The Future of CBD

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

Is CBD a medical miracle or just another over-hyped health fad? The cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD) is appearing in hundreds of foods, drinks and health products – even though we know little about its potential harms and benefits. Recent research runs the gamut, suggesting that CBD can fight superbug infections or cause liver damage.

A review of 35 clinical studies found CBD effective in treating anxiety and epilepsy, but there was no evidence it works for diabetes, Crohn's disease, ocular hypertension, fatty liver disease or chronic pain.

But there may be some untapped possibilities. Ingenious bench science and clinical research is improving our understanding of how CBD acts in the body, which is leading to new drugs with impressive potential for treating serious illnesses.

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How Does CBD Work?

In simple terms, no one knows. CBD doesn’t seem to act directly on the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, although it does have some activity in serotonin 5HT1A, GRP55, and TRPV1 receptors that regulate anxiety, inflammation and pain sensation.  

Although none of these receptors is directly involved in seizures, CBD is being used successfully to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. CBD in the highly-purified form Epidiolex is FDA-approved as “add-on therapy” for Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare childhood seizure disorders.

New pharmacological research suggests that CBD may reduce seizure frequency through a “drug-drug interaction” rather than as an anti-seizure medication in and of itself.

In other words, whatever CBD is doing probably involves a host of small nudges often described as endocannabinoid activity. This makes for a complex set of interactions and contraindications, many still not well understood.  

New Drugs Derived from CBD

CBD acts on too many receptors in too many ways to make for predictable clinical effects. And at high doses CBD is potentially toxic to both the liver and nerves over the long term. But understanding this activity is helping guide research.

A potent CBD-derived compound called KLS-13019 has a more targeted effect on receptors and is being studied as a treatment for some neurological conditions.

Even more promising is EHP-101, an oral formulation of a synthetic CBD molecule that helped repair myelin around damaged nerve fibers in mice. This is an exciting if preliminary finding that may have potential for treating multiple sclerosis (MS). Emerald Health Therapeutics is planning to launch a Phase II clinical trial of EHP-101 in MS patients by the end of the year.

“Restoring the myelin sheath around nerves, or remyelination, would be considered a ‘Holy Grail’ outcome in the treatment of MS,” Jim DeMesa, MD, CEO of Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement. “These preclinical data provide the first evidence of remyelination with our lead clinical-stage drug product candidate and provide promising evidence for the possibility to treat, and potentially reverse, several forms of MS in the future.”

CBD itself may have uses as a wellness product for otherwise healthy people. It is certainly an appealing indulgence. But CBD-derived products that avoid the complications of CBD while taking advantage of specific activity learned from studying CBD are showing great promise.

New drugs replace old drugs all the time. Aspirin was outclassed by ibuprofen and naproxen, barbiturates by benzodiazepines, and MAO inhibitors by TCAs and more recently SSRIs. CBD may fade as a pharmaceutical, but its descendants could be the wonder drugs that CBD is often touted as.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.