Drugs

CBD Google Searches Soar Despite Lack Of Scientific Information

Confusion continues to batter U.S. consumers as to whether cannabidiol (CBD) is indeed a cure-all for many aches and pains (and maybe even diabetes and cancer), or is just the modern day equivalent of snake oil -- literally.

This uncertainty manifests in a sharp spike in Google searches for CBD. Much of the new interest in CBD came after the federal government in December 2018 approved the 2018 Farm Bill or the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which eased restrictions on the use of hemp products containing less than 0.3 percent THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the psychoactive component found in marijuana that triggers the euphoric "high" when smoked or ingested.

The 2018 Farm Bill establishes a new federal hemp regulatory system under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which aims to facilitate the commercial cultivation, processing and marketing of hemp. It also removes hemp and hemp seeds from the statutory definition of marijuana and the schedule of Controlled Substances issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The law makes hemp an eligible crop under the federal crop insurance program while allowing the transfer of hemp and hemp-derived products across state lines subject to limitations.

A research letter issued Wednesday that sought to determine how public interest in CBD has grown found that Google searches for CBD have risen dramatically since 2014 and continue to rise.

Google searches are expected to grow by the end of 2019 to 117.7 percent, which is higher than 2018. In Oklahoma and Alabama, searches grew by 211.2 percent and 605 percent, respectively, from 2014 to 2018, as per stated in the letter.

In April 2019 (the last month data was collected), there were 6.4 million CBD Google searches. Searches for CBD jumped 160.4 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to the the research letter published in the peer-reviewed, JAMA Network Open.

The spike in results highlights a concerning gap between the interest in CBD products and the level of rigorous testing on the available products' effects, according to Ziva Cooper, research director at the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.

"We don't know very much about cannabidiol's effects," said Cooper, who was not involved in the research. "People are searching for scientific information on the products ... (but) we don't have very much data."

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That's because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies CBD consumer products (oils, isolates and wax) as supplements and not medicines. This means FDA doesn't regulate CBD products.

The FDA has approved the use of only one CBD product for human use. This is Epidiolex, and it's used to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy in children under 2 years old.

Despite the lack of trusted, scientific data about CBD, its champions swear by its pain killing properties. CBD is imbibed as an oil, applied to the skin or inhaled as vapor. Doctors said the vast majority of our knowledge about CBD comes from personal anecdotes and unproven animal studies. They also don't know much about how CBD affects our brains.

This lack of certain knowledge hasn't barred Americans from giving CBD a try. Nearly 7 percent of Americans use CBD, according to investment research firm Cowen & Co. This figure is expected to grow to 10 percent by 2025.

The rapidly expanding CBD market already generates $2 billion in annual sales. This number is projected to hit $16 billion by 2025.

"It's booming. It's way bigger than anybody imagined," John Ayers, research author and a professor at University of California, San Diego, said. "There's a large demand in all 50 states."

Ayers and his team also compared searches for CBD with other popular health and wellness interests like "exercise," "veganism" and "marijuana," and found that searches for CBD were higher.

"For every two searches in the U.S. on Google on dieting, there's one for CBD," Ayers said.

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