Is it time to reconsider what we know about CBD?

A new study from KCL might force us to reconsider the relationship between CBD & THC. Megan Townsend explains...

by Megan Townsend

When it comes to THC vs CBD, CBD has traditionally been accepted as the good twin, a natural ‘rescue remedy’ that counteracts the effects associated with THC.

For the most part, research has supported this hypothesis. A study carried out by a team at King’s College London found that by giving their participants a high dose of CBD before using THC they were less likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms and experience memory loss. 

However, in the ever changing world of drug research hypotheses are constantly being tested and retested, so much so that the same research team has recently published an interesting new study that suggests CBD doesn’t protect against the acute effects of THC. 

The Study

The research itself was carried out by a team from King’s College London, and involved a group of 46 participants, who took part in a double-blind, randomised trial in a hospital setting. Over a series of experimental visits, participants inhaled vaporised cannabis which contained 10mg THC and either 0mg, 10mg, 20mg or 30mg CBD to determine whether increasing the CBD content of cannabis would reduce its harmful effects. 

15 minutes after the cannabis had been inhaled, participants then completed a number of cognitive tasks, before an assessment of pleasurable responses to cannabis. The participants then undertook a ‘hospital walk task’ in which they were given £2 to buy an item of their choice from the hospital shop and ask for a receipt from the till operator before returning to the study.

This has previously been found to increase paranoia following the consumption of THC. Once participants were confident that at least 90% of the psychological effects had worn off they completed a series of psychological questionnaires and a semi-structured clinical interview. 

We spoke to one of the researchers who conducted the study, Dominic Oliver, who stated: 

“We looked at doses of CBD that you would typically find in cannabis and didn’t see any change in the effects of THC. THC impacted people’s memory and increased the severity of psychotic-like symptoms, like hearing things that aren’t really there. CBD didn’t help, even at the highest dose. Importantly, CBD also didn’t have an impact on any pleasurable (e.g. enjoying chocolate or music) or subjective (e.g. feeling high or feeling calm and relaxed) experiences related to THC.”

The concluding remarks of the paper state that there was no evidence of CBD reducing the adverse effects of THC. Therefore, CBD may not be as critical a consideration in the regulation of cannabis or the creation of a THC limit. As well as this, the results also call into question the safety of licensed medicines that contain THC and CBD, as they may not reduce the effects of THC as previously thought. When we asked Dominic about the implications of the findings, he said: 

“These results mean that using cannabis with a higher CBD content may not reduce the risk of memory or mental health problems, which is an important consideration for policymakers in legal (or soon to be legal) markets. Previous work that has shown benefits of higher CBD:THC ratio cannabis may have been due to lower THC doses rather than higher CBD. Improving available guidance for THC consumption, like we have for alcohol, may be more helpful in reducing cannabis-related harms.”

So, is it time to rethink CBD?

Well, let’s not jump the gun. Obviously, no study is perfect and it’s essential to consider all aspects of the research before making a decision. 

Firstly, it’s important to remember that this study focused on the acute effects of cannabis use, those occurring from a single exposure, as opposed to chronic effects, those that develop over a longer period of time. Therefore, the study is not truly reflective of the reality of sustained recreational or medical cannabis use.

Whilst CBD hasn’t been found to mediate the effects of THC in this instance, it is difficult to generalise the findings of this study alone to cannabis in everyday life. Therefore, it is important that anyone beginning to rethink CBD takes these results with a pinch of salt. 

The researchers themselves have also pointed out that cannabis users may reduce the harm they are exposed to when using a high CBD:THC ratio due to the reduced THC content, rather than the increased presence of CBD. Therefore, this begs the question ‘was the CBD ratio high enough?’. Of course only further research would confirm this. 

And finally, it’s important to note that nobody is usually consuming cannabis in a hospital setting. Any clinical study will always struggle to accurately mimic the realities of both medical and recreational cannabis use, and therefore it is important to consider the study’s results in light of this. 

There is no doubt that a study with such interesting results will prompt the cannabis and drug policy communities to engage in discussions they have previously been hesitant to approach. Hopefully future research will offer some guidance as to whether we need to reconsider what we thought about CBD. 

This piece was written by Volteface Intern Megan Townsend. Megan is a current MA Criminology student at Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.

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