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CBD: Treasure Trove or Pandora’s Box?

Darryl Inaba, a local expert on addiction and recovery, says he is in a conundrum.

He sees cannabidiol — known as CBD — as a potential “treasure trove” of health and medical benefits. But he worries it might send the wrong message or the wrong buds to those looking for relief.

While CBD has amazing potential, its future is clouded by federal regulations, poor lab testing and a general confusion about THC (the psychoactive part of the herb) and CBD.

CBD can be a treasure or a “Pandora’s box,” he says, depending on how it is studied and used. Inaba is firmly against THC, considering it an addictive substance. But he has done his research into CBD.

Inaba is an addiction treatment clinician and director of education and research at CNS Productions Inc., a Medford company that publishes educational materials about drugs and addiction.

He maintains an associate professorship at the University of California San Francisco, has a doctor of pharmacology degree, and is a Lifetime Fellow of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, where he served as director of its Drug Detoxification and After Care Services from the late 1960s through 2006.

Inaba has spent his professional career studying the medical aspects of addiction, treatment, recovery and the impact of drugs, from being in the trenches of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury drug scene in the ‘60s to working with people who are struggling with addictive issues in Southern Oregon today.

He co-wrote with William Cohen a book on addiction and recovery called “Uppers, Downers, All Arounders.” And he pioneered medical services at concerts, starting back in the day with Led Zeppelin and The Grateful Dead.

Inaba is a firm proponent of CBD, but he says he sees challenges to it becoming part of mainstream medicine. CBD seems to have benefits for epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and a host of other illnesses. It works as an anti-inflammatory — for people with diabetes, for instance — and has been touted as a way for people to get off harder drugs, including opioids, which are at epidemic levels in many communities. Throw in anti-anxiety properties and you have what appears to be a miracle drug with untold uses.

So why isn’t this treasure trove being unlocked, explored, cataloged and analyzed to a greater degree?

Perhaps the biggest hurdle, Inaba says, is that CBD is lumped in with Schedule I drugs, so scientific research into its benefits has been limited in the U.S.

More research is going on in Europe, he says, where studies indicate real progress with CBD as an anti-cancer treatment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD “can eliminate breast or stomach cancer — for men, too,” Inaba says.

He points to strong CBD proponents such as WAMM, WoMen’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, out of Santa Cruz, which has been a leading cooperative and advocate for legal, medical cannabis for going on 25 years.

There are other challenges besides the Schedule I listing that can affect the mainstreaming of CBD, Inaba says.

“It’s an inconvenient truth” that marijuana is addictive, while CBD is not, Inaba says, although THC and CBD are often combined.

Many marijuana advocates tout what’s called the “entourage effect,” saying the combination of THC and CBD provides benefits beyond what either delivers by itself. Most local dispensaries sell products — including buds — with varying ratios of THC and CBD.

There are also CBD/THC hybrids on the medical market, especially in Europe. For example, Sativex by GW Pharmaceuticals is the first cannabis-based medicine to be fully approved and brought to market and is now available in 22-plus countries worldwide. Originally it was marketed as a treatment for MS sufferers and is currently in cancer trials in Europe. It contains an equal mix of CBD and THC.

Inaba is leery of the trend.

“Combining marijuana with CBD is wrong,” Inaba says flatly.

An added complication, says Inaba, is that “lab tests are not always regulated.” He sees standardized, regulated testing as a way to ensure that your CBD is pure.

The bottom line is that THC is addictive, says Inaba.

Recent studies have shown that about 17 percent of those who are treated for substance-related and addictive disorders in the United States list marijuana as their primary drug, he says, and many list it as their secondary or tertiary drug of choice. It is the substance most often listed by the 1.8 million to 1.9 million people treated for addiction each year in this country.

Inaba says one factor that concerns him is how much stronger cannabis is these days. Some substances can have a concentration as high as 95 percent THC. And people now have easy access to edibles, vapes, gel caps and other forms of potent THC products.

“We are starting to identify the great medical effects of the non-psychoactive chemicals in pot like cannabidiol and the brain-damaging effects of its psychoactive chemicals,” Inaba says.

It’s up to labs, researchers, growers and suppliers to make sure that we don’t lose this potential treasure amidst the hurly-burly of the Green Rush.

Jefferson Reeder is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at jeffersonreeder@hotmail.com.

Darryl Inaba