Brandon Warne, a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for the sports news outlet Zone Coverage, started taking cannabidiol (CBD) in August after growing increasingly frustrated with his depression and anxiety medications over the past four years.
“I was just at a point where nothing was working for me,” Warne, 33, of Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, told MarketWatch. “I was just trying to branch out because I was just so upset [and] distraught with my lack of progress towards mental health.”
Under the guidance of his psychiatrist and therapist, Warne started taking CBD and pared down his medication list. He tapered off the antidepressants bupropion GSK, 0.07% and Effexor PFE, -0.28% , but continued to take his anti-anxiety medication, buspirone TEVA, -0.29% , after experiencing “wicked side effects” from trying to go off of it. He now takes CBD in the form of a 0.5-ml dose of Clean Remedies full-spectrum hemp extract oil every morning, and plans to eventually try to taper the buspirone as well.
Warne, who received his diagnoses after his grandfather’s death, wonders whether he was misdiagnosed. But the results he has seen since taking CBD, he said, have been “moderately positive.” “I’ve been feeling great since I got off my meds,” he said.
Warne isn’t entirely sure whether it’s the CBD oil or being off his meds that’s causing the improvement, but he is willing to continue trying CBD when he’s done with his current bottle. He said he still has “research” to do on the matter — and a new FDA warning backs him up.
The Food and Drug Administration said late Monday that what you don’t know about CBD might hurt you and warned that it could cause serious health problems, including liver damage.
The warning comes as millions of consumers have jumped on board with the non-psychoactive cannabis compound for reasons relating to health, wellness and recreation, and CBD has popped up on restaurant menus, in post-workout salves and in bath bombs.
The FDA sent letters warning 15 companies for illegally selling CBD-containing products. The federal agency also updated its position to clarify that the substance increasingly infused in pills, lotions, food products and wellness beverages “has the potential to harm you, and harm can happen even before you become aware of it.”
“We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt,’” Amy Abernethy, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said in a statement.
The only CBD product approved by the FDA is the prescription drug Epidiolex, which treats pediatric epilepsy. It’s illegal to market CBD as a dietary supplement.
The compound can cause liver injury, interact with other drugs, and increase the risk of drowsiness and sedation when used with alcohol, the FDA said. Studies using lab animals have also shown negative impacts on the male reproductive system, though the takeaway for human patients remains unclear, the FDA said.
The agency also provided a list of potential side effects related to CBD, including sleepiness, diarrhea and/or a decrease in appetite, and mood changes such as agitation and irritability.
Many questions, not many answers
Scientists still don’t know what happens if a person consumes CBD daily for sustained time periods; the compound’s effect on children who take CBD, growing fetuses or breastfed newborns; its interactions with herbs and botanicals; and whether it leads to the same male reproductive problems in men as observed in animals, the FDA said.
What’s more, the FDA is concerned about “a lack of appropriate processing controls and practices”: Many products tested by the FDA have contained different CBD levels than what manufacturers claimed, and there have been reports of products containing unsafe levels of pesticides, heavy metals and THC, the agency said.
“I still don’t think it’s so harmful that I shouldn’t use what I have,” Warne said in response to the new FDA warning. “But it certainly makes me question how settled the science is … and maybe it’s not as ironclad as I thought it was before.”
64 million Americans have tried CBD
Research published this year by the consumer-data firm MRI-Simmons estimated that 3.7 million U.S. adults were CBD consumers, with a median age of 45. Even more appear to have dabbled in the substance: Some 64 million Americans — 26% of the country — report having tried CBD in the last two years, according to a nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of more than 4,000 people conducted in January. One in seven of those respondents reported daily use.
And many CBD users use the compound for its health potential, though their outcomes tend to be mixed.
More than a third of respondents to the Consumer Reports survey said they used CBD to reduce stress or anxiety or promote relaxation; 63% of those people said the compound was “extremely or very effective” at doing so, while 16% said it was not at all or only slightly effective. Nearly one in four respondents said they used CBD to help with joint pain, with 38% calling it “extremely or very effective” and 27% saying it was slightly or not at all effective.
The Mayo Clinic says that “although some research appears to indicate that CBD might hold benefit for treating anxiety-related disorders, more study is needed.” And physician Peter Grinspoon, writing on the Harvard Health Blog, noted that an animal study had shown that applying CBD to the skin could help lower arthritis-related pain and inflammation. “More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims of CBD proponents about pain control,” he added.
Warne is not alone in using CBD to replace or supplement a medication: 30% of respondents to the Consumer Reports survey said they had taken CBD in addition to a prescription or over-the-counter medication, while 22% said they replaced the medication with CBD entirely. A third of those who replaced a medication with CBD said that the drug was a prescription anti-anxiety drug.
Still, Warne called the FDA’s words of caution “prudent” and agreed that more research should be conducted on CBD’s benefits and risks.
“Hopefully it stands up — because otherwise, we’re kind of all owed an explanation for why this was pushed on us for the past year or however long this has been popular,” he said. “Hopefully we get an explanation one way or the other.”