While pharmacy and retail shelves and online marketplaces across the country are teeming with CBD products, extremely little scientific research has examined the safety or effectiveness of cannabinoids for wellness. That is just unacceptable. Dozens of millions of Americans are using cannabis and CBD to deal with diseases ranging from anxiety to depression to insomnia – conditions made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic – but we haven’t used this huge user population to real data to collect data on a large scale across different demographics to learn directly from real experiences. Without this evidence-based approach, the industry, regulators, and the public will lack a thorough understanding of the therapeutic benefits of CBD and cannabis.
There is no time like now to conduct such studies and pave the way for more rigorous research. That’s why Foundation for Holistic Research and Education, a state-approved non-profit organization dedicated to the topic Cannabis research, Education, and Advocacy are sponsoring a unique exploratory survey on the effectiveness of CBD and cannabis in reducing anxiety, conducted by the University of California, Irvine, in partnership with the UC Institute for Prediction Technology. The Institutional Review Board approved Cannabinoid Anxiety Relief Education Study (CARES) has been distributed to millions of CBD and cannabis users through Wholistic partners’ email lists and online forums Vertosa. The researchers conducting the study want to use the lessons learned to help consumers, businesses and government officials make evidence-based decisions and increase transparency.
While CARES was designed to lay the foundations for the effectiveness of cannabinoids in anxiety, insomnia, and other comorbid conditions, the study is also necessary in that it inspires and guides others – including government agencies and private organizations – to conduct further research determine how cannabis and CBD can benefit different people in different ways.
In short, we have everything to learn and gain from more extensive research studies of potential therapeutic benefits, including:
- Effectiveness in treating anxiety, depression, and / or insomnia.
- Individual factors (gender, age, size, location, severity of the disease, etc.) that determine the ideal dosage, method of administration and frequency.
- Ways a combination of cannabinoids and other active ingredients can interact and affect the user experience.
- Whether side effects outweigh the benefits.
In collecting real-world data from large and diverse populations, it is important that researchers can examine products that people actually buy in stores, rather than the very short list of Food and Drug Administration-approved formulations that everyday users simply cannot access . Studying real products that are used by real people leads to more meaningful results for the entire population.
The biggest hurdle to further research into the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids is the lack of institutional support, particularly at the federal level. Because of the longstanding stigma, studies carried out by large institutions have not received sufficient funding and support. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cannabis studies have historically focused on abuse potentials and side effects rather than objective risks and benefits.
Given that at least 14 percent of Americans already use CBD, we have a real public health and safety problem, according to a 2019 Gallup survey. Such widespread use makes investment in research even more important. The assessment of risks and benefits using real data ensures applicability to the diverse population of the country. It is imperative that we collect and analyze data on the cannabinoid products currently in use. Details of dosage, frequency and timing of use; and delivery methods to gain much-needed insights.
Fortunately, some promising trends are taking shape. NIH spending on cannabis research has increased 70 percent since 2016. In 2019, the NIH awarded more grants for the first time in its four cannabinoid research categories (therapeutic cannabinoid, endocannabinoid system, cannabidiol and cannabinoid) than for tobacco research. The same thing happened in 2020.
Aside from merely supporting righteous public health and education initiatives, there is much that private companies can gain by supporting, advocating, and participating in cannabis research studies. The results can help companies improve their formulations and figure out what isn’t working, thus fueling product innovation. Research can also enable more strategic marketing decisions by supporting specific demographic segments with unique wants and needs. The better we all understand hemp and cannabis, the better the bottom line will be for manufacturers, packaged consumer goods brands, and consumers.
In political terms, the lack of scientific data is often used as a discussion point against the nationwide legalization of cannabis and wider access to hemp-derived CBD. Widespread research could challenge this excuse, paving the way for federal cannabis legalization and more advanced CBD regulations from hemp, thereby legitimizing and thereby empowering the licensed cannabis and hemp industries.
Natural medicines have proven their worth, but it is time for the wellness and pharmaceutical community to push for advanced technologies and multidisciplinary approaches to demystifying cannabis and hemp. Further research into these ancient plants will allow for evidence-based validation of their benefits, leading to higher levels of public trust and more personalized treatment options for practitioners. Ultimately, rigorous research makes an important contribution to the rapidly developing cannabis industry.
Austin Stevenson is Chief Innovation Officer at VertosaThere he plays an important role in the business development of the hemp and cannabis infusion technology company. It enables partnerships with leading brands to create cannabinoid infused beverages and topical products. Previously, he used his experience in the field of biotechnology to set up the regulatory hemp / CBD test program for Eurofins. Stevenson is also a former management employee of Citi, where he worked for minority and women-owned companies’ finance.
I play Thorogood, Co-founder and president of Holistic research and education foundationis a tech manager and entrepreneur. Her former company, artisanal CBD infusion company Mana Artisan Botanics, was acquired by CBD Capital Group in 2019. Prior to that, she was Chief Executive Officer at Anametrix and Chief Marketing Officer at WebSideStory. Thorogood currently serves as a trustee for the UC San Diego Foundation and as a board member for the UC San Diego Basement Incubator.