First of all, what is hemp? And why is there so much controversy around it?
There are legitimate concerns with the legality of marijuana—both recreational and medical. Concerns focus on the fear that the healthcare system can be taken advantage of to abuse marijuana, and the fear that the THC effects can reduce the substance’s utility. These are real concerns that merit conversation and consideration, but there is an important distinction to be made:
Hemp is not marijuana.
The two are related—let’s say they’re close cousins. Both hemp and marijuana belong to the cannabis family, and both affect the endocannabinoid system responsible for controlling, specifically:
- Immune response
- Cellular life cycles
The main—and crucial—difference between the two is that marijuana is primarily dominated by its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, while hemp is dominated by it CBD content. But, what does this mean?
Simply put, THC can get you high, while CBD doesn’t. In fact, CBD can counteract “high” effects.
Another important distinction is that CBD legality depends on its concentration and source, but is generally legal throughout the United States. THC, on the other hand, remains illegal at the federal level (you’ve probably read about state and local government efforts around this in recent years).
This is all fine and well, but where did all of this attention come from? Where did the production and sudden attention to CBD come from?
Why Hemp is on the Rise
The story of hemp and CBD isn’t recent or sudden. There was, however, a reemergence of the focus on hemp utility thanks to recent technologies, research and products.
In 1998, a company called GW Pharmaceuticals was licensed by the British government to grow cannabis with the goal of developing hemp extracts for chemical trials. Geoffrey Guy, MD, cofounder of the company, was sure that CBD-rich plants could be used medicinally without a “psychoactive” effect. Guy then approached the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) with his findings, establishing one of the strongest foundations for the revaluation of CBD for medical applications.
Guy was not the first to be so sure of this notion, and the history of hemp obviously didn’t begin in 1998. In fact, Queen Victoria treated menstrual cramps with hemp, and animal studies have long shown links between CBD and lowered anxiety as well as reduced frequency and intensity of seizures.
While the significance of medical CBD is pretty diverse, there’s a gap in the medical focus and popularity that could be accredited to the general unavailability of CBD-rich strains before today’s technology to extract and concentrate it. This lack of CBD-rich plants is also due to generations of breeding marijuana for increased THC levels (for a stronger high), leaving plants with high CBD levels more and more rare. This recent revaluation, however, has brought hemp and CBD back into a spotlight.
Research has since taken off, always coming to find more perks and utilities for CBD—and without the more talked-about effects of THC. And this new access to high-concentration extracts isn’t all. A recent bill introduced by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell aims to legalize industrial hemp and allocate federal funds for its cultivation. McConnell hopes that hemp will become what tobacco was to Kentucky—at least an agricultural commodity if not an economic superpower.
Similar to the licensing of GW Pharmaceuticals back in Britain, should McConnell’s bill pass, not only will hemp have the potential to revolutionize medical fields but entire economies and industries, too.
Today’s Hemp Enhancements
Another industry that hemp is starting to revolutionize is that of athletics. Take Andrew Talasky, the world class cyclist and former OCI Pro Team Garmin-Cervelo member. Talasky recounts how, on traditional painkillers and anti-inflammatories, he was still suffering from pain and discomfort after he strained his hip flexor. Hopeless after unsuccessful treatment, Talasky tried CBD in a bold attempt to tap into its immune and pain benefits. Talasky said that, after a few weeks, the difference was not only notable, but also that he was feeling “less anxious, and…sleeping better.”
The thought of THC treatments for these kinds of situations is still largely coupled with hesitation thanks to concerns about the “high” effect, but CBD treatments have proven to be just as useful in these contexts—and without the high. And with technology meeting today’s production, new CBD extracts have allowed for a greater variety of hemp-based products than ever imagined in generations past.
Thanks to this versatility and less intimidating consumption, among many other benefits, CBD is becoming a more widely accepted and practiced approach to treating athletes—and justifiably so, as the World Anti-Doping Agency even removed the substance from its ban-list.
Hemp and CBD have long been used for medicinal purposes, and recent opposition has largely been targeted towards chances of abuse. But, as mentioned, CBD does not grant a high, rendering this concern nothing but misinformed.
What’s more, the applications and benefits of medical CBD are not only promising, they’re impressive.
In an article by Natalya M. Kogan, Sc and Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, diseases that are treated, or have the potential to be treated, with hemp include (and are most certainly not limited to):
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Metabolic syndrome-related disorders
In short, the utility and significance of hemp and CBD in medical treatment is not only broad and impressive, but it’s unacceptable to deny its medical potential and irresponsible to argue against it.
Moral of the Story
Hemp is undeniably useful and increasingly significant in the medical field, from everything from athletics to mental health. While there might be arguments against it (as there are with anything), the benefits that every day become greater and better understood should leave clear that hemp and CBD are just as important in medicine today as other products that are more commonly available.
Considering CBD products for your personal use is a perfectly healthy idea. Appreciating the history of hemp along with where it’s come and where it’s going is the first step at harnessing its benefits.