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Not a Freudian Slip: CBD and Mental Health - Therapeutic Magic or Myth? Part 1

After several weeks of feeling overwhelmed and stressed about an upcoming move and job change, I could feel those life changes taking a toll on my mood and sleep. What’s worse, the stress was triggering my skin issues to intensify, making me even more uncomfortable. I was ready to try (almost) anything for relief. A friend gave me a few CBD gummies and recommended that I eat one just before bed. Over the next several nights I slept like a baby, I seemed to be able to work through challenges without overreacting, and my inflamed skin began to improve. Armed with my anecdotal evidence, I wanted to uncover the facts about how these gummies could help alleviate the symptoms I was feeling as I moved through some tough life transitions.

Is it possible for a single plant-derived compound to have such broad clinical impact and alleviate symptoms of so many conditions? Could a daily dose of CBD oil (cannabidiol) improve a person’s depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms and help reverse the negative trend of increasing mental illness? This article series will touch on the history and legal journey of cannabis, highlight market growth, explore the evidence surrounding the potential health impacts, and propose a way to adequately harness its therapeutic value to support mental health improvement.

For starters, understanding the term cannabis and the difference between hemp, marijuana, THC, and CBD is necessary. Cannabis is a plant that has different varieties and produces over 400 different chemicals.1 Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plant varieties which have different chemical compounds with similar structures that produce varying levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) chemicals. These chemicals affect receptors throughout the body in different ways. Hemp and marijuana plants are farmed and cultivated in different ways and harvested for different purposes. However, they look quite similar, making it hard to distinguish between the two.

Hemp is the non-intoxicating cannabis variety that contains 0.3% or less THC and is harvested for industrial (rope, clothing, paper, housing material), food (cooking oil, hemp flour, etc.), and medicinal products. The cannabis variety, marijuana, contains more THC which binds to different receptors in the body producing the euphoric effects that make users feel high. Due to the difference between their THC levels, hemp and marijuana have different legal regulations. Marijuana-derived CBD is federally illegal regardless of its percentage of THC. However, CBD derived from hemp containing 0.3% THC or less is not regulated as a controlled substance.

Hype Even with confusion around the plant varieties and their legal restrictions, the CBD market has grown rapidly over the last several years and is projected to rise even faster, with sales expected to exceed $20 billion in the U.S. by 2024, according to BDS Analytics.3 CBD is increasingly integrated into mainstream society and infused into a diverse array of beverages, foods and snacks, cosmetics, health products, and even pet products. Retailers like grocery stores (Kroger), major pharmacy chains (CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aide), gas station convenience stores, and nutrition stores are banking on its continued growth. Increasing public interest triggered the launch of National CBD Day (8/8) as an opportunity to raise awareness of CBD. However, many remain skeptical of its benefits and are unsure about how to obtain safe and legal products.

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