Acne, pain, menstrual problems, and opioid addiction — the range of conditions that cannabidiol (CBD) can apparently treat seems endless. But does the compound really work? The answer remains unclear.
Nonetheless, CBD is having a moment, says a research letter that JAMA Network Open Trusted Sourcehas published.
The analysis of online searches by the population of the United States reveals that millions are equally or more interested in CBD than they are in any other health products and topics.
Dr. Davey Smith, chief of infectious diseases and global public health at the University of California (UC), San Diego, says: “At this time there are no known benefits for taking CBD over the counter. CBD is this generation’s snake oil, where millions are engaging with the product without evidence of any benefit.”
CBD takes the stage
CBD is not new, with people having first extracted it from the cannabis plant in 1940. However, it has recently become available in an array of products, from gummies to ice cream, in the form of massage oil, and as droplets.
The authors of the study believe that this is because they may not understand the extent to which people are interested in the substance. The team hopes to remedy this with hard data that prompt experts to prioritize more research.
Online curiosity about CBD
Health scientists from UC San Diego analyzed the frequency of U.S. Google searches for either “CBD” or “cannabidiol” from January 2004 through to April 2019.
Next, using this data, they extrapolated search traffic out through December 2019.
“Rather than relying on self-reports where some might not be willing to discuss CBD openly, we directly observed millions of instances of people seeking out information or even shopping for CBD online.”
Lead study author Dr. Eric Leas
During the last 3 years, the increase in CBD searches has been particularly pronounced. It increased by 125% during 2017 and then 160% during 2018. Experts expect it to be up by 180% again in 2019.
The researchers noted increased interest in CBD throughout the U.S. In some places, interest was especially strong. For instance, searches grew by 605% in Alabama.
The booming number of inquiries that the team recorded in other states — Vermont, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Oregon — demonstrates that CBD is a nationwide topic of interest.
The interest in CBD may be partly due to the increased destigmatization of marijuana.
Indeed, states with legalized recreational marijuana use had the greatest number of CBD searches. States allowing medicinal uses of cannabis followed, and then states in which marijuana is illegal.
In comparison with other searches
To ascertain the significance of their findings, the researchers also tracked searches for other health-related topics, products, and alternative therapies.
“When talking to colleagues about our study,” says co-author and research fellow Alicia Nobles, “we often play a game we call ‘CBD or,’ and almost every time, experts are shocked to learn that CBD is more popular or nearly as popular.”
Nobels cites an example: “For every two internet searches for dieting in the U.S., we found there is one for CBD!”
While the number of searches for CBD was roughly equal to those for yoga and e-cigarettes, CBD queries swamped the search numbers for other popular health topics, exceeding the number of searches for:
- veganism by 112%
- marijuana by 113%
- exercise by 159%
- vaccination by 163%
- meditation by 338%
- apple cider vinegar by 517%
- acupuncture by 749%.
What to do as interest in CBD accelerates
This longitudinal cross-sectional study did not address actual purchases of CBD-based products. However, the rapid increase of interest in CBD that the study has documented suggests that the substance’s popularity is outpacing scientific research into the benefits and hazards of its use.
The study’s authors assert that “investigation into CBD should become a public health priority to catch up with the public’s interest.”
They conclude their paper by proposing a four-phase plan of action going forward:
- “Studies should focus on the epidemiology of CBD use, characterizing who uses CBD products and for what purposes.”
- Researchers should evaluate the effects and potential drug interactions of CBD.
- There is a need to develop product safety standards because the mislabeling of CBD products is common, and adulterated products have led to mass poisonings.
- “Marketing practices around CBD should be standardized, as marketing that misleads the public could erode trust in evidence-based medicine.”