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19 min

Why Cannabis Is on the Ballot in These Elections

A double episode: A preview of the upcoming US elections, and an interview with ‘The CBD Book’ author Mary Biles.

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With so many products and so much conflicting information out there, how is a prospective patient supposed to figure out if CBD is for them? How do they learn to use it? And who is going to sift through all the science?

Those are some of the questions that author Mary Biles set out to answer in her new book, “The CBD Book: The Essential Guide to CBD Oil.” 

In an interview on The Cannabis Enigma podcast, Biles discusses with host Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man how aside from explaining the science, it was regular patients’ stories that most moved her.

“When you read the case studies, these are just ordinary people whose lives are being completely transformed just with the CBD that you buy online or on the high street, it just sort of completed the story really and put it in a real context people can relate to in terms of what the potential is or might be for their health,” she said.

In the first part of the episode, we discuss the upcoming US elections with Americans for Safe Access Executive Director Debbie Churgai and Interim Policy Director Dustin McDonald.

According to Churgai, the future of medical cannabis legalization and access is very much on the line in the 2020 elections. It’s not just that one of the presidential candidates is promising to decriminalize and reschedule the plant. Local and congressional elections have a huge influence in ensuring there are allies in the halls of power.

And while we know how cannabis can drive voter turnout, is it also a partisan issue? You might be surprised by the answer.

This episode was edited, mixed, and produced by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. The Cannabis Enigma podcast is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access. Music by Desca.

Full transcript of Mary Biles interview: 

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man: Mary Biles, thank you so much for being with us.

Mary Biles: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a great pleasure.

Omer-Man: So, CBD and cannabis in general have become available to hundreds of millions of people across the world in recent years, and one of the biggest issues faced by consumers and the companies trying to sell to them is a lack of education. A lot of that stems from the nascent state of the research because of prohibition over many years, and your book is essentially an accessible resource for patients or potential patients interested in CBD. So where did you get the idea? Where did the book come from?

Biles: Yes, I’d like to say that actually the idea was mine to write the book, but the publisher came to me. They found me through the work that I’d done for Project CBD, and it just seemed to kind of work so nicely, really, ’cause I’d literally just moved back from Spain. I was based in London, the publishers were based in London, and it just was, yeah, a seamless transition from writing articles to writing a book.

Omer-Man: Nice.

Biles: Yeah. I must say, when I think of… I guess this is more for like fiction, but authors who are trailing around different publishers, sending off pictures for their book and getting turned down, and it was a privilege just to kind of be asked to do it, really.

Omer-Man: Well, you’ve written for The Cannigma quite a bit in the past, and as somebody who’s edited your work, I can say that I’m glad that you wrote this.

Biles: Right, okay. Yeah, to be honest, I suppose what I do in my writing is… I’m a bridge. All the stuff that I’ve done in my life before cannabis and probably after, I’ve always been a bridge in some way, so in the context of cannabis, as you say, there is a lot of confusing information out there. A lot of people, like myself, I barely scraped a C in my GCSE science study, so I’m not a scientist. But I guess what I can do is I can absorb the science, I understand enough now, much more than when I was starting out in this cannabis world, and just put it into terms that people can understand, and something that, as a writer, is really important to me, is just to stick to the facts as well. So I’m not gonna embellish stuff, I’m not gonna say it does things that we don’t know, still. That’s the… I guess, is the point of tension really, with CBD and cannabis in general. The studies are mostly pre-clinical, so are they gonna be in petri dishes or animal models. There are few ever… Well, sort of growing number of studies on humans, but…

So, from a scientific point of view, even the scientists themselves would say, “Actually, we just don’t know enough yet.” But on the other hand, there are all these jaw-dropping case studies and anecdotal stories from around the world, and that was something that was really important for me to include within the book, because it’d be very easy to kind of read the book and think, “Nah. Well, there isn’t enough evidence. It’s all kind of… A lot of hot air.” But actually, when you read the case studies, and these are just ordinary people, you know, whose lives are being completely transformed just with the CBD that you buy online or on the high street, it just sort of completed the story really and put it in a real context people can relate to in terms of what the potential is or might be for their health.

Omer-Man: So, a good portion of the book, and I do wanna talk about the case studies a little bit later, but a good of the portion of the book looks at the most common medical conditions that people use CBD to treat. And it gives a digestible overview of the existing research on them. Now, as the editor of a cannabis education site myself, one of the dilemmas I find myself facing almost every day is how far to zoom into the science. Did you face that question, and how did you decide where the balance was?

Biles: Yeah, I mean, for me, there had to be some studies on humans, basically, for an indication or a health condition to be included within the book. So, for example, one of the most common reasons people use CBD oil is for depression, but actually there aren’t many studies right now to show that CBD is effective for depression. I did include it, but with that kind of caveat, really saying… I was including it because it is one of the most popular reasons why people use CBD oil, but for something where there’s maybe a couple of studies on mice, for me, that wouldn’t have been enough to include it in the book. And, of course, you know, this is a book that’s written, you know, that sort of, you know, 2020, there are studies happening all the time and increasingly more studies on humans, so hopefully, there will be another addition which can update what we know in terms of the research for CBD.

Omer-Man: Yeah, it’s so important to be straightforward about when there is and isn’t strong evidence, especially here where there’s so much misinformation in both directions.

Biles: Yeah, that’s not to say that there won’t be evidence in the future. But I had to write from a starting point, which is right now, what we know right now.

Omer-Man: Yeah, I guess the idea is that particularly for people who are maybe skeptical, that just being straightforward, and as you said, laying out the facts for people to figure out themselves or to judge for themselves, I think it lends so much more credibility.

Biles: Yeah, and also, something that kicked off that section, really, looking at research, was just explaining as a kind of a primer on what does it mean? What does it mean? I use the example, which wasn’t about CBD, actually, there was… I think maybe last year, there was a lot of headlines in the press in the UK, and I think worldwide, about a flavonoid, which is one of the compounds in one type flavonoid found in cannabis. It wasn’t a cannabinoid, it wasn’t one of the big players like CBD or THC. But in pre-clinical studies, I think it was well in-vitro, and they may have… I’m not sure if they went on to animal models, but it showed anti-tumoral effects basically. And this was picked up by the media: “Cancer-killing compounds in cannabis”. But this was very preliminary studies, and actually for something to be accepted or approved as a medicine, one, it requires billions of dollars to get to that stage, and sort of the Holy Grail of the randomized control trials, which without going in too much into that, into this chat, but it’s one thing that’s very problematic for cannabis medicine.

But it was really important just so that whenever, be it when people are reading this book or something that they see in social media online, that they view it through that lens, so they really… How far has this research progressed, that one study in a test tube is not enough to draw a conclusion from, in humans.

Omer-Man: Yeah, cancer, it’s almost a third rail for a lot of people with cannabis, because there is so much exciting research going on, but as you said, it’s all in Petri dishes pretty much at this point.

Biles: Yeah, there is some studies that are happening in humans, but even some of… I’ve spoken to the likes of Manuel Guthmann, and he’s a kind of hero to people in the cannabis industry, and he would very modestly say, “We still don’t know.” So I think when the scientists are saying that we have to listen and not extrapolate too much. And I think that’s what tends to happen really. And I know it’s probably I’m being a bit of a party pooper, but I think you have to be measured with these things. And, of course, I do celebrate the amazing case studies as I mentioned before. And I think that’s one of the things as well, that cannabis is kind of… The research is often patient-led because surely as a scientist, when you see that there are all these anecdotal accounts, let’s say fibromyalgia and CBD, well, then it’s worth researching, there is something to be researched, something is going on there.

Omer-Man: And so much of cannabis research has gone in that direction. We’ve had heads of R&D for some of the most biggest cannabis pharmaceutical and growing companies talk about that, the sort of reverse flow of information where it comes from patients and then scientists pick it up, which is a contrast to how most of the pharmaceutical model of research goes.

Biles: I guess though then it feels like the scientists pick it up, but then certainly in the UK, there is great resistance from the medical profession. So they may have come in through their doors, a series of patients, particularly with cancer actually. It’s a story that I’ve heard countless times that they’re maybe alongside the chemo or the radio therapy, they’re using cannabinoids in some form, and in the amazing cases where there has been some unexpected for the oncologist point of view, an unexpectedly positive result, they still don’t want to hear that it might be due to the cannabis that the patients have been taking. So it seems to be that for me, the stumbling block of the resistance, certainly in the UK, comes from the medical profession.

Omer-Man: Where is the medical cannabis program in the UK these days?

Biles: Where is it? Well, I think there is some progress happening in the respect that actually… There’s something called Open Cannabis, which I’m gonna talk about in very broad terms because it’s something I need to get up to date with myself, but it’s gonna be an educational platform for… I think for patients and the medical profession, but outside the echo chamber of everyone that within this world who sort of know stuff anyway. And they were behind… I think it was a study that was picked up in the press that… So within the context of chronic pain recently, the NICE, which is the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, kind of have recommended to pain specialists not to prescribe pain medication, basically, and to I don’t know have kind of group therapy or some other or physiotherapy and other things.

And off the back of this, this particular, I guess it was an article, a cannabis article or a study, but anyway, they had the backing of pain specialists who were not from the kind of medical cannabis world actually saying how particularly for elderly patients, medical cannabis could be the alternative to prescription medication, that we all know has its limitations and failures. Right now in terms of what’s available through our national health system, it’s very limited, it’s for EPIDIOLEX essentially for children with… I think it’s probably Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut and also for patients with MS to be prescribed Sativex basically for the spasticity. There is a burgeoning private sector that is growing, and also we have something called Project Twenty21, which was sort of launched by Drug Science. So I think the idea is by, I think, well, I guess 2021, to get 20,000 medical cannabis patients registered in this program, so it’s a way of gathering data, basically, it’s a data-gathering exercise for patients with anxiety, chronic pain, all the conditions where there is some evidence that it could be effective, and it’s a way that patients could actually get subsidized treatment. So I think they have to pay the normal rate for their consultation, but actually, the cannabis medicine they receive is a lot cheaper than they would be paying if they sort of went the normal private route.

So but there’s still… I think it’s the sort of 1.4 million people in the UK are using cannabis medicinally, the majority of which are going to the black markets. And just sort of last week, the last podcast that I made, I also have a podcast, was interviewing an 80-year-old gentleman down in Cornwall, which is in the south west of the UK, who has stage three kidney failure, and he’s got arthritis and glaucoma, and he kind of he decided to grow his own basically, his own cannabis to use medicinally, did his research into what strains. On two separate occasions, the police came and confiscated the plants, and on November 16, he’s due in court, where he’s being charged with cultivation, which he is pleading guilty to ’cause he was cultivating, and production.

Now production is a much more serious charge, they’re suggesting actually he was… Had intent to supply other people, and if he’s found guilty of that, he could face 14 years in prison and lose his house. I repeat, this man is 80. Okay? So… Sorry, I’ve got goosebumps when I’m saying this ’cause it just… It just, for me, it’s beyond comprehension, beyond comprehension that someone who also is this wonderful human being who’s volunteered in various developing world countries, and this is the thanks that he’s getting, basically. So, sorry for my rant, [chuckle] but it’s like I… Yeah, it’s not, we’re not where we need to be basically when people in their 80s are being criminalized for growing their medicine.

Omer-Man: Yeah, no, that’s really disturbing, and it’s all too common throughout the world. I guess the only good thing to say is that there’s more places where there is access and growing access.

Biles: Yeah.

Omer-Man: And what about CBD? In the US, you can buy CBD extracts and tinctures basically anywhere. What is the availability like in the UK, and is it also sort of being not accepted by the medical community as well?

Biles: Well, CBD can be bought online, it can be bought on the high street. There has been a huge boom in CBD sales over the last sort of two or three years. I think as has been the case everywhere, there’s… It’s kind of got a little bit out of hand in terms of CBD being added to everything and anything, sort of CBD hummus or, I don’t know, CBD beard oil, that kind of thing. But it’s…

Omer-Man: Some mattresses have written…

Biles: Yes, I know, mat… And pillow cases. We all need a CBD pillow case in our life, quite frankly, I say.

Omer-Man: Absolutely.

Biles: So yeah, so it’s quite… I think it’s… In Europe, alongside Germany, and I think we’ve got the lion’s share of how much money is spent on CBD products. There are a lot of CBD companies. I started, I think it’s like four and a half years ago now, and at the time I was living in Spain, but I remember going to a hemp fair and there were two CBD companies at that hemp fair. Now there would be a lot more. So it kind of feels and it’s certainly in the UK possibly like a flooded market, and I think that’s another reason why for me, part of this book, it’s about being a road map basically, because the amount of times people, friends, family or complete strangers have said, “I’m really interested in getting some CBD, but I have no idea how to start and how to kind of weed out the wheat from the chaff, basically.”

So, but it is as everywhere, it’s… Can kind of continually shifting sands. So I think it was sort of last year when cannabinoids were added to the novel food catalog in Europe, and so then the UK Food Standards Agency have decided to… For any company to be selling CBD from April of next year, they have to have made an application for a novel food license, basically. Because you can’t include or have an narcotic in a food stuff, for it to pass this novel food application. That means that from April next year, there won’t be any full spectrum products in the UK. So I imagine your listeners, I expect they know the different categories. So your full spectrum CBD product would have a trace amount of THC in it. So THC being the… What’s considered the narcotic, even if it’s in the trace levels. From next year, it’s going to be looking… The CBD market in the UK is gonna be looking somewhat different… I think there’ll be fewer, fewer players, and most of them will be selling broad spectrum. So THC-free CBD oils, hemp extracts, possibly just products made with CBD isolate.

Omer-Man: You mentioned that people ask you how to pick a CBD product or how to use it. I think that’s fairly common for anybody working in this industry or even near it. What do you tell them?

Biles: I always start off… I have this analogy that it’s a bit like using a dating app. You have to have some filters, basically, otherwise you get all sorts of dross coming your way. So my first filter is… I always try and go organic, just because… Because hemp is a fighter remediator and it is gonna be kind of absorbing, if there are any contaminants in the soil where the hemp has been grown, that’s in that CBD, at least if it’s organic, you know it’s gonna be free from contaminants, basically. Another kind of level, if you can’t get organic, is to try and make sure you choose a company… I guess this is really actually filtering out companies before you even get to the products really. So it’s a company that’s fully transparent, basically. So when they’re labeling, it’s not just kind of some… I don’t know, vague description of, I don’t know, hemp extract or that there is… They go into detail of what are the cannabinoids. ‘Cause we’re talking about CBD oil here, but really it is a hemp extract.

You’ve got your CBD, but you’ve got your minor cannabinoids, you’ve got terpenes, you’ve got your flavonoids, etcetera. So at the very least, that you know, more or less, that, okay, you got your CBD, but it is CBDA, are there other cannabinoids, what terpenes? And the way to do this beyond what it says on the label, ’cause obviously, it’s on the label, there’s no proof really, is the Certificate of Analysis. So ideally, for the CBD that you’re buying, for that batch, so it’s not just a random certificate of analysis for something five years ago that’s not even… Yeah, could be something completely different. The certificate is for a particular batch that you’re buying, and there’s no kind of fudging of the certificate, nothing’s being kind of scratched out. I even have friends who have a CBD wholesaling company, and they say that basically, state-approved or government-approved labs…

It should be a COA from a government-approved lab. So those would be my kind of first filters, really. Also that there’s not a whole bunch of wild marketing claims on the website. So if you’re looking on the website and it’s saying, I don’t know, CBD cures cancer. Obviously, that’s a major no-no, but the suggesting that it’s going to help you… Although, if we work in industry, we know it has these amazing properties, but it’s something for me unethical, and you’re not… Plainly not supposed to do it, basically, according to the kind of FDA or the HRA here in the UK. Yeah, no kind of wild claims, basically. So just that it’s an ethical transparent company that’s ideally selling organic products.

Omer-Man: Okay. It’s a lot, and those are often, depressing-ly perhaps, hard-to-find filters.

Biles: True.

Omer-Man: A lot of companies who don’t provide that information, and thankfully, there are ones that do. I’ve seen QR codes on bottles and packages that bring you right to the COA and other, what I would call, very good practices, but it’s not the majority, I don’t think.

Biles: No, I know. And also, to be honest, I think there’s… Most of these companies, there are the kind of peer review sites as well, and I think they can be an interesting thing to look at when it comes to a company, because they can’t control… You can’t delete a review on Trust Pilot basically, or whatever is the peer review site of your choice, so I think those are also interesting, interesting things to look at. And also I recommend, that people join a, I don’t know, a CBD Facebook group, as long as it’s not aligned with a particular company, for example, that’s independent in some way. Because I think there’s a lot to be gleamed and learned from other CBD users, quite frankly.

Omer-Man: Absolutely. So as you mentioned, you have a podcast.

Biles: I do.

Omer-Man: Let me know if I’m presenting it wrong. It’s called Cannabis Voices. And from what I saw, you, basically, took all the interviews that you did as research for this book and put them out, unabridged audio version, which I love, both as a podcaster and a journalist. I wanted to ask, what was the most interesting interview that you did?

Biles: Right now, it’s not all the interviews that are on the podcast, just because some of the audio wasn’t great, and when I did them, it wasn’t with a view for them to be on the podcast, but I don’t know, I think that there I was… I do a podcast and I think, “Oh, that was my favorite.” The one… The main one actually from the book, and actually it was the book that kind of inspired me to do the podcast, because when you are a journalist or a writer, you do an interview, and then you kind of cut and paste the good bits, and then you kind of stitch it together basically with your own words, and then you have an article, but when I did the interviews and I listen to them back, there was so much emotion in people’s voices and people… I just felt they deserved to tell their own stories without me kind of stitching it together.

And so, for example, the main one really from the book that is one of the first podcasts is a lady called Sharon Macfoy, and I think it’s an interesting one because it is… This is a CBD story, actually. So her son Neil had a febrile convulsion, I think he was one. And it’s often the way that… Well, and then he started afterwards, just to kind of gradually enter, I guess what you could call a autistic bubble really, and he kind of lost any of the cognitive development that he’d made and any little bit of language, etcetera.

And he was… And he had that kind of self-injurious behavior with the head banging and high anxiety, but really, there was nothing… I think they saw lots of specialists and they had scans, and I think in the scan it did show up that the convulsion had caused some kind of minor or some brain damage basically, which was probably causing the behavioral changes, but there were very few therapeutic options that they were given basically. And so Sharon and her husband did lots of research, and they found an oil that they tried, I think Sharon first tried it on herself, took really high doses because she’d thought, God, if I’m gonna give this to my small child, but yes, I think Sharon says it’s like day eight, basically, which just blows my mind, by day eight, she kind of had her first ever conversation with Neil, basically. And it was… He said to her, “Mommy, my head doesn’t hurt anymore and I’m not scared anymore.” Right? And this is… And this is just CBD that you buy online. It’s just like mind-blowing. It’s absolutely mind-blowing. So as in the case with all these families with children with epilepsy or autism, this transformed Neil’s life, he’s just… He’s in school and developing normally, and it was loads developmental changes that he’s enjoyed, but also it’s the effect on the family as well.

Biles: They were kind of prisoners of their own home when he was particularly bad, and now they’re just enjoying normal family life, so I recommend if people are sort of interested to hear something that appears in the book as a case study, and then to actually hear the story told by Sharon herself. That’s a good podcast to start with, from the series.

Omer-Man: Is there anything you learned while researching the book, obviously, you’ve been studying and writing about cannabis and CBD for years now, but is this something you learned while you were researching the book that surprised you or that you really didn’t know before?

Biles: It was really, really what I learned from speaking to the people who are the case studies. Because there were case studies that aren’t necessarily the common reasons why people take CBD. And actually, interestingly, one of them, is kind of now in these COVID times, and there’s, basically it said, it was someone who was… Who had… Eve had, I think it was some kind of neural inflammation that came on suddenly, and I think she almost died actually. But she was on very, very heavy steroids for quite a while, longer than you’d want to be on steroids. And she was weaned off gradually, but she got to a point where she couldn’t come off and any further without getting really bad side effects, like headaches and brain fog and kind of, I think aches and pains in their body.

And so she was just kind of stuck at this kind of long-term steroids and just… I guess, she sorta, “I’m gonna try CBD,” I think she’d come across a little bit, and with using CBD, she managed to wean herself off of her steroids, so much, much, much lower dose, basically. Which kind of inspired me, having spoken to Eve, and then also sort of done some research in the section about autoimmune diseases actually where there are some studies, I think, preliminary maybe phase one or phase two, clinical studies for CBD as a steroid sparing drug, basically.

So using CBD as an alternative to steroids or to help people in situations like Eve or perhaps with that autoimmune disease, where steroids can be prescribed, to have an alternative, basically or to be able to take a lower dose. So it’s interesting that as a potential treatment for this kind of cytokine storm, this hyper-inflammatory state in COVID-19, that actually in Israel, the studies are taking place with the same pharmaceutical companies actually. I think it was during the phase one study for CBD as a steroid sparing drugs, they’re also looking at it. I think it’s maybe… Yeah, I think it’s a clinical trial for CBD as an anti-inflammatory treatment for this hyper inflammation in COVID-19. So that was an area that I found interesting.

Omer-Man: No, it’s a fascinating possible use, and especially with the COVID stuff.

Biles: Yeah. And also… No drug is completely side effect free, but in comparative terms, if the effectiveness, this is yet to be proven, but it may be the effectiveness is on a par with steroids, CBD, even with these high doses that are given, for example, with Epidiolex in pediatric epilepsy. There are some side effects, but they’re a lot less harmful than what you’d be experiencing with high doses of, or long-term treatment with steroids.

Omer-Man: Absolutely. So the book is called The CBD Book.

Biles: It is. Yeah. The Essential Guide To CBD Oil. That’s the full title. So The CBD Book…

Omer-Man: Where… I’m sorry. [chuckle] We’ll say that again. So the book is called The CBD Book: The Essential Guide to CBD Oil.

Biles: Correct.

Omer-Man: Why don’t you tell people where they can find it?

Biles: Yeah, at the moment, it’s available in Europe in the usual places, so kind of Amazon, in the UK, there are other… I know not everyone is a big fan of Amazon at the moment, but [inaudible] in the UK is another place. It’s available in hardback and e-book actually, so I’m wondering if people who are maybe in other parts of the world where it isn’t available, perhaps they could get it as an e-book. I’m throwing it out there as a possibility.

Omer-Man: Great. Well, the best of luck to you, and thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

33:47 Mary Biles: My pleasure. Thank you for having me on as a guest.

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