One thing is for certain, when something has the potential to do so much good for humanity, eventually, the most adamant naysayers will come around. That “something” is industrial hemp-derived CBD. With more and more research being conducted, there’s no denying its therapeutic applications. Before August of 2018, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has famously been the last holdout on CBD. The revelation that tipped the scales in CBD’s favor this time was its potential to combat the opioid crisis in the U.S.
The misconceptions about industrial hemp and CBD stem from the passing of the Controlled Substances Act back in 1970. This Act is what has hindered the progress of hemp’s usefulness, cultivation, and research and development. The DEA has been one of the last fronts of opposition against CBD. But in the past few months, it has changed its tune. A bit. And we’ll gladly take it.
What the DEA Is Proposing
The DEA, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, proposes to significantly increase the amount of cannabis that can legally grow in the U.S. for research purposes. On August 14 the Acting Administrator signed the 2019 Aggregate Production Quota for Schedule I and II Controlled Substances. It revealed that the DEA is proposing 2,450,000 grams of marijuana as the production quota for 2019. That is five times the amount authorized for 2018—443,680 grams.
Additionally, the DEA proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for 2019 a ten percent reduction in the manufacturing quotas of the six most commonly misused opioids, which are:
While stating that it was crucial to continue to produce a legitimate amount of opioids for scientific and medical research, DEA officials stated that protecting Americans and promoting safe practices among pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers was a motivating factor in the proposal.
CBD and the Opioid Crisis
CBD is a cannabinoid with great potential for therapeutic use in pain management. Many neurobiologists and scientists are of this opinion due to its low potential for misuse and diversion.
Industrial hemp contains only .3% or less Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a non-psychoactive level. CBD is a non-psychoactive, non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis plants (both marijuana and industrial hemp) that is already proven to have sedative and analgesic properties.
Preclinical studies have proven that cannabinoids reduce the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms, and also inhibit heroin-seeking behavior.
Studies have also shown that cannabinoids have a major effect on relieving chronic pain caused by inflammation. Both drugs act on different regions of the brain. The non-lethal nature of cannabinoids minimizes concerns about overdoses. With that being said, the safety profile of cannabinoids is retained even when combined with a potent opioid agonist.
“What is interesting is that the studies that looked at opioid reduction, have also had secondary outcomes where people are using less tobacco and alcohol as well,” said Dr. Alex Capano, a nurse practitioner with degrees in neuroscience and a doctoral degree (DNP) and the medical director for Ecofibre Industries and Ananda Hemp, which has been a pioneer in the U.S. hemp industry.
“CBD is not only pretty well-established as an effective pain reliever but it’s also safe to use as an adjunct with opioids,” Capano said. “It doesn’t increase respiratory depression risk and there are also studies that show that it can actually reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It does not work on the reward receptors of the brain the same way so there is no risk of dependence or addiction. So, it’s not substituting one substance abuse for another.”
A 2017 clinical review endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) called for an increased use of cannabis pharmacotherapy for pain management, pointing to evidence that such increase has been linked to a reduction in the use of opioids to treat pain.
Budging on Scheduling?
Despite the evidence that cannabis can combat the opioid crisis and the DEA’s proposal to increase fivefold the production of cannabis in 2019, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, which means it continues to share a category with heroin, methaqualone, peyote, LSD, and ecstasy.
The Schedule I classification acts as a roadblock for the immediate and rigorous research and development that is needed in cannabinoid science.
“We are really handcuffed when it comes to getting quality, well-designed studies because of the Schedule I regulation,” Capano said. “It often takes years for studies with placebo to be approved and the research is really lagging behind in the U.S.”
The hope is that the DEA’s change of heart about cultivating more cannabis for research will prompt a change in cannabis’ drug scheduling.
It is the misconceptions about cannabis that keep the progress so slow. One of those misconceptions is about full-spectrum CBD, which is different than CBD isolate. It includes many of the other natural compounds, such as Omega-3, Omega-6, and various terpenes and flavonoids that offer health benefits.
“Isolated CBD is not as effective at the same dose but also has a higher frequency of side effects. We’ve evolved with nature to get the benefits of these whole foods so isolate molecules have their purpose but are not as therapeutic,” Capano noted.
Full-spectrum CBD tends to contain THC, but not a psychoactive amount when it is derived from industrial hemp. But people, even professionals, are not always aware of these details. Education is the key that will help fill in the knowledge gaps about cannabis and CBD at all levels.
“Signs of Opioid Use and Addiction: Are Cannabinoids the Answer?” Nature’s Breakthrough. 4 October 2018. Web. Accessed 5 December 2018. http://naturesbreakthrough.com/category/addiction/
“DEA Plans to Quintuple Amount of Cannabis Grown for Research.” Ecofibre. 10 October 2018. Web. Accessed 5 December 2018. https://www.ecofibre.com/2018/10/10/dea-plans-to-quintuple-amount-of-cannabis-grown-for-research/
“Justice Department, DEA propose significant opioid manufacturing reduction in 2019.”
DEA.gov. 16 August 2018. Accessed 5 December 2018. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2018/08/16/justice-department-dea-propose-significant-opioid-manufacturing-reduction