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CBD Could Worsen Effects of THC in Brownies, Gummies & Other Products

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By: Amy Norton

There’s a popular notion that cannabidiol (CBD) can take the edge off the less pleasant effects of marijuana. But a new study suggests that, when it comes to edibles, the opposite is true.

Researchers found that when they gave study volunteers a batch of pot brownies, the effects were as one would expect.

The surprise came when they tested brownies laced with both THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and CBD, a non-intoxicating extract of the marijuana plant: The combo brownies were substantially more impairing than those containing THC alone.

Overall, they revved up people’s heart rates to a greater degree, and caused bigger impairments in tests of memory and attention. And it was not in service of a “better” high: People also reported feeling lousier after eating the THC/CBD brownie — contrary to the belief that CBD counters the unwanted side effects of marijuana, like anxiety and sedation.

“It was a pretty remarkable effect,” said study leader Austin Zamarripa, a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore.

Based on the researchers’ analysis, it appears that CBD slows down the metabolism of THC — at least when it’s taken in the form of an edible. And that intensifies and prolongs the effects of the drug, Zamarripa said.

CBD is one of hundreds of chemicals found in cannabis plants, including marijuana and hemp. It is more abundant in hemp — which, unlike marijuana, has little THC.

In 2018, Congress lifted a decades-old ban on growing hemp, and soon after there was an explosion of CBD products on the market. The chemical was being added to everything from oils and lotions to gummies and cookies, with claims that it could ease a host of ailments, including chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia.

Yet there is little scientific proof to back up those claims. And, Zamarripa said, there is a lot to learn about how CBD might interact with medications.

“CBD became widely available and spread much faster than (researchers) could study it,” Zamarripa said.

At the same time, marijuana legalization has triggered a surge in use of marijuana edibles. So the Hopkins team wanted to see how CBD and oral THC, specifically, might interact.

They recruited 18 healthy young adults to do a brownie study. Each participant ate one brownie with a 20-milligram dose of THC, another with the same amount of THC plus 640 mg of CBD, and one cannabis-free brownie (the placebo). They consumed the treats at the research lab on three separate occasions, one week apart.

Overall, the researchers found, the combo brownie caused a substantially greater spike in people’s blood levels of THC and heart rate, compared to the THC-only treat.

Meanwhile, participants’ performance on tests of attention, in-the-moment “working” memory, and psychomotor skills — like the abilities people need for driving — deteriorated to a greater degree after the CBD/THC brownie.

The CBD dose used in the brownie was high, Zamarripa said. But, he added, it’s also within the range of what a person might take in a day if they were trying to manage pain or anxiety, for example.

“Studies like this highlight that you need to be cautious when using these products, especially if you’re also taking medications,” Zamarripa said.

People might assume that because CBD is everywhere and marketed for an array of health benefits, it has been proven safe and effective. They would be wrong.

“The number and variety of health claims for CBD should vastly increase consumers’ level of skepticism,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Lurie, who was not involved in the new research, called it “well done.”

“I think this emphasizes the importance of having some kind of regulatory pathway for CBD,” he said.

Right now, CBD oversight is in a state of limbo. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it cannot regulate CBD as a dietary supplement, due to a lack of evidence on its safety. The agency also called on Congress to create new rules on how to regulate the products.

Lurie said that as it stands, there is no way for consumers to know how much CBD is in a given product, or whether it is contaminated with THC.

“One of the problems with an unregulated market is that quality control is poor,” Lurie said.

He, too, urged people to be cautious about CBD products, particularly if they are taking medications.

Unfortunately, there is not much specific advice to be given in that regard. At this point, Zamarripa said, it would be difficult for people to find good information on whether CBD interacts with their particular medications.

The findings were published online Feb. 13 in JAMA Network Open. (consumer.healthday.com)

ADDITIONAL INFO

It appears that pot gummies can and do have a deleterious effect on those who ingest them in large quantity. On Saturday, the New York Post reported that an 11-year-old Staten Island boy was hospitalized after gobbling up THC gummies he mistook for candy at a Super Bowl party — and now his mother is urging the mayor to do something to prevent potential tragedies involving edibles.

Speaking to the Post, the mother of the boy in question, Veronica Gill, noticed her son, Ryan, “acting really strange” after returning home from a gathering at their friends’ house in the New Springville area of Staten Island.

“My son was sitting on the couch with me, and he started zoning out. At first, I thought he was pretending because he opened his eyes wide and laughed. Then he would zone out for a minute again, then open his eyes wide and laugh,” she told the Post.

Gill became concerned when the youngster’s laughter suddenly turned into cries for help — and his body started shaking, the Post reported. She told the paper that, “He started saying ‘Mom, I feel really weird.’ He was hearing voices. Then he started shaking … I thought he was maybe having a seizure.”

Filled with panic, Gill, the mother of three rushed Ryan to an urgent care center, where his racing heartbeat led doctors to call an ambulance to take him to the emergency room at Richmond University Medical Center, the Post reported.

After undergoing a CAT scan and a series of tests, a brain tumor was ruled out, the Post reported but a urine test revealed he had ingested a considerable amount of THC in the last few hours.

“I was literally in shock. I couldn’t believe it,” Gill told the Post.

The Post reported that Gill was further disturbed to find out that her son had taken the weed-infused gummies from a candy drawer at the “straight-laced” party-throwers home.

The number of calls to poison-control centers for abuse and misuse of cannabis products in Americans ages 6 to 18 has skyrocketed – rising from 510 cases in 2000 to 1,761 in 2020, according to a recent study published in Clinical Toxicology, the Post reported.

New York has only four licensed shops – but more than 1,400 illegal peddlers in New York City are selling unregulated products, with little police intervention.

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