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Why CBD Isolate From Big Pharma Can Harm More Than Heal

RxLeaf
RxLeaf

The first cannabis-derived, CBD isolate from Big Pharma is already on the market, along with an outrageous price tag and reports of harmful side effects. How is that even possible?

Cannabis has shown amazing abilities to treat a wide range of illnesses, diseases, and syndromes — but Big Pharma can’t let it do its healing in peace. Instead of straight cannabis or even just cannabis isolate, drug companies are pumping out products that tout cannabis as the “active ingredient” but are filled with many other non-medicinal parts.

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While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, there’s reason to be wary of “cannabis plus” products that dilute or diminish the natural healing properties of the plant by surrounding it with filler material.

In June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first cannabis-derived drug to treat epilepsy. Epidiolex is a liquid medicine made from the cannabidiol that is “purified” via a chemical process and combined with dehydrated alcohol, sesame seed oil, strawberry flavor and sucralose. It’s a yellowish clear color and nearly odorless.

Officially, the drug is suitable for treating only two conditions: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, both of which are forms of childhood epilepsy and particularly unpleasant.

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Epidiolex comes with a price tag of $1,235 per 100 ml bottle. That’s just under half a cup of liquid or about one-third of a can of Coke. For the average child, the cost for treatment will be $32,500 per year. That’s a lot to pay for a product that’s mostly plant with some sugar and flavor added.

Why the high price? Well, that’s the American healthcare system at work. The drug was allowed on the market after passing five years of research that included three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. R&D costs money, don’t you know? Not surprisingly, a drug made from CBD passed those tests with flying colors. What is surprising are the side effects.

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How Can CBD Medicine Have These Side Effects?

Patients in the Epidiolex clinical trials reported experiencing side effects that included trouble sleeping, lethargy, minimal appetite, fatigue, rashes, insomnia, and infections. Compare that to the non-Big Pharma version of CBD, which according to WebMD, has side effects that include dry mouth, low blood pressure, light headedness, and drowsiness. For the price, that’s a lot of difference.

To be fair, the side effects from Epidiolex were not severe. Most were mild to moderate, and not continuous or ongoing. No significant abnormalities were reported in lab tests. But that’s to be expected from a drug whose active ingredient in almost completely harmless. The real trouble is: why did drug makers add anything to CBD to begin with?

Part of the answer may have to do with what’s taken out.

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How GW Pharma Makes Epidiolex

Epidiolex is the first drug that the FDA has approved to be made with actual cannabis. While other cannabis-based medicines beat it to market, they have uniformly used synthetic cannabis or cannabinoids as their active ingredients. Epidiolex uses the real stuff.

Because drugs need uniformity, the plants used in Epidiolex are cultivated under stringent conditions that are meant to reduce mutation and produce exact copies of the same cannabis plant. The specific strain used for the drug are also bred to be very high in CBD and contain only trace amounts of THC, which simplifies the extraction process later.

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While it’s not clear how exactly the CBD is removed from the cannabis plants for Epidiolex (trade secrets), there are several ways to remove CBD from cannabis plants, and many of them also strip out other potentially important medicinal parts of the plant.

The other stuff (terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids) present in cannabis contribute to the entourage effect, which could have something to do with the efficacy of CBD. Think of like this: the other molecules in cannabis that sit beside CBD may help it be more effective in the body. So far, it’s not entirely clear, although scientist have found some strong evidence that compounds in cannabis besides THC and CBD  have pharmacological action.

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CBD Pharma is Not The CBD You’re Used to

This is the key difference between products that rely on CBD and what’s called CBD isolate — the raw, plant-only material. CBD isolate is pure CBD, without the natural additions found in the cannabis plant. Pharmaceutical products that list CBD as the active ingredient replace the natural additives, like terpenes, with chemical substitutions, which are designed to change the look, texture, or shelf life of the product.

But in cutting out the natural benefits of cannabis, some drug makers making their products harmful. Bad side effects not only hurt consumers, but the medicinal cannabis industry as a whole. It’s time for drug companies to prioritize people over profit. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with making longer lasting, better tasting products from cannabis, decreased effectiveness and a more potential side effects are too high a price.