The hype surrounding cannabidiol (CBD) may be new but the science certainly isn’t. And so the problem with articles debating the merits of CBD such as this NYT piece, part of their “Scam or Not” series, isn’t with what they say but with what they don’t say: They typically omit the scientifically grounded history of cannabinoids, and how they and the endocannabinoid system they’re a part of perform the vital function of policing the body’s other physiological systems. And without that perspective you might view CBD with some suspicion, as some newly arrived rogue actor to whom a presumption of guilt readily attaches. To the contrary, it’s an old soul, that feeds into a biological system that functions, essentially, as the body’s master-regulator:
There is a biological system which is named the endocannabinoid system and it is involved in a huge number of physiological states. As a matter of fact a recent review by people from NIH stated that the endocannabinoid system is involved in essentially all or almost all human diseases. Now that’s a very, very strong statement. I don’t know of any other system that one can say that [about]. … And if we look at many diseases this is what happens, it is involved. How is it involved? Sometimes it acts directly on one of the mechanisms in that disease. But it also does something else: These compounds affect the release of … other neurotransmitters. So it acts not only by itself, it also acts by affecting other neurotransmitters – and so that’s why these compounds have turned out to be of such importanceRaphael Mechoulam, PhD, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, speaking at the university in 2018
The “father of medical cannabis,” the award-winning Professor Mechoulam, has been studying the medicinal properties of the plant since the 1960s. He and his team – who’ve published 350 scientific articles, an extraordinary number – are responsible for some truly groundbreaking discoveries: figuring out the structure and function of the endocannabinoid system and its constituent molecules anandamide and 2-AG; as well as discovering the two most important plant cannabinoids to date, THC and CBD. Of the later he says, “cannabidiol … has turned out to be an outstanding compound in a lot of diseases,” and offers three examples in seemingly disparate areas of health to prove his point. And notice what he’s also saying:
In a clinical study on epilepsy in adults, Mechoulam’s patients were given daily 200 – 300 mg doses of CBD. Result: Half the group had no further attacks, the other half had “very few.”
But here’s the thing: he published this work in 1980, hence his question, Why did it take another 30 years for this knowledge to be translated into clinical action in the US?
So too with the large group of autoimmune diseases where the body attacks itself. For instance, with diabetes type 1, where the body attacks its insulin producing cells and destroys them, his work with animals – “and in animals the mechanism is exactly the same [as in humans]” – showed that “we can reduce that kind of disease by 70% and yet it has never been tested in humans. Why not? I have no idea,” he says.
And the same is true for schizophrenia: “We showed it in schizophrenia, it works,” referencing a large clinical study in Germany that says CBD “is as good as the drugs being used today but it causes no side effects – and yet its not being used.”
And he delivers it all with a sense of humor. For instance, why did he name one of the endogenous cannabinoids, ‘anandamide’? “We called it ‘ananda’ because in Sanskrit it means supreme joy or real happiness. We tried to find a good Hebrew name but it seems we know sorrow but not how to be happy.”