Get Well, Not High

Campaign to legalize cannabidiol as a natural health product

Get Well, Not High

The Canadian Health Food Association tells us why natural health industry experts want to make cannabidiol, a potentially helpful component for conditions such as pain, inflammation, stress, anxiety, nausea, and sleep problems, more widely available to the public by removing current regulatory restrictions.

For some, the government’s decision to legalize cannabis was groundbreaking. But it’s not enough, according to those who are lobbying for greater access to cannabidiol.

CBD is Natural” is the slogan of the Canadian Health Food Association’s (CHFA) campaign to regulate cannabidiol as a natural health product—a campaign supported by many in the industry who believe in cannabidiol’s unique health-promoting properties.

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is not cannabis. The difference is, cannabidiol is one of the many chemical compounds found in cannabis and doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which generates the “high” effect from pot.

People don’t get stoned using CBD. Nor is it known to be addictive. But users do find it helpful for conditions such as pain, inflammation, stress, anxiety, nausea, sleep problems, and more.

In a 2018 review, the World Health Organization concluded that it’s generally well tolerated with a good safety profile. Further, they indicated, “To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

A Prescriptive Solution

So why should such a potentially low-risk compound be regulated the same way as marijuana? CBD currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Cannabis Act and was added to the federal Prescription Drug List during legalization, meaning it must be purchased through licensed recreational cannabis dealers, with a medical document, or as a prescription drug. It can’t be added to natural health products or cosmetics.

It is illogical, say advocates, and promotes a “get high, not well” philosophy.

And the government’s potential intent to add another regulatory framework for CBD makes even less sense, according to the CHFA, given that natural health product regulations already exist and work well for providing safe, effective access to products that support health and well-being.

Natural health products are considered a subset of drugs under the Food and Drugs Act and go through existing protocols to ensure safety and efficacy.

Economic Misfire

But the issues are even bigger than that, according to CHFA president Helen Long in a phone interview. She says that Canada is losing out on economic opportunities and job creation, which is a shame when Canada started out being so progressive.

“Market demand for CBD is expected to account for 20 percent of the entire cannabis market by 2023, and our estimates show that the CBD market in Canada could reach $1.5 to 2 billion over the next four years,” notes the CHFA website.

Additionally, the current state could push users toward a black market CBD purchase or unintentional dosage. Currently, the association says that CBD products available in recreational outlets aren’t labelled health use and don’t indicate important risk information. CBD-based products also seem readily available through alternate distributors, as evidenced by their popularity at events.

“By forcing people to use the black market or ordering online, it’s not really supporting the health and safety of Canadians. Who knows what you’re buying?” says Long.

Call to action

Critics may argue that there’s not enough research on CBD, and certainly, research is ongoing, including at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research (see Health Benefits of CBD below). But, as Long logically posits, where is the incentive for the NHP companies to pay for scientific literature for a substance that can’t legally be taken to market?

“There’s no point in investing in research when you’re told you can’t license a product.”

Politically, the CHFA’s campaign did get some traction in the last federal election, as evidenced by a mandate in the Green party’s platform that they would regulate CBD as a natural health product. Another sign, Long says, was a general buzz in the political ecosystem.

However, their efforts to remove cannabidiol from the Prescription Drug List and include it under Natural Health Product Regulations are far from over, and they need consumer and industry support to return Canada to our rightful place as a leader in this arena.

To get involved, visit cbdisnatural.ca, where you can send an email to your local MP, who may be new and may not be aware of this issue. Long also encourages people to talk directly to their local politicians. “If people really want to buy CBD in a health food store, they should be telling the government.”

Cannabis versus cannabidiol

The Cannabis Act, which came into effect in October 2018, legalized recreational marijuana. Canadian adults (age is provincially determined) can possess up to 30 g of cannabis in public and also share it with other adults.

Cannabis must be purchased through legally approved retailers, as determined by provincial and territorial governments. There are also updates regarding growing one’s own and purchasing medical cannabis for health purposes.

Although cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive, non-addictive, and known low-risk component of cannabis, it is also regulated under the Cannabis Act, to the consternation of those who feel it should fall under Natural Health Product Regulations for better, safe, and easy access.

Health benefits of CBD

First isolated in 1940 and chemically described in 1963, cannabidiol (CBD) is the subject of continued research. According to a recent human research safety review commissioned by the CHFA and performed by McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote. Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, “clinically, CBD has antiseizure activity and is moderately effective for reducing seizure frequency and severity associated with some forms of epilepsy.

“More preliminary evidence suggests that CBD may have a therapeutic role in the management of pain, inflammatory disorders, neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, alcohol use disorder, and psychosis.”

They further note that CBD is “markedly different” from THC due to its lack of psychoactive effect and the fact that it’s “generally considered safe across a wide dose range.”

Vancouver-based writer Michelle Hancock will be on the lookout for the informational cards that the CHFA is distributing to health food stores.

A version of this article was published in the January 2020 issue of alive Canada with the title “Get Well, Not High.”

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