The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s policy of rejecting applications to register trademarks that identify nonhemp cannabis products, as well as certain hemp CBD products, reflects an unduly doctrinaire approach that ultimately makes Americans less safe. As the cannabis industry continues to enter the business mainstream, the extension of trademark rights to cannabis companies’ products would provide them with additional incentives to develop reputations for quality and safety, setting them apart from actors on the margins of legal markets at the state level. In addition, it would empower cannabis companies to, in concert with law enforcement, pursue counterfeiters peddling unregulated products.
In March, it was reported that Florida law enforcement agencies were expressing concern about “THC-laced candy and snacks … making their way into the hands of children and teens.” THC refers to tetrahydrocannabinol, “the substance … primarily responsible for the effect of marijuana on a person’s mental state.” The level of THC in a cannabis plant determines if that particular plant is legally considered marijuana or hemp. Cannabis with a THC concentration of more than 0.3% on a dry-weight basis is considered marijuana, which is a scheduled drug according to the Controlled Substances Act. By contrast, following the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, cannabis with 0.3% THC or less is considered hemp, which is not a controlled substance per the CSA.
But while hemp and hemp products with 0.3% THC or less are no longer treated as controlled substances, certain hemp products containing cannabidiol are still unlawful under federal law. To be clear, CBD itself is not illegal. However, it is the view of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that foods, dietary supplements and drugs containing CBD cannot be sold legally, in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The THC candies found in Florida were of particular concern to officials because “some of the marijuana edibles are hard to spot at first glance.” In a Facebook post, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, or CCSO, warned that, “without looking closely, you would never know that these candies, that bear a striking resemblance to ordinary candy, [are] actually THC infused edibles.”
The following photograph, courtesy of the CCSO, clearly depicts packages that prominently display the trademarks of famous candy brands, such as Skittles and Nerds. As the CCSO notes, it is only upon close inspection that the true nature of the candies becomes evident. For example, a Cheetos bag shown in an image supplied by the Sarasota County School District is imprinted on the bottom left with a small square containing the letters “THC” and a content in milligrams that is illegible on the image provided. On the bottom right corner, there is a triangle framing a cannabis leaf and an exclamation point, with the letters “CA” below it.
Those familiar with cannabis terminology and imagery will be immediately alerted to the presence of the term THC and the familiar shape of the cannabis leaf. However, it is reasonable to assume that there are many people who are not be able to make the connection between these symbols and marijuana. As a result, there is a real risk that the edibles will in some cases be consumed by people who do not wish to ingest THC, or any cannabis at all.
It is precisely because of the risks presented by counterfeits such as the candies found in Florida that the laws of the U.S. — and those of virtually every country in the world — protect trademarks rights. Lawmakers want the public to have the assurance that the Skittles bag it purchases in a store in Sarasota or Bradenton, Florida, is made by or under the authority of the Wrigley Co. In order to offer that assurance, the law grants to brand owners such as Wrigley the exclusive right to use trademarks such as SKITTLES and prohibits unauthorized use of those trademarks.
The fact that the fake candies found in Florida contain a controlled substance is certainly newsworthy, but largely irrelevant in the context of trademark rights. Needless to say, a candymaker like Wrigley does not want a product containing THC inside a bag bearing its trademarks. At the same time, it does not want real candy of unknown provenance inside such a bag either. This is true for a number of reasons, not least the potential for lost profits. In addition, companies like Wrigley do not want the good reputations they have built over decades tarnished because of some criminal’s unsanitary or foul-tasting fakes.
For their part, government authorities worry about the risks to consumers presented by fake products. By definition, counterfeiters operate on the margins of the law; their business model is predicated upon anonymity and the accompanying lack of accountability. If a candymaker is willing to infringe a trademark in pursuit of profit, there is a good chance it is also willing to ignore food safety laws, just as we should not expect the makers of counterfeit toys to heed child safety rules.
Trademark rights play a key role in the efficient operation of consumer markets, incentivizing companies to innovate, by protecting their exclusive right to monetize their brands. These rights also provide additional rewards for maintaining high quality and safety standards.
The case of the Florida THC candies, however, serves as a reminder of the fact that many cannabis companies operating legally in an increasing number of states are being denied trademark protection, to the detriment of the public. The USPTO refuses to register trademarks for products considered marijuana — that is, cannabis over the 0.3% THC limit — as well as certain CBD products such as edibles, whose sale the FDA considers unlawful.
Challenges for Cannabis Companies
Like companies in other sectors of the economy, cannabis companies face the risk of having their products counterfeited. As with other instances of counterfeiting, this presents risks not just to cannabis companies themselves, but also to consumers.
Consider for example a company that manufactures CBD edibles legally under the laws of Washington state. This company is subject to stringent regulatory oversight in its home state, yet it is not entitled to federal trademark protection against an anonymous infringer selling edibles made in completely unregulated fashion.
Another risk involves the misidentification of products. For example, a counterfeiter might introduce into the market products that contain THC with fake labeling indicating that they are just hemp products. It might also misstate THC or CBD amounts.
The THC edibles found in Florida presented serious risks to potential consumers. Fortunately, the fact that the fakes infringed on the trademarks of household names such as Cheetos and Skittles probably helped trigger alarms. Perhaps a teacher who eats genuine Cheetos noticed something askew with the packaging on a student’s Cheetos bag. A parent may have been surprised by the soft consistency of the edibles, at odds with how actual Skittles should feel.
However, for the time being at least, few if any cannabis companies enjoy such powerful brand recognition, meaning that few people will be able to notice irregularities in packaging or product characteristics.
In addition, companies such as Wrigley, Ferrara Candy Co. and Frito-Lay Inc., owners of the “Skittles,” “Nerds” and “Cheetos” trademarks, respectively, usually run brand protection programs. As part of these programs, they conduct market monitoring to help detect traffic in their fakes and incorporate anti-counterfeiting technology in their genuine products.
They also cooperate with law enforcement, for example recording their intellectual property with customs agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection to facilitate efforts to prevent the trade in counterfeit goods.
A Way Out?
Cannabis companies are largely deprived of tools to combat piracy. A company may discover counterfeiting activity, but it may not be of much use if there is no enforceable trademark. The logical solution to remedy this issue is to allow cannabis companies duly registered with state authorities to register their trademarks at the federal level for all their products, including those considered marijuana, as well as the CBD products not approved by the FDA.
The USPTO’s examination guide notes that “Use of a mark in commerce must be lawful under federal law to be the basis for federal registration” and points to the authority of Section 907 of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure. In turn, the manual points to various authorities, including sections 1 and 45 of the Trademark Act.
It is worth noting that the word “lawful” does not appear at all on Section 1, while Section 45 simply defines “commerce” as “all commerce which may lawfully be regulated by Congress.”
However, lawful use has become a requirement in practice, upheld by several Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rulings on the subject. According to the TTAB:
to hold otherwise would be to place the [USPTO] in the anomalous position of accepting as a basis for registration a shipment in commerce which is unlawful under a statute specifically controlling the flow of such goods in commerce.
Given USPTO and TTAB practice, the only realistic path extending trademark protection to cannabis companies may be through an amendment the Trademark Act or new federal legislation. Such an initiative would represent a step toward harmonizing federal law with the nation’s changing cannabis landscape, without requiring lawmakers to consider a change to the legal status of marijuana and CBD themselves.
Considering how extending full trademark protection to cannabis companies would be in the public interest, by keeping unregulated products out of consumers’ hands, it should not be a controversial move.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first ran on Law360 on May 3, 2021.
Add CBD Oil Into Your Drinking Water
If you are looking to better your life, then there are awesome ways to incorporate different diet programs into your lifestyle. You are what you eat and if you are not careful with what you eat, you’ll end up with health complications that can be fatal, and not to forget increasing medical bills. CBD has increasingly become a popular remedy for most known health complications.
While there are ongoing clinical tests to validate CBD products of their potency, there’s sufficient evidence that proves CBD can alleviate pain and other distressing health complications that a person can encounter. CBD is found in many forms and this guide on wholesale water soluble CBD oil will help you make informed decisions on the type of CBD products you might require. Water-soluble CBD products come in different quantities and CBD products of different qualities. The search for the best CBD products will require that you conduct extensive research as well as ask friends for referrals.
CBD Supplements and Vitamins
Most if not all the time, even a balanced diet might not be enough to provide you with the necessary vitamins required for the healthy growth of tissues and body muscles. This is why you need to incorporate the right vitamins in your meals. You can add and benefit from adding CBD oil to your diet by consuming supplements and vitamins rich in the minerals and ingredients your body needs for survival.
There are a plethora of supplements in the market today that you can choose from. CBD supplements and vitamins can range from omega acids that come in the form of capsules, powder forms, and liquid supplements. There are also supplements mixed with CBD and other highly nutritious ingredients for maximum health benefits. CBD supplements are rich in oleic and linolenic acids that will help promote your overall health as well as help with your skin conditions.
Taking CBD Detox Tea
This article is the fifth in a series called, “So you want to start a canna biz?” created in partnership with Good Tree Capital. This article focuses on getting money to start your cannabis business.
Financing is the primary barrier to entry into the cannabis industry, so it is important to structure your approach to overcoming it as a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bodega on the corner, a chain restaurant, a cannabis cultivator, or one of the big four tech firms, there are really only three ways to finance any business’ growth:
- Reinvesting profits from running your business
- Taking out debt from a lender
- Selling an equity ownership stake in your business to an investor.
Previously, we briefly touched on each method of financing. Now, it’s time to explore more.
Profit, debt, or equity?
Before you continue reading, you should be clear on where your business stands and what you can afford to do.
- Has your business already made a profit? Companies make profits when the revenue earned from sales exceeds the cost to generate those sales.
- Or will you need to use debt? Debt typically comes in the form of credit cards or loans to the business and must be repaid.
- Your third option is equity. Equity funding does not need to be paid back. Businesses raise equity when they sell a percentage of ownership to an outside investor.
If your business is up and running, and you’re making a profit, then congratulations! You seem to have a good thing going. We’ll continue to focus on how new or existing cannabis businesses should think about raising debt or equity or both, and return to profitable businesses at the end of this article.
With the federal prohibition of cannabis, the supply of both debt and equity is severely restricted. Most banks aren’t even willing to provide cannabis licensees with bank accounts, let alone credit cards or loans to help them run their business.
The availability of equity funds is similarly restricted. Private equity investors, including venture capitalists and angel investors, are often limited by either stigma or situational, social governance policies that prohibit them from investing in cannabis.
When supply is low and demand is high, prices spike. Low risk cannabis businesses seeking loans will often pay north of 25% APR for loans that would cost comparably risky non-cannabis businesses a quarter of that amount.
How to get a canna biz loan
You can avoid predatory lending by first self-evaluating the strength of your candidacy for a loan or credit. Someone who lends you money and expects it back is looking for whether you are earning enough monthly sales to make monthly loan payments and if you have a history of consistently paying your obligations.
They will also want to see business or personal assets that can be seized to recoup the value of the loan if you fail to make your monthly payments.
The Small Business Administration provides a useful rubric for how to make the best possible case for a loan. While the SBA does not lend to cannabis businesses, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) reported that 723 banks and credit unions (6% of total) across the nation provided banking services to cannabis businesses in 2019.
FinCen stopped publicly reporting which banks and credit unions filed with them, so if you are interested in learning which banks and credit unions in your State offer services to cannabis companies, then we suggest submitting a Freedom of Information Act request with FinCen to disclose the filers.
Other sources of capital for a cannabis business
Another worthwhile source of capital is an innovative model emerging out of Illinois. Upon legalizing cannabis for adult use, the State also created a $30 million Cannabis Business Development Fund that is to be used to make low-interest loans to social equity licensees in the State.
The intention was to ensure individuals from disproportionately impacted communities would have a source of capital to jumpstart and grow their businesses, putting them on more equal footing with deep-pocketed multi-state operators. Washington, Colorado, and a number of other states are considering similar programs.
The portrait you paint for a bank lender or government agency should be the same portrait you paint for more informal lenders, such as your mother or father, former boss, business partner, or your rich uncle.
Friends and family
We encourage you to look beyond institutional financiers and engage with people who believe in your business plan. Relying on family and friends to provide you with loans is advisable (particularly at an early stage) with the upside that they fully understand and appreciate the risk of lending your business money.
In fact, a common misconception in equity financing is that the only viable investors come from multi-million dollar venture capital firms. The reality is that most businesses’ first equity investors are usually made up of supportive family members and friends.
Though a huge funding injection from an investment group is great, it is equally as impactful to receive investments from peers and like-minded individuals who believe in your idea and want to support what you are building.
Determining equity stakes
While debt investors deploy capital for an immediate return, equity investors aren’t looking for a short-term payback. The goal of an equity investor is to support your company’s growth so that their investment increases in value as your business matures.
Having an equity stake in a company is essentially owning a piece of the business, and those stakeholders are usually in it for the long haul, anticipating that their investment bolsters the success of the business.
New business owners run the risk of both vastly overvaluing their company and vastly undervaluing their company. Overvaluing your company puts off sensible investors and ones who believe your company is too expensive. Undervaluing your company can lead to you losing majority ownership or sacrificing control of your company long-term.
Before selling anyone a piece of your company, it is critical to determine your company’s valuation. The only way to determine how much an investment is worth is to look at it in the context of the total value of the company.
Ways to determine the value of your company include:
If you successfully utilize debt and equity to finance your business, you can then unlock the third, aforementioned type of financing businesses use – profits.
The ultimate goal of all businesses is profitability, and after a couple years of stable operations, the profit your business generates can be reinvested back into the company.
Once growth and development are sustained by the cash the business generates from operations, then the business truly becomes viable and is positioned to scale and expand.
Public opinion on cannabis legalization and consumption has changed a lot since. Cannabis legalization is building more momentum in the US, and attitudes surrounding consumption have drastically evolved.
Cannabis Consumption on the Rise
Recently, a national study (2) conducted by YouGov, a public opinion and data company, in partnership with Sunnyside, a national retail dispensary brand of Cresco Labs, found that about one in four Americans consumed cannabis over the past year.
The report also found that 23% of current cannabis consumers have tried it for the first time in the past year. This suggests that the pandemic played a role in increasing the public’s interest in cannabis use, whether for leisure or medicinal purposes. The pandemic has also coincided with sweeping cannabis legalization bills across the United States. This has undoubtedly played a role in shaping public perception.
It’s quite a leap from 2018, when just over 15% of U.S. adults reported cannabis consumption (3).
What does this mean?
In January 2020, Governor Newsom announced that he intended to have the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Program (CDFA), and California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch (CDPH), consolidated into a single cannabis agency: the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) (as summarized in the Governor’s 2021 budget summary). That effort was stalled by the advent and continuing impact of COVID-19.
The 2021 budget summary generally covers what the trailer bill will do regarding California cannabis, and shoots for July of this year for the proposed consolidation into the DCC. Not surprisingly, all of the regulations now in play under the Medicinal and Adult-U
Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act will automatically be adopted by the DCC upon its creation unless and until repealed, replaced, amended, etc. It’s no secret that some of the current MAUCRSA regulations need serious revisions to ensure that licensees are successful and that the regulations are actually clear. So, when the DCC comes to life, while no one really knows what’s around the corner (although we recently wrote about how at least cannabis contracts will be affected by the consolidation), here are some of the regulatory fixes (rather than statutory) we think we might see:
- Transfer of Licenses. Right now, California doesn’t allow for state license transfers. Instead, the BCC, CDPH, and CDFA force cannabis licensees to engage in business purchases if a cannabis license is to change hands at all. These business purchases are tortured by regulatory ambiguities around the concept and definitions of “owners” and “financial interest holders” and original owners having to remain with the entity for the preservation of “continuity of operations”. And it seems like every time you interact with one of these agencies, you get a different response from every single analyst about what is and is not allowed in the definitive acquisition document. If the DCC is wise, it will take a page out of the books of Oregon and Washington and do away with the current change of ownership regulations, and it will allow for straight license transfers. The ability for third parties to just acquire state licenses would lighten the load for cannabis businesses and regulators alike, and it would put a stop to the arbitrary regulatory back and forth and oftentimes bad buyer and seller behavior we see around changes of ownership.
- Better Enforcement and Interpretation Consistency. Thankfully, we are bound to see consistent enforcement priorities and interpretations from a single agency. What’s annoyed licensees is that all three agencies right now seem to approach seemingly identical rules in a multitude of ways around enforcement and interpretation. Maybe more than an outright regulatory fix, the emphasis on this “might see” is that one regulator will definitely limit the number of wild legal and regulatory takes we’ve seen. Of course, different DCC analysts may also give different interpretations around various DCC regulations, but at least we’ll know that between cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, labs, and retailers that legal and regulatory licensing definitions will all be the same across the board.
- IP Licensing Clarity. With its final adoption of the current regulations, the BCC really muddied the waters to a certain extent regarding party disclosures around intellectual property licensing agreements (before that, the agency caused an industry freak-out around the topic). To tie things up, we have a lone “fact sheet” where the BCC tells us the following: “Licensees may enter into intellectual property licensing agreements with unlicensed entities. However, the intellectual property holder cannot exert control over the licensee’s commercial cannabis operations. If the intellectual property holder is exerting control over the licensee’s commercial cannabis operation, then the intellectual property holder must be disclosed as an owner on the license.” The fun part is that “control” is not defined, so there’s been myriad confusion around whether “owner” disclosure is necessary when IP licensing agreements come into play in California. And of course the IP licensor exercises some level of control relative to the licensee’s cannabis operations where the IP licensing agreement will dictate what the licensee can and cannot do with the licensed intellectual property. As a result, the DCC should really clean up the issue once and for all once it comes into power where California cannabis branding is big business and getting more serious all the time.
- Borderless Delivery Solution. Another California cannabis debacle is the borderless delivery rule that the BCC adopted as part of the final rules. It was a heavily followed lawsuit when the BCC defended its borderless delivery regulation in Fresno County Superior Court in 2020. See here. The end result of the fight was that, even though the BCC maintains a regulation that retailers can deliver cannabis into any city or county in California, cities and counties remain free to ban delivery anyway (which was already the case because California has such strong local control limits when it comes to cannabis). In turn, while the BCC won’t bust retailers for engaging in delivery in jurisdictions that ban it, those retailers can still get into major trouble in those cities and counties. I wouldn’t be shocked if the DCC tries to revisit this issue through rulemaking where retailers would certainly benefit by being able to deliver anywhere without legal consequence.
- Billboards. I was recently interviewed on KCRW about the dueling billboard bills in Sacramento. In 2020, a San Luis Obispo County judge ruled that Prop. 64 bans cannabis billboard ads on California’s interstate highways (here’s the BCC mandatory notice to licensees on the result in the case). Now, AB 273(which recently failed in session but could be reconsidered) would ban all cannabis billboards, and AB 1302 would allow them with certain restrictions around interstate highways and California borders. No matter how this one shakes out, will likely see the DCC react with corresponding regulations in the future, and that’s going to affect the marketing decisions of hundreds of licensees.
- Limitations on Type 3 Cultivation Licenses and Beyond. CDFA exercised its authority to limit cultivators to one Type 3 license per premises. To get around that, large scale cultivators just stack unlimited, smaller license types on multiple premises to aggregate literally acres of canopy. As a result, there’s a possibility that DCC just ditches the current one Type 3 limitation and gets with reality. Further, Type 5s will be available in 2023 and we have zero regulation around those license types, so the DCC may well just get into Type 5 limitations once it comes to power.
Definitely be sure to stay tuned as this massive consolidation comes to fruition.
Bloodlust of Sasquatch
Three bodies were torn to pieces on a dope farm, all the work of Sasquatch. Apparently, this isn’t the first time. Known as the Emerald Triangle, people have been disappearing from cannabis farms in California for some time. The locals know but they won’t talk about it. So how exactly do they know that this crime was the work of Sasquatch? Simple, there was an enormous amount of cash at the crime scene. No murderer could resist such rich booty, thus, this crime was obviously perpetrated by Sasquatch.
Why would Sasquatch go on a killing spree?
One cannot deny the evidence, Sasquatch hates cannabis. Where this hatred comes from, nobody knows. One theory is that young Sasquatch came across a grower’s compost and accidentally ate a ton of pot cookies. Another theory is that his fury comes from lost investments in cannabis stock. We may never know why this great beast is so mad but one thing is certain, the cannabis growers of Northern California should be wary of the fury.
This news is getting out there
On April 20, 2021, the documentary “Sasquatch” made its debut on Hulu. WWE Superstar Chris Jericho didn’t watch the documentary but he had a friend who did, and they talked about it on his podcast. This story is huge and is breaking wide open internationally… even Chris Jericho says so.
Get ready and be prepared
We all need to be ready for a Sasquatch threat so to help you, here is a wordsearch. Go smoke a joint and gather yourself before you begin. Find Sasquatch in the wordsearch below and the supplies you need to defend yourself. Remember, if you ever find yourself facing off with a Sasquatch, assess then approach. If it seems reasonable, try giving it CBD to show that cannabis is positive and doesn’t have to get you high. But, if you can see the bloodlust in its eyes, you will have to fight for your life. Good luck.
Reposted by greenrelief.org
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Boulder, CO: The consumption of CBD-dominant cannabis is associated with reductions in subjects’ intake of alcohol, according to data published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Investigators affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder assessed the relationship between marijuana consumption and alcohol intake in 120 subjects assigned to use one of three legal-market cannabis strains (predominantly THC, predominantly CBD, and relatively equal ratios of CBD and THC).
Researchers reported that participants assigned to use CBD-dominant cannabis during the trial period “drank fewer drinks per drinking day, had fewer alcohol use days, and fewer alcohol and cannabis co-use days compared with the other groups.” Subjects assigned to the other two groups reported no changes in their drinking patterns.
Authors acknowledged that the results were “consistent with preclinical work suggesting that CBD may be associated with decreased alcohol consumption.” Separate studies have previously indicated that CBD may reduce subjects’ cravings for other controlled substances, including tobacco and heroin.
They concluded: “The present study lends preliminary support to the notion that plant-based CBD may be associated with decreased alcohol consumption among regular cannabis users and suggests that it may be feasible for regular cannabis users to switch to a higher CBD, lower THC content cannabis strain for the purposes of reducing their alcohol intake.”
Separate data published by the study’s co-authors in January in the journal Addiction similarly reported an inverse relationship between cannabis use and alcohol. In that study, chronic alcohol consumers significantly reduced their alcohol intake on days when they used cannabis as compared to days when they did not.
Full text of the study, “THC and CBD effects on alcohol use among alcohol and cannabis co-users,” appears in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors
What is CBD:
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a completely non-psychoactive compound, naturally found in cannabis, that has enormous therapeutic potential. Providing no “stoned” or “high” feeling, CBD has strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory,anti-spasm, and neuroprotective effects. CBD directly activates serotonin receptors, generally improving mood and relieving anxiety. At Green Relief, we are continuously expanding our line of CBD products – we will supply any product our patient’s request.
There are Over 113 various compounds(cannabinoids) that have been isolated from the cannabis plant – Take a look at the chart below for the full effect of each individual cannabinoid on the body:
How Does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system exists to respond to endogenous cannabinoids produced by the human body. However, scientists have learned that the system will also recognize and respond to cannabinoids from external sources, including the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol. According to the National Institutes of Health, manipulating the endocannabinoid system by introducing external cannabinoids like CBD could be useful in treating a variety of medical ailments.
CBD and Cannabinoid Receptors
The endocannabinoid system includes two primary types of receptors that bind to cannabinoids: CB1 and CB2. Unlike THC, which fits directly into the CB1 receptor, cannabidiol does not fit into either type of receptor perfectly. Instead, it stimulates activity in both receptors without actually binding to them. This results in changes within any cells that contain either receptor. Because CB1 and CB2 receptors are present throughout the body, the effects of CBD are systemic.
According to Project CBD, research has also shown that CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC by inhibiting its effects on CB1 receptors.
CBD’s Indirect Effects on the Endocannabinoid System
When introduced into the endocannabinoid system, CBD causes an increased release of 2-AG, one of the endogenous cannabinoids. Like CBD, 2-AG stimulates both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which enhances the overall effect on the body. Studies published by the National Institutes of Health have shown that cannabidiol also inhibits the activity of fatty acid amide hydroxylase, or FAAH. This slows the deterioration of anandamide, another important endogenous cannabinoid found naturally within the body.
Other Effects of CBD
In addition to its impact on the endocannabinoid system, CBD also affects the body in other ways. For example, CBD binds directly to a G-protein coupled receptor known as TRPV-1, which is responsible for mediating body temperature, perceptions of pain and inflammation. CBD also activates serotonin receptors. Furthermore, studies conducted by the California Pacific Medical Center have shown that cannabidiol has the power to inhibit the ID-1 gene, which is known to cause several aggressive cancers, including certain cancers of the breast, brain, lungs, ovaries and pancreas.
Implications in Medicine
Cannabidiol’s impact on the endocannabinoid system, as well as its other effects on the human body, indicate that this substance may be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions. For example, the medical community has already identified that THC can be an effective treatment for multiple ailments, including the side effects of chemo. Because CBD inhibits the negative effects of THC, it stands to reason that administering the two substances together could be even more beneficial than treatment with THC alone. Likewise, cannabidiol’s stimulation of the endocannabinoid system promotes homeostasis within the body, reduces sensations of pain and inhibits inflammatory processes. Finally, CBD’s effects on other genes and systems, such as its inhibition of the ID-1 gene, indicate that it may be an ideal treatment for certain types of effective cancers.
Medical research involving the possible uses of CBD is ongoing, the list of conditions CBD could potentially treat continues to grow. Currently, the list includes the conditions listed above, as well as mood disorders, diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma, asthma, stroke and many more.
- According to a U.S. government-held patent pertaining to “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants,” CBD and THC can limit “neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke or trauma.”
- A 2014 study found that traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients who tested positive for THC were more likely to survive with less impairment than TBIpatients who abstained from marijuana.
- Preclinical research and anecdotal accounts indicate that CBD is highly active against brain ischemia, modulating many of the molecular hallmarks of TBI pathology.
- CBD normalizes post-ischemic heart arrhythmia and limits the size of damaged brain tissue in mice when administered shortly before or after a closed head injury.
- CBD produces no intoxicating effects, no THC-like high, and its use does not lead to tolerance.
- As yet there have been no FDA-approved clinical trials to determine the efficacy of CBD-rich cannabis oil extracts for traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of death worldwide in individuals under the age of 45. Triggered by concussions from car accidents, falls, violent contact sports, explosives or by gunshot and stab wounds, TBI affects 1.7 million Americans annually. It is the most commonly identified cause of epilepsy among adults.
The social and economic costs of TBIare considerable given that many who survive severe head injuries suffer permanent behavioral and neurological impairment that adversely impacts learning and memory and often requires long term rehabilitation. An estimated 4 million to 6 million Americans are on disability because of TBI. Even so-called mild cases of TBI can result in post-traumatic seizures, refractory cognitive deficits, and lower life expectancy.
Treatment modalities for TBI are limited with few satisfactory pharmaceutical options available. Surgical intervention, which entails the removal of parts of the skull to reduce intracranial pressure, is an emergency, life-saving measure, and the aftermath can be gruesome.
But hope is on the horizon, thanks in part to U.S. government-sponsored scientific research – and to extensive anecdotal accounts from medical marijuana patients – which highlight the potential of cannabinoid-based therapies for TBI.
In 1998, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a groundbreaking report on the neuroprotective properties of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two major components of marijuana. Co-authored by a team of researchers (AJHampson, M Grimaldi, D Wink and Nobel laureate J Axelrod) at the National Institutes of Mental Health, this preclinical study on rats would form the basis of a U.S.government-held patent on “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.”
The patent indicates that CBD and THC were found “to have particular application as neuroprotectants … in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke or trauma.” These plant cannabinoids were also deemed useful for treating other neurodegenerative conditions, “such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Whereas TBI results from an external blow to the skull, a stroke is caused internally by an arterial blockage or rupture. But TBI and stroke share many of the same pathological features and aberrant molecular mechanisms.
TBI and stroke are both acute and potentially lethal injuries, involving a primary ischemic insult that interrupts cerebral blood flow and destroys brain tissue. This is followed by a secondary injury cascade that, if unchecked, can ricochet for several weeks or months, resulting in more brain damage, motor impairment and other adverse “downstream” effects, such as poor concentration, irritability, and sleep problems.
Whether the cause is an occluded blood vessel or blunt external force, the initial trauma triggers a complex sequence of molecular events characterized by the massive release of glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and other inflammatory compounds. Excessive glutamate and oxidative stress, in turn, lead to microvascular injury, blood-brain barrier breakdown, swollen brain tissue, mitochondrial dysfunction, calcium ion imbalance, neurotoxicity and cell death. The secondary injury cascade is associated with the development of many of the neurological deficits observed after a TBI or a stroke.
Cannabinoids to the rescue
A 2014 article in American Surgeon examined how marijuana use affected people who suffered a traumatic brain injury. “A positive THC screen is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining TBI,” the study concluded.
According to this noteworthy report by UCLA Medical Center scientists, TBI-afflicted individuals who consume marijuana are less likely to die and more likely to live longer than TBI patients who abstain.
How does cannabis, and THC, in particular, confer neuroprotective effects?
Plant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD mimic and augment the activity of endogenous cannabinoids that all mammals produce internally. Endogenous cannabinoids are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates many physiological processes that are relevant to TBI, such as cerebral blood flow, inflammation, and neuroplasticity.
A 2011 article in the British Journal of Pharmacology describes the ECS as “a self-protective mechanism” that kicks into high gear in response to a stroke or TBI. Co-authored by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam, the article notes that endocannabinoid levels in the brain increase significantly during and immediately after a TBI. These endogenous compounds activate cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, which protect against TBI-induced neurological and motor deficits.1
THC activates the same receptors – with similar health-positive effects.
Of knockout mice and men
CB1 receptors are concentrated in the mammalian brain and central nervous system. Preclinical research involving animal models of TBI and stroke has shown that heightened CB1receptor transmission can limit harmful excitoxicity by inhibiting glutamate release. CB1 receptor activation also dilates blood vessels, thereby enhancing cerebral blood flow (and oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain).
But these beneficial physiological changes were not evident in genetically-engineered “knock out” mice that lack CB1 receptors. Without these crucial receptors, an animal is less able to benefit from the neuroprotective properties of endogenous cannabinoids and plant cannabinoids.
In 2002, the Journal of Neuroscience reported that the impact of induced cerebral ischemia is much more severe in CB1 knockout mice than in “wild type” mice with cannabinoid receptors. The absence of CB1 was shown to exacerbate TBI-related brain damage and cognitive deficits, indicating that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in neuroprotection.
The CB1 paradox
By manipulating cannabinoid receptors and other components of the endocannabinoid system with synthetic and plant-derived compounds, medical scientists have been able to reduce brain injury in animal experiments.
But CB1 proved to be a tricky target.
In 2013, the International Journal of Molecular Science reported on how TBI is affected by diurnal variations of the endocannabinoid system. It turns out that the recovery and survival rate of concussed lab rats is significantly higher if a TBI occurs at 1 am, when CB1receptors are least robust, as compared to 1 pm, when CB1 receptor expression peaks.
This finding was somewhat perplexing given the protective function of the endocannabinoid system against brain trauma.
The ECS is a complex, front-line mediator of acute stress, and the pivotal role of the CB1receptor is contingent on several variables, including time of day, the phase of the ischemic injury, and endocannabinoid concentrations in the brain. Small and large amounts of cannabinoid compounds produce opposite effects.
When excess glutamate is released, CB1 activity increases to reduce excitotoxic neurotransmission. But CB1 also regulates apoptosis (cell death), acting as a switch between cell survival and cell death. Extreme CB1 activation could trigger cell death even while it reduces glutamate release. It’s possible that a weak CB1 antagonist (that partially blocks CB1 transmission) might limit apoptosis while still reducing glutamate excitotoxicity.2
CB2 and neurogenesis
After an initial infatuation with CB1, medical scientists shifted their attention to the CB2receptor as a drug development target for treating TBI. The CB2 receptor modulates immune function and inflammation. It is expressed primarily in immune cells, metabolic tissue, and the peripheral nervous system.
CB2 receptor expression, unlike CB1, does not vary according to the hour of the day. But during and after severe head trauma, CB2 receptor expression is dramatically “upregulated” in the brain, which means that these receptors rapidly increase in number and density in response to TBI. According to a 2015 study in Neurotherapeutics, “Upregulation of CB2 with no changes in CB1 have been found in TBI.”
Preclinical research has shown that CB2 receptor signaling mitigates many of the molecular processes that underlie neuronal deterioration and cell death after TBI. In 2012, the Journal of Neuropsychiatric Research reported that CB2 receptor activation attenuates blood-brain barrier damage in a rodent model of TBI. Two years later, the Journal of Neuroinflammation noted that the CB2 receptor is instrumental in regulating inflammation and neurovascular responses in the TBI-compromised brain. Genetic deletion of CB2 worsens the outcome of TBI in animal tests, underscoring CB2’s neuroprotective function.
Other studies have shown that CB2 receptor activation promotes cell repair and survival following an ischemic injury. CB2 receptors are present in progenitor (“stem”) cells and are instrumental in driving neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells). Neurogenesis enhances motor function and overall recovery after TBI. CB2 knockout mice have impaired neurogenesis.3
Research involving animal models has shed light on the pathological processes that ensue after a closed head injury. But promising leads focusing on the CB2receptor have not translated into successful clinical results. As Italian scientist Giovanni Appendino remarked: “If drug discovery is a sea, then CB2 is a rock that is surrounded by shipwrecked-projects.”
But why? For starters, preclinical models only partially reproduce a disease. And synthetic cannabinoids that target a single type of receptor only partially reproduce the multifunctional activities of endogenous cannabinoids and the broad spectrum profile of plant cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids are “pleiotropic” agents that interact directly and indirectly with several receptors – not just CB1 and CB2 – which also contribute to remediating the neurodegenerative cascade that ensues after a stroke or TBI.4
It appears that an exogenous cannabinoid, either synthetic or plant-derived, may need to engage both CB1 and CB2 (directly or indirectly) and perhaps other pathways, as well, to confer a clinically-relevant neuroprotective effect. A synthetic single bullet aimed at CB2 or another target is simply not as versatile or as effective as a whole plant synergistic shotgun or a multidimensional endogenous entourage.
A promiscuous compound
Cannabidiol is considered to be a promiscuous compound because it produces numerous effects through dozens of molecular pathways. Writing in 2017, Mayo Clinic neurologist Eugene L. Scharf noted that the scientific literature has identified more than 65 molecular targets of CBD. This versatile plant cannabinoid is highly active against brain ischemia, modulating many of the molecular and cellular hallmarks of TBI pathology.
CBD has been shown to reduce brain damage and improve functional recovery in animal models of stroke and TBI. According to a 2010 report in the British Journal of Pharmacology, CBD normalizes post-ischemic heart arrhythmia and limits the size of damaged tissue when administered after a closed head injury.
What’s more, CBD produces no intoxicating side effects, no THC-like high. And CBD use does not lead to tolerance.
A damaged brain can be remarkably plastic, but there is only a circumscribed window of opportunity (the “platinum ten minutes” or “golden hour”) for therapeutic intervention to prevent, attenuate or delay the degenerative domino effect that occurs during a secondary injury cascade. Cannabidiol expands that window of opportunity. Researchers have learned that CBD can convey potent, long-lasting neuroprotection if given shortly before or as much as twelve hours after the onset of ischemia.
Although it has little direct binding affinity for cannabinoid receptors, CBD confers neuroprotective effects and other benefits via several non-cannabinoid receptors. In 2016, scientists at the University of Nottingham (UK) reported that CBDprotects the blood-brain barrier from ischemia-induced oxygen and glucose deprivation by activating the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor and the PPAR-gamma nuclear receptor. CBD also acts through numerous receptor-independent channels – for example, by delaying endocannabinoid “reuptake,” which increases the concentration of neuroprotective endocannabinoids in the brain.
Spanish scientists, presenting at the 2016 conference of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, compared the impact of CBD and hypothermia (cooling) on newborn piglets deprived of oxygen because of an ischemic injury. Hypothermia is typically the go-to therapy for treating newborn infants after a stroke. But in this animal model, the administration of CBD was more effective than hypothermia in protecting neonatal brain function. Preliminary data suggests that a synergistic combination of CBD and hypothermia may produce the best results.
CBD for CTE
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a particularly severe form of TBI, is caused by the accumulation of numerous concussions, which increases the risk of neurological problems later in life and hastens the progression of dementia. Football players are particularly vulnerable given the violent nature of the sport.
After years of official National Football League neglect and cover-up, a cascade of suicide and mental health disorders among former star athletes has generated public attention. So has CBD. The anecdotal benefits of CBD-rich cannabis oil for CTE are well known among football players, boxers, and other professional athletes who are prone to head injuries.
CBD, in and of itself, has a unique, broad-spectrum profile that can augment multiple aspects of our innate, endocannabinoid biology. As a single-molecule compound, CBDhas delivered impressive neuroprotective results in preclinical experiments. But let’s not forget about THC, given that TBI patients who tested positive for THC did better than TBI patients who abstained from cannabis.
The entourage effect is real. CBD works even better when combined with THC and other constituents of the cannabis plant. Beyond CBD and THC, dozens of cannabis components with specific medical attributes interact synergistically so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum if its parts.
For many TBI patients, it’s late in the game and the clock is ticking. A phytocannabinoid remedy that combines CBD and THC and acts at multiple targets simultaneously would seem to be an ideal therapeutic candidate to treat TBI. Thus far, however, there have been no FDA-sanctioned clinical trials to ascertain the efficacy of whole plant, CBD-rich cannabis oil for traumatic brain injury. And in many places, cannabis is still not available as a legal therapeutic option.
Complementary Therapies for TBI
A pathology as complex as a stroke or a traumatic brain injury can benefit from a multifaceted treatment regimen that encompasses a combination of healing modalities, including:
• Whole plant cannabis oil. CBD-rich extracts with as much THC as a person is comfortable with.
• Terpenes. Cannabis products and strains with beta-caryophyllene and terpinolene.
• Diet. A high fat/low carbohydrate/low sugar diet with plenty of leafy greens, omega 3 oils (DHA, EPA), and fermented foods (probiotics).
• Nutritional supplements and antioxidants. Magnesium, vitamin D, curcumin, glutathione – and melatonin to restore circadian rhythms and sleep.
• Ancient therapies. Acupuncture, exercise, and caloric restriction (fasting), which increase endocannabinoid levels.
• Modern therapies. Neurofeedback, low-level laser therapy (photobiomodulation), hyperbaric oxygen, traßnscranial direct current stimulation, flotation tank therapy, and hypothermia (cooling).
Martin A Lee is the director of Project CBD and the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific.