CBD: What’s all the fuss?

It seems like you can’t turn around these days without seeing something related to CBD, or cannabidiol, products. A neighbor recently asked me what, if anything, I knew about the health benefits of CBD oil. I had recently read an article in Consumer Reports, which provided a little bit of insight, but her query made me want to delve a little deeper – for my own knowledge and to field potential questions from my coaching clients. I’ve tried to simplify what I have learned into a few key questions and answers below:

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound extracted from both the marijuana plant as well as its close relative the hemp plant. One of the most important things to know upfront is that CBD does not get users high. It is another compound in marijuana – THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – that produces its psychoactive properties.

 

What do people use it for?

A growing body of preliminary research suggests some of CBD’s properties may improve health. Early studies suggest that CBD affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a series of receptors found throughout the body that are involved in regulating many of our critical biological processes. These processes include sleep, memory, mood, and metabolism. Because CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, it is believed to help promote homeostasis in the body, reducing the sensation of pain and inhibiting inflammation.

Due to its purported anti-inflammatory properties, many individuals use CBD products to relieve pain from things like arthritis as well as general muscle soreness. Another popular reason cited for its use is to reduce stress and anxiety. Others report that it improves sleep.

 

Does it work?

The jury is still out, primarily due to a lack of sound, scientific research (e.g., randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard when it comes to research). Many experts point out that most CBD product claims are based on anecdotal evidence, as it is still an unregulated industry at this time. The strongest scientific evidence is for CBD’s effectiveness in treating two rare but devastating forms of childhood epilepsy. In July 2018, the FDA approved the first prescription medicine (Epidiolex) with CBD as its active ingredient to help those patients manage seizures.

Scientists admit though that one of the key reasons for the lack of scientific evidence is due to government rules that have prevented federal money from being used to research CBD’s possible health benefits (more on that in the next section). The good news is some of those regulations are being lifted and just last year, the National Institutes of Health awarded $140 million toward cannabis research, with $15 million dedicated to CBD studies.

 

Is it legal?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as there are different laws and regulations at the state and federal levels. It starts with the fact that for decades, federal law did not differentiate hemp from other cannabis plants. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind. This recently changed with successful passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which essentially allows farmers to grow hemp and legalizes hemp derivatives like CBD. It also removes CBD extracted from hemp from the DEA’s list of “Schedule 1 drugs” (whereas marijuana and THC remain on the list). These changes should allow for more research, BUT now that the FDA has approved a CBD-based prescription drug, it is recommending that any product that markets CBD for health purposes should go through its rigorous official drug approval process. And we know that that can mean years of research and scrutiny before products make it to market.

In addition, the FDA has indicated that when CBD is added to food, it is then considered a “food additive” – and the FDA has not yet approved CBD for that purpose. Unfortunately, this has left health officials in many states in the position where they feel the need to crack down on food and drinks with CBD. The good news in all of this is that it is pushing the FDA to determine how to regulate CBD and clarify the current confusion over its legal and regulatory status. So, stay tuned for a more definitive answer regarding the legality of CBD products.

 

Bottom line

I am glad that my neighbor’s inquiry prompted me to learn more about CBD and its potential health benefits. I think I am more open to trying it to see if it helps with either stress relief and possibly joint pain (my knees and hips are starting to show their age). However, I plan to discuss it with my physician at my annual physical this fall, just to get her professional opinion about it and to make sure there are no reasons I should not take it.

Below are some general recommendations to consider before you try CBD:

  • It is always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplements that are not regulated by the FDA. You want to ensure that CBD products will not interfere with any other medications (prescription or over the counter) you are taking. You also want to be sure CBD products will not aggravate any existing medical conditions.

 

  • Do your research on the quality of the products and pay particular attention to the actual contents of the product. Many online products that were tested had less CBD than advertised and some had no CBD at all. You can ask to see the Certificates of Analysis (COAs), which provide results of tests related to the actual contents of the products. Any reputable company should be willing to share those results.

 

Sources:

Consumer Reports article October 2018 issue – “New Hope for Pain Relief?”

Consumer Reports article May 2019 issue – “CBD Goes Mainstream”

Harvard Medical School Health Blog: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

Green Compass Global: https://greencompassglobal.com/The-Science/?mitem=28279

Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/

Pets and Your Health

This Saturday, August 11th, is the one-year anniversary of welcoming the feline goddesses, Athena and Artemis, into our home. Given the joy I experience having them in my life, I thought it would be fun to explore what impact pets can have on our health and wellbeing.

My pet history

Growing up, I did not have any indoor pets as almost everyone in my immediate family – including me – was allergic to cats or dogs or both. Several of my close friends had dogs and there was at least one semi-stray cat that hung around the block as the neighbors continued to feed it. I enjoyed playing with these animals and always thought it would be nice to own a pet someday.

Fast forward about 15 years to my desperate attempt to find housing in North Carolina as I prepared to move from New York to start graduate school. Through luck or fate, I was reconnected with an acquaintance from college who was already a student in the same graduate program. She and some friends were renting a house and needed a fourth roommate. The only catch – one of the women had two house cats. Given that my allergy to cats was not severe and my symptoms could typically be managed with over-the-counter medication, I decided to take a chance. I figured it would at least be a place to live temporarily until I could find something else if my allergies prevented me from staying.

I moved in that August and immediately fell in love with the cats. Danny was a big orange tabby who loved to lay on my bed as I studied. Mona was a mischievous little grey tabby who was most often found in the bathroom, waiting for someone to turn on the water so she could play with it. At first, I did experience some allergic symptoms – occasional sneezing fits, watery eyes and a little stuffiness here and there, but I was content to medicate with an anti-histamine. The joy of having these two critters in the house outweighed any discomfort or inconvenience I experienced. They were often a huge source of stress relief during my grueling two-year program.

I was sad to say goodbye to my feline friends when my housemates and I finished school and moved on to new adventures. However, my experience taught me that I could live with cats despite my allergy and I was eager to own a pet of my own. I moved in with my fiancé (now husband) after graduation and a few months later, as I was still struggling to find a full-time job, he suggested we adopt a cat. That was the start of our journey to pet ownership. We are definitely “cat people” although there are several dogs in our extended family whom we love dearly too.

The health benefits of pets

A quick online search revealed a plethora of information regarding the health benefits of owning pets, particularly dogs but cats as well. Here are just a few ways that owning a pet can improve both your physical and mental health:

Reduce your cardiovascular disease risk

  • According to experts at the Harvard Medical School and a 2013 study conducted by the American Heart Association, owning a dog can reduce heart disease risk factors and potentially help you live longer. Experts believe the connection is related to dog owners being more active, since walking your dog can help you meet the recommended daily exercise guidelines. The extra exercise may also be why dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Prevent or reduce allergies in children

  • Much like my experience growing up, the old thinking was that if you came from an allergy-prone family, pets should be avoided. According to WebMD, recent studies have suggested that children growing up in a home with “furred animals,” such as a cat or dog, will have less risk of allergies and asthma. University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E. Gern has conducted a number of studies that demonstrate having a pet in the home can actually lower a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent. In fact, his published research shows that children exposed early on to animals tend to develop stronger immune systems overall.

Decrease stress

  • Simply being in the same room as your pet can have a calming effect. The neurochemical oxytocin is released when we look at our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy. It is also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone. According to the CDC, studies have shown that cats provide emotional support, improve moods, and contribute to the overall morale of their owners. Dogs not only provide comfort and companionship, but several studies have found that dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation.

Boost your self-esteem

  • Pets are completely non-judgmental – they don’t care what you look like or how you behave. They love unconditionally and that boots our self-esteem. An article on Health.com notes that research studies have found that pet owners have higher self-esteem, as well as feelings of belonging and meaningful existence, than individuals who do not own pets.

As someone who has been a proud pet owner for almost 20 years, I have experienced many of these benefits firsthand. There is nothing better than coming home after a long day at work and having my kitties greet me at the door. Their playful antics often crack me up and as they say, laughter is the best medicine. And when I am feeling stressed, all I have to do is cuddle on the couch, stroke their soft fur and hear their contented purrs to feel calm again.

Owning pets is a big responsibility, but there are so many ways you will reap the benefits of their companionship. Consider adopting a shelter animal today!