CBD in St. Louis: Medical miracle or snake oil for sale?

ST. LOUIS – Preliminary research into the use of CBD suggests that it may have a variety of health benefits, but other experts are cautious and even skeptical.

St. Louis is now home to several shops specializing in the sale of the natural remedy, but as the CBD business attracts more customers, skeptics are looking for more data.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis sativa plant. Unlike THC, which is also found in the cannabis plant, CBD is non-psychoactive. Without the worry of an unwanted high or issues of legality that come with marijuana use, CBD has become a popular over-the-counter option for treating a number of ailments.

Devin Allgaier is the owner of The CBD Store STL, part of a chain that was the first CBD retailer in the country. The sign on his St. Louis-area storefront lists the conditions for which CBD may have potential as a treatment. The list ranges from pain and anxiety to autism and epilepsy.

Allgaier’s father is a frequent customer. Allgaier has a son who suffers from severe epilepsy and, prior to using CBD regularly, was having multiple seizures a day. According to Allgaier, it has been eight months since the child started his CBD regimen, and he is now completely off his seizure medication. 

Some of Allgaier’s customers have praised CBD for dramatically improving their lives. He said, “It’s pretty emotional, you know. These parents are in tears sometimes.” 

While anecdotal experiences such as Allgaier’s continue to increase, the Food and Drug Administration is slow to back any claims not founded on scientific research. To date, the FDA has approved only one CBD-derived drug: Epidiolex. The drug was shown to reduce seizures by 40 percent for children suffering from a rare and dangerous form of epilepsy. 

On May 31, the FDA held a public hearing to discuss regulations and the science behind CBD. Acting FDA commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless opened the hearing by saying, “While we have seen an explosion of interest in products containing CBD, there is still much that we don’t know.”

Simon Haroutounian, the chief of clinical research at Washington University’s Pain Management Center, is also concerned with how little is known about CBD. Haroutounian conducted his own study on marijuana’s effectiveness in treating patients with chronic pain. He is well aware of the hype behind CBD, but when he hears of people eating CBD lollipops and drinking CBD sodas, he has some reservations. He notes, “I think the data to support that sort of widespread use is not necessarily there.”

Data or no data, the CBD business is growing as fast as the cannabis will let them. St. Louis now has more than a dozen CBD-specific stores. And while researchers struggle to keep up with the widespread consumption, people are eager as ever to experiment with CBD. It simply isn’t clear how valid the results of these experiments truly are. 

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