The View from My Seat archives


Published August 6, 2019



CBD claims are off the charts, but what does it really do?

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Like most paraplegics with spinal cord disorders, I suffer aches and pains every day.

Despite this discomfort, I am a hard sell when it comes to new drugs. I have rejected some drugs, even ones recommended by the best doctors. I figure a little pain is better than medicine-induced memory loss, fatigue or nausea. At least for me.

So it is with my usual skepticism that I consider whether to try CBD oil, touted by supporters as a wonder drug and by critics as 21st Century snake oil.

CBD is short for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants. It contains only low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is what makes marijuana psychoactive. You won’t get stoned taking CBD.

Proponents of CBD claim it eases pain, anxiety, insomnia and depression. CBD is also marketed as treatments for more serious diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Critics urge caution. “It is a kind of a new snake oil in the sense that there are a lot of claims and not so much evidence,” Dustin Lee, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins told the New York Times.

The FDA has sent out warning letters to some companies that make unproven claims that their CBD products will treat or prevent disease.

From pills to edibles, CBD is wildly popular and is easily available online and in stores. Sales are predicted to reach $22 billion by 2022, according to the Brightfield Group, a market research firm.

Even the conservative Texas government has gotten into the act. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in June that legalizes the growing of industrial hemp and the selling of CBD as long as it has less than 0.3 percent THC.

The demand for CBD is such that one retailer, Sacred Leaf, has opened stores throughout the Houston area. The company claims it sells CBD with no THC. The company’s website shows products ranging from CBD Pain Patches ($74.99) to CBD Beard Oil ($34.99) to Dog Hemp Treats ($34.99).

“We used to have plainclothes undercover officers come in to check us out and make sure we were legal,” says Caroline Mallon, the manager of the new Sacred Leaf store in Clear Lake.” Now they come in their uniforms and buy stuff for their families.“

One of her employees is a former DEA agent.

Skeptics of CBD may be shocked to learn that the National Institutes of Health database lists about 150 studies involving CBD as a treatment for conditions as varied as infantile spasms and Parkinson’s disease.

But so far only one purported use of CBD has significant evidence supporting it.

The FDA, in the first government sanctioned medical use for CBD, approved a cannabidiol-based drug called Epidiolex as a treatment for severe forms of epilepsy.

“CBD is the most promising drug that has come out for neuropsychiatric diseases in the last 50 years,” Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant professor at New York School of Medicine, told the New York Times. She is conducting a study of CBD as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse disorder.

Blessing, however, is quick to point out that a CBD-laced gummy or two should not be considered medicine.

“For most of the products where people are putting CBD in coffee or food, there’s no solid evidence that they contain enough CBD to do anything,” Blessing said. “A CBD coffee may only have five milligrams in it. In order to treat anxiety, we know you need around 300 milligrams.”

Blessing doesn’t recommend trying a shot of CBD oil just yet. She says much of the research is in its infancy, and the purity and dosage of some CBD consumer products may not be reliable.

She also notes that CBD can have negative interactions with many medications, so potential users should talk to their doctors before taking it.

So it seems we are trapped between hype and science when it comes to CBD. I remain curious, just not curious enough to try it yet.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at