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Today, CBD is used for the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions. This started with the somewhat serendipitous discovery (by parents experimenting with self-medication for their children) that CBD had a therapeutic effect on a serious form of epilepsy in children, called Dravet syndrome [8]. This effect is now under clinical investigation with the pharmaceutical CBD product Epidiolex®, which is currently in phase 3 trials with encouraging results [9, 10]. The media attention generated by its effect on severely ill children gave CBD the push needed to become a much desired medicine almost overnight [11]. Other medical indications that may be treated with CBD, and are supported to some extent by clinical proof, include Parkinson’s disease [12], schizophrenia [13], and anxiety disorder [14]. However, although research into the therapeutic effects of CBD is rapidly increasing, most current uses of CBD are not (yet) supported by clinical data. The popular use of these products means that physicians may be confronted with the effects of CBD oil even when they do not prescribe it themselves.

An excellent example is the use of CBD (and also THC) products for the self-medicating of cancer, with the intention of fully curing it [15]. This is based on an increasing body of preclinical evidence showing cannabinoids to be capable, under some conditions, of inhibiting the development of cancer cells in vitro or in vivo by various mechanisms of action, including induction of apoptosis, inhibition of angiogenesis, and arresting the cell cycle [16]. This is certainly exciting news, and research is ongoing around the world, but there is no solid clinical evidence yet to support that cannabinoids — whether natural or synthetic — can effectively and safely treat cancer in actual humans [17]. In fact, there are indications that certain types of cancer may even accelerate when exposed to cannabinoids [18]. This becomes problematic when patients choose to refuse chemotherapy treatment because they firmly believe in the rumored curative properties of cannabinoids. As a result, recommendation of cannabinoids for treating cancer should be done with great care, and with distinction as to the type of cancer being treated [19].

Increasingly, CBD oil is also being promoted as a prophylactic treatment in order to prevent certain diseases from developing at all. The argument used is that the human endocannabinoid system is involved in basic life functions such as appetite, immune response, reproduction, and pain management [20]. Because CBD functions as an indirect antagonist to human CB1 and CB2receptors [21], it is reasoned that the presence of CBD prevents them from being overly activated, thereby protecting the nervous and immune systems from everyday stress. Furthermore, CBD is known to be a reasonably potent antioxidant, which further helps to protect against stressful influences [22]. Although this clearly increases the market for CBD products, it also further erodes the scientific basis for the therapeutic use of CBD. After all, it is hard to prove scientifically that a disease was prevented by the use of a health-promoting product.

If CBD oil was used mainly by adult, well-informed, and reasonably healthy consumers, the impact of its widespread use would perhaps be quite acceptable and limited. However, this is not the case, as CBD is actively marketed for use by children (e.g., for Dravet syndrome, ADHD, autism), elderly people (Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease), patients suffering from complex diseases (cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain), and even pets (anxiety, appetite, sleep). Indiscriminate use of CBD may lead to various issues among these consumers. For example, CBD shows an exciting potential for treating epilepsy in children, but the long-term effects of high-dose CBD on these children’s brain functions remain unclear, while there are strong clues that the endocannabinoid system is central in the proper neuronal development of the adolescent brain [23]. In order to halt the unchecked advertising of CBD products, health authorities in various countries have begun sending official warning letters to stop producers and sellers from making unfounded health claims.

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