Over the past 10 to 15 years, the attitude, enforcement and legislation towards marijuana and cannabinoid products has shifted dramatically within the United States and around the world.
Where marijuana, cannabinoids and their derivative products were once fiercely legislated, with nigh-immediate fines, dramatic arrests and a definitive air of illegality centered around them, the landscape has begun to change.
Dispensaries and cannabinoid (CBD)-oriented shops have begun to receive licenses from states such as Massachusetts, California and Colorado, that have also authorized medical or recreational use. Now, new research has begun to open up in what was considered an undeniably taboo field, and new questions have surfaced as to whether CBD-derived products can help students manage pain, stress and anxiety in ways that other medicines might not be able to. “It's important to remember that cannabis is and has been widely used for medicinal and non-medical purposes for centuries. 5000-year-old Chinese texts by Emperor Shen Nugh contain the first recorded use as cannabis for the treatment of malaria, constipation, rheumatic pain and analgesia in childbirth,” said Tiffany Buckley, PharmD, BCPS, BCPP and a researcher in the Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
Buckley is part of a research group that studies cannabis and its potential use for a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety and pain.
Key to all of this is evidence-based research, which Buckley cited as opening up to some degree, even if cannabis is still in a gray area of medicine. “Cannabis research is limited due to various factors such as regulatory barriers, supply limitations, funding issues, and methodological challenges,” said Buckley. “From a regulatory perspective cannabis is still considered a scheduled I controlled substance; therefore, researchers must jump through multiple hoops to even be considered to [research] cannabis.”
Buckley cited progress in this area, as “in May 2021, the [Drug Enforcement Administration] stated that it is going to allow other additional American companies to grow cannabis for medical and scientific purposes,” but noted funding for cannabis research is limited given the stigma that remains attached to marijuana and THC (a marijuana derivative named tetrahydrocannabinol, which causes the psychoactive reactions that marijuana is famous for. This is removed in most research studies). Buckley said there are currently no clinical trials that examine the effects of cannabis on students afflicted with stress and anxiety. This is still new territory where research and academia are concerned. She concluded that students with qualifying medical conditions should research whether cannabis-based solutions were right for them and how to legally acquire it in Maryland. “Before reaching for cannabis due to anxiety, I recommend that students employ other stress relief tactics. The literature surrounding cannabis for the treatment of anxiety disorders is small, but mostly involves CBD. Based on the way CBD works, it could potentially be an option to help with anxiety,” said Buckley. “I recommend that students avoid high potency THC preparation which might exacerbate anxiety and focus on strains with high amounts of CBD.“ Others see the changes in regulation as fertile ground for cannabis-based products to be examined and tested. “It seems the general acceptance of cannabis and CBD has also loosened an amazing amount of legitimate research. Since it is no longer ‘underground,’ the research is being done by more organizations and more legitimate companies, thus giving us even more insight to the benefits of cannabis and CBD,” said Larry Henderson, president of CBD World Mall in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Henderson went on to say,“Cannabis, like pretty much anything in life, can be taken in an appropriate moderation. Cannabis for relieving stress and anxiety to study - awesome! Cannabis to get high may lead to the opposite effect - who wants to forget to study?” “Maryland has created a decent network of places to legally buy CBD and cannabis. Start with low doses as each person is different. It is legal to use,” he said. He also stated that prior to anything, users should do their own research through legitimate sources.
He reminds users to know their school’s or employer’s policies for cannabis, as they greatly vary from location to location. “For instance, the military has kept CBD/cannabis on their banned list. You should know in advance before any interview or job acceptance,” said Henderson.
CBD is legal in Maryland and customers may purchase CBD products without a prescription. Meanwhile, medical marijuana is also legal in the state with a prescription, while the recreational use of marijuana remains banned. There are no possession limits of CBD in Maryland, thereby allowing anyone to purchase as much as they wish to. In D.C., regulations are somewhat tougher, as the sale and possession of CBD products are also legal, but can only be purchased from D.C.-regulated dispensaries with a current government-issued medical marijuana card. On campus, the mood towards cannabis seems to be curious, if somewhat hesitant. According to first year PhD student Clea Massiani, who sometimes uses CBD oils for muscle pain, the effects are okay but not amazing. Massiani stated that she never uses CBD products to help study, but their presence is a good alternative to traditional medicines. “I think it's people's right to use it if they want to. I don't think the effects are so intense that this will help anything,” she said.
Others were a bit more skeptical. “They’re kind of scammy,” said sophomore biology major Carlos Guzman, who was referring to commercial CBD products. “If you use them, great. If they work for you, that's amazing. But I think that like, the inherent wrong issue with them is more the fact that they're just manipulating customers rather than the fact that CBD is ‘bad.’” CBD is here, its research, products and markets are expanding, and a plant that was once the basis of “Reefer Madness” and overzealous arrests, fines and jail times is now being seen from a shifting perspective. Only time will tell what comes of it, or how students will accept it in their everyday lives, but it might be worth looking into if other solutions have failed.