Hitting a Nerve

Lack of CBD oil regulations hearkens back to patent medicines


My vet sells cannabidiol (CBD) oil for dogs and cats.

Anatoliy Sizov/Getty Images

So does the vape store down the street, the pharmacy around the corner ... and pretty much every place these days.

I probably have more patients ask me about CBD than any other drug, usually because a friend/cousin/in-law/child/parent/spouse/neighbor/coworker “said I should ask you about this.” That’s the power of the Internet: The most marginally proven treatments are portrayed as definitive cures, while some of the most effective treatments (like vaccines) are treated like a lethal-injection drug.

I really don’t have anything against CBD oil, or medical marijuana in general. If they help you, great. But I don’t like the way they’re portrayed as miracle cures for pretty much whatever ails you.

Nothing is, or ever will be, a miracle cure. There will always be nonresponders and those who have adverse effects. In that respect, what goes for one treatment goes for all of them.

But that doesn’t stop these things from being pushed in the most unreliable ways. On Yelp, Groupon, Facebook, and countless other nonmedical sites that aren’t required to back up their claims with hard evidence.

Anything I prescribe, and all over-the-counter medications, are subject to far more scrutiny. They have known risks and benefits. They’ve been through trials, and most have years of data to review when questions arise.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Granted, CBD oil has been approved, as Epidiolex, for different forms of epilepsy. That kind of regulation is a step forward, but the majority of people selling CBD oil are doing so with unregulated OTC forms.

These may work, but the lack of regulation means every one of these places can make their own formulations, purities, and strengths. In some respects it’s a throwback to the era of patent medicines, where each pharmacy was free to whip up their own concoctions, label them as treatments for whatever they wished, and advertise and sell them.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, continues to take an ostrich approach. At their level these OTC agents are illegal and cannot be sold or marketed. At the same time, though, the restrictions overall are not being enforced. This gives the impression that there is nothing wrong with selling them.

Let’s look at morphine, an effective pain reliever and controlled substance. It’s tightly regulated, as it should be. But what if those regulations were ignored? What if, in addition to it being available by prescription, it were sold OTC in perhaps weaker but unregulated strengths and forms, with a variety of unscientific claims made for its benefits?

I don’t see anyone getting away with doing that.

Like I said earlier, I have nothing against CBD oil. But I do think it should have to go through the same approval process as any other medication, with specific strengths, dosing, benefits, and side effects determined, and enforceable regulations around its manufacturing, sale, and use.

Anything less is snake oil.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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