British government regulators on Tuesday ruled that products containing the cannabis-based ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) are medicines.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has given companies who make products with the drug 28 days to get a licence to sell their products, the BBC reported.
Only one licensed CBD-containing medicine, a prescription medicine called Sativex for people with multiple sclerosis, is currently legal in the UK and 26 other countries, where it is also sometimes prescribed for people with pain related to certain cancers.
Cannabidiol is one of hundreds of active chemical compounds found in marijuana.
The name “marijuana” is an all-encompassing term we use to talk about the plant. But pot is made up of hundreds of different compounds — as many as 400, by some estimates. And each of these compounds has a variety of potential effects, ranging from pain relief to reducing blood pressure.
Some of them — like cannabidiol — play no role in getting you high. Those feelings of euphoria or intoxication that have become so characteristically linked with marijuana can be attributed to the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient, THC.
“Cannabis contains many constituents. It’s not just THC. And whether these have medicinal properties that can be used, the answer is very likely, and they should be studied,” Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the chair of Columbia University’s department of psychiatry, recently told Business Insider.
Several clinical studies suggest CBD could be helpful for treating certain kinds of pain.
Cannabidiol is thought to be responsible for many of marijuana’s therapeutic effects, from pain relief to a potential treatment for certain kinds of childhood epilepsy.
One of the ways scientists think it may help with pain is by reducing inflammation, a component of painful illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A preliminary 2005 study of 58 patients with RA, roughly half of whom were given a placebo and roughly half of whom were given the cannabis-based medicine Sativex found “statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest … and quality of sleep” in the patients on the drug.
Still, marijuana’s official designation as a drug with no “therapeutic value” means it remains difficult to study. Anyone caught using it in the UK, even for medical purposes, can be charged with possession.
That can be frustrating to scientists who, regardless of their position on its legal status, almost uniformly agree that more rigorous scientific analyses of the drug are desperately needed.
“We clearly do not have that much research about marijuana, and you need to know what chemical is carrying out its effects,” Dr. Yasmin Hurd, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told Business Insider last fall. “Like many plants, marijuana has many different chemicals. There are specific components of the plant that can be developed for medical interventions,” Hurd said.
There’s still a lot to learn about which compound is responsible for which effect. Only further research can begin to reveal those secrets.
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