I walked into the store, momentarily wishing I were a little hipper, and a little less middle-aged mom-ish. It was surprisingly bright, clean and tastefully decorated. Not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I’d had in mind for a store that sold cannabis-derived products.
As a person who grew up in the 80s (think: D.A.R.E.), and “came of age” in the 90s (think: Snoop Dog and Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused”) my relationship with cannabis, or let’s just call it marijuana, has always been complicated. It’s been a part of our collective pop culture, but it’s also been illegal.
Nowadays, depending on the state you live in, you may be able to legally buy marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. In my state, North Carolina, marijuana is still illegal. But the 2018 Farm Bill opened the doors for people to farm types of hemp and sell its products.
Difference between hemp and marijuana
To save you a Google search, hemp and marijuana are basically sisters (just think of marijuana as the sister who sneaks out of the house to party and hemp as the sister who studies in the library and knits scarves).
They are both variations of the cannabis plant. Both have cannabinoids, chemicals that interact with your brain. Both contain (along with more than 100 other cannabinoids), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
The main difference between hemp and marijuana is the level of THC (the cannabinoid that makes you “high”) that each contains. Marijuana has a lot of it. Hemp doesn’t have much. Hemp that is legally, industrially farmed in North Carolina and elsewhere (to make paper, textile products, and all sorts of stuff) can only have up to 0.3 percent THC.
And hemp also gives us CBD oil, which is now found in a variety of products for its purported benefits, which include easing pain, anxiety, and sleep issues. And which is why I was at that store.
A conversation with Dr. Anuradha Rao-Patel
Could CBD oil be the miracle cure that’s it’s made out to be? Before I’d stepped foot in the store, I talked to one of our lead medical directors, a physiatrist and the leading voice on Blue Cross NC’s fight against the opioid epidemic, Dr. Anuradha Rao-Patel.
Here’s a snippet of our conversation.
Maggie: CBD oil is everywhere these days. As a physician, and one who for years treated patients with pain issues, what’s your take on this stuff?
Dr. Anuradha Rao-Patel: It really is everywhere. I can walk into a drugstore and find a shampoo that has CBD oil in it. The most important thing for people to remember is that, similar to vitamins, these products are not regulated by the FDA, and may or may not produce the results that are promised on the label. Also, there haven’t been any long-term studies to evaluate its effectiveness – the widespread availability of CBD products is still a pretty new thing.
If someone wants to try a CBD oil product, what would you tell them?
First, they should have a conversation with their doctor. It’s important to be honest – you should never be ashamed to ask your doctor questions like this! CBD oil can reduce the effectiveness of certain prescription drugs, including some blood thinners and anti-anxiety meds, so it’s important that your doctor has a holistic view of everything you are putting in your body – medications and supplements – and whether they could potentially interact with each other in a dangerous way.
What other concerns might you have?
People will make their own decisions, but I’d highly recommend against vaping CBD oil, THC oil, or anything else for that matter! We still don’t know exactly why vaping is making some people so sick, even killing them. And while I certainly don’t want people using opioids or other pain medication unnecessarily, I would also caution someone from jumping straight from prescription medication to CBD oil, without properly weaning. People should work with their doctors if they plan to make any sort of medication changes so that it can be done safely.
Do you see any potential benefits to the use of CBD oil?
There is still a lot of research to be done, so I’m not going to say yes or no to this question right now! I will say that I’ve heard anecdotal stories from patients and people in the community that have gained benefits from CBD products for pain, joint inflammation, sleep, and anxiety disorders.
Anything else you’d like to share on the topic?
I’d say this: education is key. If you are interested in trying a CBD product, make sure you do thorough research, learn about the appropriate dosing, and buy from a reputable source. Also, I think it’s unwise for the medical community to simply ignore this trend, and I’d urge physicians and other medical providers to be proactive in learning about CBD – because their patients will likely ask. I’m not endorsing CBD, but also can’t rule out that it might be beneficial for some people.
Which brings me back to the store.
“How can I help you?” asked a guy with piercing blue eyes and a colorful sleeve of tattoos.
“Um,” I said, trying to hide my awkwardness, “I’ve heard about CBD oil and wanted to maybe try it.” My statement came out more like a question.
I glanced nervously over at the other store attendant, who was sitting calmly behind a counter with bowls of what looked exactly like massive amounts of marijuana (but was, in fact, hemp, I later learned). It was all a bit surreal.
The guy with the tattoos, who turned out to be the store’s owner, was very kind, knowledgeable, patient with my dozens of questions, and ended up selling me what he called a good “starter” CBD oil that I could put under my tongue and swallow, a few times a day, or as needed, to help with my anxiety.
(Since I’d already gotten some facts from Dr. Rao-Patel, and had a conversation with my own primary care physician, I knew it would not interact with any of my current medications.)
So does it help me with my anxiety? The verdict is still out. I’ve only used it a handful of times, and I do think it helped me feel a bit more relaxed and get to sleep a little quicker, but maybe that was just a placebo effect.
I may just give it to my 13-year-old golden retriever who suffers from joint issues. But I’ll be sure to talk to his vet first.