Cannabis with high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) is now available in a number of countries.
CBD is one of more than 60 chemical compounds found in marijuana, called cannabinoids.
But CBD stands out because it offers many medicinal benefits of the plant without any of the usual mind-altering effects. Recent studies have suggested that on its own CBD can lower anxiety, help control seizures and even reduce the size of some cancerous tumours.
By using strains that are high in CBD and low in THC, people living with illness are able to unlock the therapeutic benefits of marijuana without having the experience of being ‘high’. Because of this, breeders are now working on creating varieties of high-CBD cannabis to offer to patients.
Over the past few years, medicinal growers have developed two strains that have become well known for their elevated levels of CBD: Charlotte’s Web and Avidekel.
Charlotte’s Web (20% CBD)
In 2011, the Stanley brothers from Colorado developed a variety of marijuana that was high in CBD and low in THC for people suffering from cancer. But after stopping the unrelenting seizures of a 3-year-old girl, the siblings realized a unique benefit of the high-CBD strain. The girl’s name was Charlotte, and the strain was dubbed “Charlotte’s Web”.
Charlotte’s Web is believed to be the highest CBD strain in the world. It contains 20% CBD and less than 0.5% THC.
It all started with a phone call came from Charlotte’s parents, Matt and Paige Figi. Their daughter was born with Dravet syndrome, and suffered from more than 300 seizures a week. After pharmaceutical options and diet changes failed to control the illness, the family made the decision to try medical marijuana. Despite some concern about her young age, the Stanley brothers decided to give Charlotte an opportunity to try an oil-based extract made from the unique strain — with great success.
Soon parents from all over the country were flocking to Colorado to try this unconventional medication for their own children’s epilepsy. Results were mixed; Charlotte’s Web helped some epileptic children but not others. In an effort to solve this mystery, researchers at the University of Colorado are studying the genetic differences between patients who do or do not respond to CBD-rich cannabis.
The Stanley brothers operate a non-profit called the Realm of Caring, which announced in September that Charlotte’s Web Hemp Oil can now be shipped to all 50 states, at a cost of $250 per bottle. Because the oil contains less than the maximum THC allowed for food products, according to federal hemp legislation, the product is likely legal in all U.S. states.
Avidekel (15.8 – 16.3% CBD)
Another high-CBD strain called Avidekel was developed in Israel, the brain child of breeders working for a goverment-licensed cannabis company called Tikum Olam. Avidekel contains 0% THC and 15.8 to 16.3% CBD.
The company began creating a CBD-rich cannabis strain in 2009 through selective breeding. The Avidekel strain was completed three years later.
According to Ruth Galilly of Hebrew University, Avidekel has shown promise in treating a variety of conditions with minimal side effects. “The cannabis plant, enriched with CBD, can be used for treating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, liver inflammation, heart disease and diabetes,” she told Reuters.
Avidekel has also become a favourite of many patients in Israel. Avi, a 60-year-old survivor of cancer and volunteer at Tikum Olam’s cannabis dispensary, told Public Radio International that this strain has improved his life. “I can do everything with the CBD… For me, it’s the best.”
The popularity of Charlotte’s Web and Avidekel marks a change in the way patients access the medicinal benefits of cannabis. In late 2013, the FDA granted GW Pharmaceuticals permission to investigate the antiepileptic potential of a pharmaceutical CBD extract.
Unfortunately, research on CBD is in its infancy. But as the body of knowledge grows, patients will become more empowered than ever before to make informed decisions about their treatment.