Panacea or Puffery?

Cannabidiol — it’s everywhere!
Photo by Chiociolla / iStock / Getty Images Plus

There’s a new status symbol in town! Now, with cannabidiol — CBD, for short — it’s possible to be a Bad Boy or Girl, sort of, with almost no danger of being an Illegal Boy or Girl. Advertising for the product — from TV spots to yuppy herbal catalogs to truck-stop signage — saturates our consumption-dominated consciousness and gradually has established its popular acclaim.

All this makes it an exciting time for corporate crows, visionaries quick to spot an exploitable field left fallow, in this case since 1937.

It was then that the cultivation of cannabis, despite its historical role as “hemp” for rope and cloth making, was proscribed in U.S. from sea to shining sea. That law has never been repealed, but nevertheless is now going obsolete, ipso facto. Twelve states have legalized the use of cannabis in general, and 28 have conditional legalization mostly requiring a doctor’s prescription, while six others permit the use of CBD only.

Except for the annoying technical drag of that obsolete 1937 federal law, CBD offers a perfect opportunity for promotion to consumer status symbol. CBD sales in 2018 topped $620 million. Cannabis growers, including Aurora in Denver and Cresco Labs in Chicago, subliminally tap into marijuana’s edgy rep while deftly dodging the Reefer Madness narrative drummed into the public’s cannabis consciousness for 83 years.

CBD is one of a number of organic molecules isolated from the cannabis plant, molecules that also include the psychologically active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is found in combination with CBD in both cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, jointly known as “weed.” While THC can induce uniquely altered perception, CBD’s perceived “psychotropic activity,” in the experience of this writer, is more in a class with chamomile tea. It’s not for wild and crazy experience seekers like Bob Marley, but CBD is currently being touted to the generations as a kind of wonder drug, a gift to old-school conservatism, perhaps redeeming our grandfathers’ hippy nonsense.

Extracted from any grade of either strain of cannabis plant, mild-mannered CBD has become the panacea darling of the day, appearing as flavored extracts, skin moisturizers, eardrops, et cetera. One waitress at a popular Panhandle diner swears by CBD as an aid in controlling her PTSD from a former abusive marriage.

Nutritional experts at Healthline, a San Francisco e-provider of health information, tout CBD benefits thusly:

  • Can relieve pain.
  • Could reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Can alleviate cancer-related symptoms.
  • May reduce acne.
  • Might have neuro-protective properties.
  • Could benefit heart health. Plus, it’s safe for pets!

For the weekend hipster, there’s soporific, hemp-grade cannabis buds  — referred to by our grandfathers as “ditch weed” — from which to roll your own CBD-rich, THC-free, “Robert Marleys.”

On the other hand, cannabis, demonized and outlawed as “marijuana,” has seen very little medical use in the U.S. since the early 20th century. Only recently has investigation of the pharmacology of cannabis and its number of different chemical fractions achieved status as respectable pharmacological research. Since 1937, we’ve gone from demonizing cannabis to beatifying a derivative of it thanks mainly to the willingness of Flower Children of generations ago to be busted!

As a nation, we’ve never really stopped searching for the Great Panacea. Between the Civil War and World War I, when so many cures, remedies and elixirs were totally over the counter, hucksters traveled the country in carnivalesque medicine shows, singing, dancing and hyping snake oil, said to be an exotic cure for almost everything from arthritis to hair and memory loss and gambling addiction.

Not that real snake oil didn’t have its virtues. In its pure form, the oil of the Chinese water snake has been found to contain more Omega 3 fatty acids on average than “heart-healthy” salmon. Medical research suggests that Omega 3s, besides being heart-healthy, are vital to the visual and neurological development of infants and may offer relief to sufferers of depression, ADHD and asthma.

Unfortunately, the cost to import water snake oil from China in the 19th century led most dealers to opt for cutting to death the real thing with cheap extenders like alcohol. Or, in many cases, just totally winging it with mixtures of mineral oil, turpentine, and cayenne. A hundred and fifty years later, “snake oil” implies humbuggery and worthlessness — caveat emptor!

Poor ol’ snake oil, condemned for what it couldn’t do, rather than praised for what it could.

Still, hope springs eternal. We can’t seem to resist the quest for something simple and hidden in plain view that can cure any and all ills, maybe even our mortality.

Categories: Health, Wellness