moment, there is very little evidence that CBD at 150mg or less is useful.”
Certainly, clinical trials have shown CBD to be effective for various conditions, just never at that specific dose. A few examples: results of a landmark trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2017 showed that CBD indisputably reduced seizures in childhood epilepsy; while a 2015 New York University School of Medicine study discovered that CBD helps reduce anxiety behaviours relevant to multiple disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder and PTSD.
46: The percentage of Aussies who use medical cannabis by accessing it illicitlySOURCE: Cannabis as Medicine Survey 2018
Still, many studies and organisations, including the Australian Medical Association, have called for more advanced research, which is exactly what’s happening through the Lambert Initiative. Established in 2015, this program is all about discovering, developing and optimising safe and effective cannabinoid therapeutics. Given there are more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, the potential is huge. “It could well be that other parts of the plant that haven’t been discovered yet are magic bullets for pancreatic cancer or brain tumours or more severe forms of pain [for example],” McGregor explains, adding that “we owe it to ourselves to properly unlock the potential of the plant.”
Going by the Book
Right now, CBD and THC are the two lawful, pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids in Australia. These are available across three classes: CBD isolate (contains no other cannabinoids); broad-spectrum CBD (contains small amounts of other cannabinoids, but not THC); and full-spectrum CBD (contains small amounts of other cannabinoids, including THC). They come in various forms (think: oils, gels, gummies) with more than 200 products available over here today.
As it stands, these can be accessed with a script via specialised clinics or a virtual consultation with CDA Express, Australia’s only CBD delivery service. Dr Ben Jansen, one of the country’s leading advocates of medicinal cannabis, says although CBD has life-changing potential, it should definitely not be treated as a cure-all.
69: Around this percentage of medical cannabis prescriptions in Oz relate to chronic pain conditions.Source: Dr Mark Hardy, Medical Director of CA Clinics
“If you are thinking about using any medicine, and that includes any medicinal cannabis product, you should look at yourself in a holistic way and consider it as a possible therapy among all other possible therapies,” he explains. “Weigh up the risks and benefits … [and] have a proper discussion with your doctor.”
As founder and clinical director of CDA Health, the holding company for CDA Express among others, Jansen says he’s been privy to a changing attitude towards medicinal cannabis in this country. “The barriers are coming down and we can see that the uptake has been generally positive,” he says. “We expect up to as many as 1.2 million Australians to benefit from cannabis therapy of some description in the next couple of years.”
The path to market for meds is rarely swift, with more hopeful estimates putting CBD on shelves next year. But concrete science is critical when it comes to the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals – and, as Jansen puts it, for “happy, healthy Australians.” And that absolutely gets the green light from us.