Study Says CBD Is Fake As Pain Remedy, Growers ‘Trading On Hope And Desperation’

CBD products fail to reduce chronic pain, are potentially harmful to health and are ultimately a waste of money, according to new UK research published in a leading medical journal.

A team from the University of Bath led the research project, carried out on behalf of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and published in the Journal of Pain by Dutch scientific publisher Elsevier.

CBD presents a big problem for consumers, said Chris Eccleston, lead author of the study and a professor at the University’s Center for Pain Research. It is promoted as a cure for all pain, but there is a complete lack of quality evidence that it has positive effects.

It’s almost as if chronic pain patients don’t matter, and that’s what he was happy for people to trade in hope and despair, he added.

‘Adverse events’

The research team also included experts from the University of Oxford (UK) and the University of Alberta in Canada. The team analyzed studies published in scientific journals up to the end of 2023, combining them into a comprehensive paper that showed that:

  • Of the 16 randomized controlled trials that have explored the link between pain and pharmaceutical grade CBD, 15 have not shown positive results, and CBD is no better than a placebo for pain relief.
  • Over-the-counter CBD products, generally not covered by any commercial standards, often have much lower or much higher amounts of CBD than advertised.
  • Direct-to-consumer CBD products may contain chemicals other than CBD, some of which may be harmful or illegal in some jurisdictions, and may contain high levels of THC.

In addition, the meta-analysis combining data from multiple sources into one comprehensive study links CBD to increased rates of “serious adverse events,” including liver toxicity, the researchers reported.

UK review ongoing

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently reviewing approximately 12,000 CBD products against the government’s standards for new or novel foods. Europe is also struggling with an approval regime.

The FSA has advised people in vulnerable groups not to take CBD, such as children, people taking medication, those who are pregnant or breast-feeding and women trying to conceive, suggesting there is evidence of some effects adverse effects on the liver and thyroid.

The FSA sent out dire warnings about CBD a year ago when it published a report claiming 10 people had died from taking the products. At the time, the FSA said it had received 860 reports of adverse reactions to CBD products.

Chaos in the USA

Federal rules and standards for CBD have yet to be established in the US, leading to regulatory chaos. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly raised concerns about the potentially harmful effects of CBD on pregnant women and fetuses, young children, the elderly, the liver, and the male reproductive system. In a paper published in March 2023, the FDA concluded that the long-term use of CBD needs further research.

Concentrated CBD has shown promise as a treatment for rare forms of epilepsy. Epidiolex, a non-THC prescription drug containing high levels of CBD, is approved in both the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and in the US by the FDA.

“Wild Promises”

A dear 20% of the adult population lives with chronic pain, and patients often seek help to relieve their symptoms, the study notes, suggesting that it is not surprising that many people are turning to CBD products despite their high price and lack of evidence that are effective and safe.

For too many people with chronic pain, there is no medication to control their pain, said Andrew Moore, study co-author and former senior pain researcher at the Nuffield Division of Anesthesia in Oxford. This makes them vulnerable to the wild promises made about CBD.

According to Moore, health regulators seem reluctant to act against false claims made by some CBD manufacturers because they don’t want to interfere with the booming market.

Without a compensatory body to keep CBD sellers in check, the false promises made about CBD’s pain-relieving effects are unlikely to slow down in the coming years, Moore said.

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