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Celebrities, influencers, sports stars, and even dogs, are well and truly aboard the CBD train. There are those who swear by it, and advocate it as a cure for all of life’s woes. Cost of living crisis? No problem. Take some CBD. That will fix it right up It is an industry that is on an unstoppable trajectory and a conservative estimation of its worth, predicts that by 2025 its value in the United States will hit $16 billion.

For many of us, what we know or think we know about CBD, is a result of what we read about it across social media. In the main, it appears to be most commonly used to treat chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, and insomnia. But what else do actually know about CBD and its uses and side effects? Marketers, influencers and some CBD manufacturers have concocted so many wild and imaginative claims about its uses, that at times it is hard to separate fact from fiction.

As it stands, CBD is a million and one things all at once, and it seems that nobody has truly decided what its best use is. There is the danger of it being hijacked by the aforementioned marketers and social media ‘experts’ who proclaim it to be a cure for everything, from anxiety and depression to cancer. There is an argument that we are in danger of burying CBD under an avalanche of misinformation. The importance of educating people correctly about the acceptable use of CBD cannot be underestimated. That in itself, however, is quite complicated when scientists are still unsure of its capabilities. Many questions are still being asked in the search to unlock the long-term potential of CBD, such as what is an advisable dosage, what is the best way to formulate it, what is it most effective at treating, and who exactly should be taking it.

Marketing and entrepreneurs have taken over

The Atlantic Dispatch sat down with, Kent E Vrana, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Penn State, to find out more about CBD and what its future holds. Vrana has been following research developments with CBD closely, and he explains firstly why we have seen such a rise in the demand for CBD. ‘It has been percolating for a number of years, just below the radar, in the natural products/nutraceuticals space. Then, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka, The 2018 Farm Bill) legalised hemp (low THC cannabis) as a cash crop.  Shortly after, CBD (a non-euphorigenic cannabinoid that does not produce a “high”) was removed from the list of federally illicit drugs.  Marketing and entrepreneurs then took over and began promoting unregulated hemp-derived CBD oil for all that ails you.’

THERE ARE MANY REASONS TO believe that CBD has health benefits

Whilst there is promising evidence that CBD can potentially treat a broad range of medical conditions, scientific studies are still in their infancy, so it is vital in terms of the marketing of CBD products that crucial scientific research is not superseded by imaginative claims. ‘There is lots of misinformation.’ Vrana tells us. ‘There are many reasons to believe that CBD has health benefits (it is, after all, approved by the FDA to treat seizures in children).  It is an anti-inflammatory agent, and a mild analgesic, and may serve as an antianxiety agent.’ Vrana, adds that, ‘the vast majority of marketing claims have not been tested in clinical trials.  Moreover, as an unregulated plant extract, CBD products purchased over-the-counter have a risk liability because the consumer does not know what is in the product (e.g., the actual amount of CBD and/or other contaminants like heavy metals, THC, organic solvents).’

As it stands, there are hundreds of scientific trials both ongoing and completed that are putting the effectiveness of CBD under the microscope, in an effort to better understand its promise. Without clear and concrete evidence there is a danger of social media perpetuating its mythology status and leaving a generation of people uneducated on the subject of CBD. There is also the possibility that the unfiltered claims and cries could drown out scientific research and leave CBD as just another fad until it’s replaced by another, ‘fix it all remedy.’ Vrana believes that in the meantime it is here to stay. ‘I think it will remain to some (reduced) extent.  The federal government is just now taking suggestions for how best to regulate the product and protect the public.  As I said, there is reason to believe that CBD will have benefits for some medical conditions.’

The vast majority of marketing claims have not been tested in clinical trials.  Moreover, as an unregulated plant extract, CBD products purchased over-the-counter have a risk liability because the consumer does not know what is in the product.

Professor Kent E Vrana


Whilst examining the effectiveness of CBD in humans on diverse disorders such as chronic pain, substance use disorders, anxiety, and arthritis continues, it does appear that CBD can be used as an anti-inflammatory agent and analgesic, similar to the functions of aspirin. This gives credence to the claim, that it could benefit people suffering inflammatory pain, like arthritis, or headaches and body aches.  There is also the hope that CBD holds potential for use in cancer therapy, although that has not been approved by the FDA for this purpose, and may be some way off from happening.

While so much uncertainty remains over the finer details of CBD, what is clear is that people despite not knowing its full capabilities are still taking it, whether prescribed or unregulated. For Vrana, this is where the concern lies. ‘CBD, in its pure form, is very safe.  In fact, large doses are approved in children (as a purified drug).  However, it is the unregulated over-the-counter market that has me concerned.  One just does not know what is in any given product, because the unscrupulous company can put whatever they want on the label.  One of our key concerns is that, while safe, CBD can interfere with how our bodies handle other prescription drugs and this can lead to unintended drug-drug interactions.’


To highlight the uncertainty of what CBD should actually be used for, it is estimated that by 2024, the CBD food and drink industry will climb to $5.9 billion. Some would argue that this is a clear sign of marketers seizing an opportunity and cashing in on its popularity. There is also an array of statistics around CBD being used to treat children suffering from ADHD. Studies claim that 80% of kids clinically diagnosed with attention deficit disorder saw a decrease in behavioural problems after trying CBD. Afterwards, 62% of them claimed to notice behavioural improvements themselves after taking it over seven months. It is also claimed that 24% of people owning pets use CBD for their animals and themselves. Which leads to the question, who should actually be taking CBD? ‘First and foremost,’ Says Vrana, ‘I don’t think anyone should start taking CBD without checking with their physician, to avoid potential drug-drug interactions.  Having said that, CBD may have a role in minor pain management and inflammation.’

Healthcare providers simply need to better understand the risks or benefits.

As has been mentioned several times, the bold claims which often dominate our social media channels are on the benefits of CBD. They are words, with no scientific evidence to back them up, however, it is easy for anybody to be seduced by these plaudits when they see them enough. What remains a concern, especially when it comes to unsubstantiated claims, is that there are significant safety aspects which are being ignored. CBD is currently being marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. The FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. With that in mind, the individual purchasing CBD cannot be sure that the product they buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label and whether or not that will be beneficial or harmful to them. There is also the danger that the product may contain harmful ingredients or elements.

CBD in time may prove to be invaluable for so many. But until scientific research is able to prove many of the theories surrounding it, we continue to walk into the unknown, hoping to uncover some truths along the way.

Thank you very much to Kent E Vrana Professor and Chair of Pharmacology, Penn State University for his time.

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