Americans' interest in marijuana component cannabidiol overshadows nearly all other health products or topics
Over six million Americans turn to Google every month to learn about or buy Cannabidiol (CBD) - a chemical component of marijuana - overshadowing or rivaling interest in most other health products or topics.
The research, led by University of California (UC) San Diego health scientists, shows that searches from the US that mentioned "CBD" or "cannabidiol" were stable from 2004 through 2014 before substantial increases in search volumes of almost 125.9% in 2017 compared with 2016 and 160% during 2018 compared with 2017.
There were 6.4 million Google searches for CBD during April 2019, and year-over-year forecasted search volumes are expected to increase by nearly 117.7% during 2019 compared with 2018, says the study published in JAMA Network Open.
"CBD has become insanely popular. 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," says study co-author Dr John W. Ayers, the vice chief of innovation in the Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health at UC San Diego.
The researchers contrasted search volumes for CBD against those for other trending health topics, products, or alternative medicines. They found that search queries for CBD eclipsed those for acupuncture by 749%, apple cider vinegar by 517%, meditation by 338%, vaccination by 63%, exercise by 59%, marijuana by 13%, and veganism by 12%.
"This big data strategy allowed us to directly observe public interest in CBD. 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," says study lead author Dr Eric Leas, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego.
Search queries are also rivaling those for diet and electronic cigarettes. "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. Consider this one example. For every two internet searches for dieting in the US, we found there is one for CBD," says Dr. Alicia Nobles, a research fellow at UC San Diego.
Touted as a "cure-all," researchers documented unfounded claims that CBD treats acne, anxiety, opioid addiction, pain, and menstrual problems. However, says the research team, the US Food and Drug Administration has only approved highly purified CBD (Epidiolex) for treating epilepsy.
According to the researchers, one can buy CBD droplets, massage oils, gummies, or even CBD ice cream. But public health leaders have been mostly silent on the subject because they lacked data that demonstrates just how popular CBD is.
To fill this data gap, the research team analyzed Google search queries that mentioned "CBD" or "cannabidiol" emerging from the US from January 2004 through April 2019 and forecasted searches through December 2019.
The analysis shows that the rise in CBD searches occurred across all states, ranging from a 211.2% (2014-2018 to 2019) increase in Oklahoma to a 605% increase in Alabama, suggesting CBD is truly national phenomena, says the research team. During 2019 (January to April), Vermont, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Oregon had the most searches. Further, says the team, searches were higher during 2019 in states that had legalized recreational marijuana than in states with medicinal marijuana or marijuana prohibitions.
"Searches for CBD during April 2019 eclipsed those for acupuncture by a factor of 7.49, apple cider vinegar by 5.17, meditation by 3.38, vaccination by 1.63, exercise by 1.59, marijuana by 1.13, and veganism by 1.12. Searches for CBD are now rivaling searches for yoga and electronic cigarettes, with 0.96 and 0.85 of their respective search volumes," shows analysis.
The findings, says the team, indicate that interest in CBD across the US has increased considerably and is accelerating. "Search trends are associated with many health-related behaviors, including the rise of electronic cigarettes, years ahead of traditional data. Thus, our findings suggest that investigation into CBD should become a public health priority to catch up with the public's interest," say the researchers.
The team recommends that studies should focus on who uses CBD products and for what purposes, adding that the effects and potential drug interactions of CBD should be evaluated. Given that CBD products are often mislabeled and adulterated products have led to mass poisonings, experts called for product safety standards to be developed.
"At this time, there are no known benefits for taking CBD over-the-counter. CBD is this generation's snake oil, where millions are engaging with the product without evidence of any benefit. 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," says Dr Davey Smith, a physician and chief of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego.
Stating that now is the time to act, Dr Ayers says that government regulators must step up to 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," says Dr Ayers.