SAN DIEGO — Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has undergone a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years. CBD is the second-most prevalent active compound found in marijuana, and is touted as a wonder drug of sorts capable of alleviating various conditions such as anxiety, depression, acne, pain, and even opioid addiction without the usual psychoactive “high” that comes along with traditional marijuana use. While the majority of these claims aren’t exactly backed by definitive scientific evidence, a new study conducted at the University of California, San Diego finds that Americans are more interested in CBD than most health products and fads on the market.
In fact, researchers say each month as many as 6.4 million Americans search Google for research or information on buying CBD products — eclipsing or equaling interest in most other alternative health products and subjects.
One of the features that makes CBD so appealing is its ability to be ingested or taken in a variety of ways, from traditional joints or cigarettes to massage oils, infused gummies, and even CBD ice cream. Still, most major U.S. health leaders, organizations, and departments have remained largely silent on CBD’s proposed benefits mostly due to an overall lack of data on just how popular the oil is, statically.
With this in mind, researchers set out to analyze U.S. Google search trends for CBD and related products between January 2004 and April 2019. Search trends up until December 2019 were also forecast by the research team.
“This big data strategy allowed us to directly observe public interest in CBD,” says lead author Dr. Eric Leas, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, in a release. “Rather than relying on self reports where some might not be willing to discuss CBD openly we directly observed millions of instances of people seeking out information or even shopping for CBD online.”
Amazingly, CBD search queries in the United States grew by 125% in 2017, followed by an additional 160% in 2018. In 2019, that statistic is expected to increase by another 180%. The phenomena isn’t contained to just one or two states or areas of the country either. Researchers say searches increased in every single U.S. state, ranging from a 211% increase in Oklahoma to a 605% increase in Alabama.
“CBD has become insanely popular,” says study co-author Dr. John W. Ayers, UC San Diego Vice Chief of Innovation in the Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health. “Three years ago, there was essentially no one searching about CBD online, but now there are an estimated 6.4 million unique searches each month.”
In order to gauge CBD’s popularity in comparison to other health & wellness products, researchers contrasted CBD search query volumes against those regarding other health products and alternative medicines. The results were definitive, to say the least. In comparison to acupuncture, CBD searches were more popular by 749%, 517% more popular than apple cider vinegar, 338% more than meditation searches, 63% more than vaccinations, 59% more than exercise, 13% more than regular marijuana, and 12% more than veganism.
“When talking to colleagues about our study we often play a game we call ‘CBD or’ and almost every time experts are shocked to learn that CBD is more popular or nearly as popular,” comments research fellow Dr. Alicia Nobles. “Consider this one example. For every two internet searches for dieting in the United States we found there is one for CBD!”
Despite this incredible boom in popularity and assumed subsequent use, the study’s authors caution that the jury is still very much out on whether or not CBD is actually effective.
“At this time there are no known benefits for taking CBD over-the-counter,” explains Dr. Davey Smith, Chief of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego. “CBD is this generation’s snake oil, where millions are engaging with the product without evidence of any benefit.”
In fact, in some cases CBD may actually prove harmful. Dr. Leas cited a few already documented cases in which CBD products contained potential poisons due to these products not being regulated by any federal entity.
“Moreover, some consumers might forgo seeing a physician or taking medications with known, tested and approved therapeutic benefits in favor of CBD and thereby become sicker or succumb to their illness,” Dr. Smith says.
“Now is the time to act,” Dr. Ayers concludes. “Government regulators must step up to the plate give CBD products the same level of scrutiny as other proven medications. Moreover, anyone considering taking CBD should know there are no proven over-the-counter health benefits.”
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.