Column: CBD, the new snake oil


Samantha Joslin

Features editor

It’s a product that has blown up over the past three years: it’s sold in specialized stores and supermarkets, endorsed by a multitude of celebrities and projected to be worth over $20 billion in a mere four years. This product is Cannabidiol oil, or CBD.

CBD is one of the prevalent chemical compounds in marijuana; it’s not the one that gets you high, which is “tetrahydrocannabinol,” or THC. CBD first came to light in European countries as a radical, but ultimately surprisingly effective, way to treat epilepsy. Now, products made from CBD oil are easily accessible at new age boutiques and even at local shopping malls or grocery stores, from sparkling waters to lip balms to dog treats.

I used to be surrounded by people who used marijuana regularly; my experiences with them taught me a lot about the culture surrounding marijuana. Many of them thought that pot was the loveliest thing ever to grace God’s green earth. On any given day I can log onto Snapchat and see at least a few Snap stories picturing marijuana in some way or another. I don’t know many people who would proudly document themselves waking up and immediately downing a shot of vodka, even though for many of us, that’s actually legal. Is it the illegality of marijuana that makes it so tantalizing? Is that why CBD is so popular — do people look at it as a clever way to sneak marijuana into their daily lives?

Whatever the reasoning, it’s abundantly clear to me why CBD oil has been so widely accepted as an anxiety-reducer or pain-reliever, despite there being nearly zero evidence to support this: people just love pot. From socks to lotion bottles, nearly everyone I know is far more likely to purchase a product stamped with a marijuana leaf or broadcasting the word hemp.

Additionally, scientists and doctors are not the ones making claims about CBD oil’s positive effects — instead, advertising has fallen on the shoulders of celebrities. Most famously, Gwyneth Paltrow’s company “Goop,” a high-end lifestyle and wellness company, has begun advocating for CBD, even providing recipes for cocktails using the oil. Other celebs, including Whoopie Goldberg, Jennifer Aniston and Olivia Wilde, use CBD oil for relaxation and relief from sore muscles, and make their support of the product no secret.

There is extremely limited evidence that drinking, smoking or applying CBD oil will do anything for your pain or anxiety, and no scientific proof that CBD lip balm or lotion is more effective than other kinds. Even so, the hemp/CBD industry is projected to become a $22 billion industry by 2022 – it already yielded approximately a billion dollars 2018, the first big year for the product, according to The Rolling Stone.

This is where it all comes together — the idea that pot is some heavenly blessing mixed with the riveting opportunity to use a component of it legally equals one thing: placebo. Using a glass dropper to drip CBD tinctures under the tongue like some sort of witch’s potion feels cool, and the association with the (typically) calming effects of marijuana may be producing a placebo effect in the minds of pot-adoring young adults.

However, it’s not just the ever-swelling marijuana obsession that has been causing an increase in CBD interest. The (unproved) hypothesis that CBD oil can relieve anxiety symptoms has its roots in, well, anxiety.

Since the 1940s, anxiety rates, particularly in adolescents and young adults, has been consistently rising — today, eighty-five percent of college students fall above the average “mental illness score” of the 1940s, according to research done by ABC News. That is, more college students are feeling more anxious and depressed than ever before. The climb in the numbers of anxiety cases is potentially a catch-22, though: similar to how the 1957 film “The Three Faces of Jane”the first film depicting dissociative identity disorder, caused an infamous wave of dissociative identity diagnoses across the nation, so may the increase in awareness of anxiety be causing an influx in anxiety cases. However, the only way to then treat anxiety is to increase awareness — thus, the catch.

The increase in anxiety products like fidget spinners and weighted blankets, plus the shift in culture that made marijuana use quietly rise to a prominent lifestyle choice, makes CBD oil an easily marketable product. However, normalizing this notion of marijuana as a healer is only perpetuating the idolization of marijuana by those who use it.

Additionally, the lack of regulation in CBD products is concerning. According to an article titled CBD Oil: All the Rage, But Is It Safe And Effective? on WebMD, the “legally murky nature” of CBD means that the FDA doesn’t regulate products containing it — in a study done in 2017, researchers found that seven out of 10 CBD products didn’t contain the amount of marijuana extract that the label promised. Businesses can put literally anything on the label of a CBD oil bottle and sell it, usually for outrageous prices: Recess, a sparkling water brand infused with hemp extract, sells an eight-pack of cans for $39.99.

Essentially, CBD oil’s celebrity support, association with marijuana highs and various interesting products have spiked the popularity of the product, despite lack of proof that it actually works. CBD products are often far more expensive than products not containing the oil, even though they have no added benefits. Don’t be fooled by CBD’s impressive marketing strategies — use products whose perks are proven, at least until legitimate research is released.



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