What is CBD really good for?

There is a lot of hope in the healing powers of CBD. Unfortunately there's way more hype.

cbd oil tincture
Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most well-known of the 113 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
  • There is strong evidence that CBD might help in an array of problems, including anxiety and pain management.
  • But numerous companies are marketing low doses of CBD with no proven efficacy and charging a premium.

I began noticing a new beverage in Los Angeles. The first thing you notice is the cheap wrapping, as if directly printed at home and pasted onto the bottle. The sparse print leaves room for plenty of white space. The first six ingredients of one particular flavor are all juice or sugar: blackberry, ginger, blueberry, and lemon juices, along with erythritol (sugar alcohol) and agave. Stevia is featured later on. The final ingredient is the selling point: Hemp CBD.

Each bottle retails for $8.99. Effectively, glorified vitamin water.

Or CBD water, which makes it this year's additive du jour. I've seen this drink sold in the same case as a sugar-rich CBD-infused coffee drink that sells for a dollar less and six fewer ounces. CBD is as trendy as its forebears, antioxidants, keto supplements, and açaí rolled into one, the superfood of superfoods. And you will pay a premium for it.

I've been a marijuana smoker for 25 years, well before I knew about the endocannabinoid system. I was clueless that our central and peripheral nervous systems—and by "our," I mean mammals—were tailor-made to accept cannabinoids (including the most famous, cannabidiol, aka CBD), and that these systems play an essential role in immune system functioning, pain management, and regulation of appetite. I didn't know it for a long time, but I've certainly felt it.

Point being, I'm a fan. Cannabis helped me deal with cancer and chemotherapy, pain management through multiple surgeries, and chronic anxiety disorder. Marijuana helped keep me off Xanax and opioids. Despite that fact that I was among those who nodded and winked when getting my California medical license, I'm skeptical of the hype. The collapsing dominoes that led to legalization have brought with them a gold rush of CBD-infused products and all the ridiculous claims that come along with it.

When Coca Cola is jumping aboard, you know it's going to get weird.

I'm not the only one who's suspicious. As Dan Nosowitz writes at Vox, this trend is the result of two collisions: widespread marijuana legalization and the growing anxiety economy. By 2020, CBD products could reach a billion dollars in sales, making it a potential goldmine for speculators.

There are benefits to CBD, at least according to some reports. As I wrote last month:

Recent research shows a wide range of therapeutic applications, including helping opioid addicts manage pain, helping everyone deal with chronic pain, deal with stress (at low doses), ease pain associated with multiple sclerosis, and may even, somewhat counterintuitively, help combat the obesity epidemic.

Yet CBD is enforced as a supplement, as unregulated by the FDA as most homeopathic products and "natural remedies" that make up a lion's share of the $49 billion herbal supplement industry. According to Nosowitz, the FDA actually regulates CBD as an active ingredient, meaning you shouldn't be able to just throw it into a cup of coffee and double the price, but what sort of regulations are any federal agency even enforcing these days? Nosowitz continues:

CBD is about as poorly regulated and understood as a product this popular can possibly be. It's not accurate to say that CBD, as a whole, is bullshit. From a medical perspective, it's promising; recreationally, it's interesting. But that doesn't mean the stuff you're buying works.

Photo: Alexandre Chambon / Unsplash

The burgeoning CBD oil industry, for example, faces a serious problem: science. Not that that stops any holistic company. Topical application or ingestion of CBD are much less effective means than inhaling. Sipping it from your hyped-up vitamin water means most of the CBD will just bind to other fat in your body and never reach your brain. Smoking, as Nosowitz writes, "bypasses the digestive system."

Even then, he was only able to discover one study detailing the bioavailability of inhaled CBD and none on topical lotions. Even more problematic is dosage. One study discovered that the only amount of CBD that made a noticeable difference in anxiety levels was 300 mg. The standard dose in most products is 20 mg. One coffee shop Nosowitz highlights adds 5 mg to their $9 coffee. So really, you just paid $9 for… coffee.

More studies are being conducted on CBD and, hopefully, the 112 other cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant. Legalization and destigmatization will hasten that process. We should welcome this progress so that we can separate the wheat from the chaff—the flower from the stem—and make smart decisions about how to apply this plant medicine. Then we can stand on firmer ground when denouncing market manipulators bucking a trend and put our money into products that work as intended.

In my refrigerator sits a $42 bottle of CBD oil we bought for our cats when we were integrating our newest member with our overly territorial Maine Coon. At 300 mg per bottle, it would have taken the lion's share to quell any anxiety—cats being smaller than humans would likely not require the same dose. Still, the recommended dose did nothing to stop their anxiety.

Something else did: Prozac. It's not a long-term strategy (as such anti-anxiety medications were never designed to be). Over a three-month period it's worked wonders; we're now tapering them off. That's the thing about clinical studies: sometimes they're effective. It's a message I hope CBD hucksters take the time to learn.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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