Earlier this year, the internet was abuzz after the journal Case Reports in Ophthalmological Medicine published an article entitled entitled “Commercial Cannabinoid Oil-Induced Stevens-Johnson Syndrome,” claiming that a 56-year-old woman died after ingesting sublingual CBD. The article, written by a team of researchers affiliated with the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, was everything that cannabis skeptics and anti-legalization advocates had hoped it would be — a fabulous tale of an out-of-control industry gone wrong.
According to reports, two days after ingesting the CBD, the woman broke out in rashes over 30 percent of her body. When prednisone and antihistamines did nothing, and antibiotics and anti-inflammatory steroids failed her, she went into septic shock and died.
Doctors deduced that the woman died from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare disorder usually brought on by certain medications. While the disease itself is rare, it’s not necessarily unremarkable from a medical standpoint. However, what shook the establishment was researchers’ conclusions — that CBD oil caused the disease.
Almost immediately — and rightfully so — the cannabis community began to push back. The website Project CBD, a sort of Wikipedia for cannabidiol, ran a detailed explanation of why the conclusion was incorrect, criticizing “CBD skeptics and click-bait confabulators.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a Harvard physician and the son of cannabis legend Lester Grinspoon was skeptical as well.
“It's unlikely that this is the first case in 5,000 years of a cannabinoid causing Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), but it is certainly possible,” he said, according to Vice. “Researchers are always eager to try to be the first ones to tie a death to a cannabinoid as this gets you in the news.”
As other experts noted, according to Vice, researchers never took bother to note what contaminants in the CBD oil triggered the outbreak. They never even examined the CBD in question.
The episode highlights perhaps one of the most significant challenges in the CBD community-at-large, which is the tendency for supporters and detractors alike to take their positions to the extreme with no middle ground. Because for every anti-cannabis agenda that claims CBD will destroy the liver and be the end of the American nuclear family, there’s a pro-argument that claims it will cure all the world’s ills.
Over the past month alone, the FDA has to send out multiple warning letters to CBD companies telling them to stop claiming that their products can cure or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
“Corona Virus / Covid-19,” wrote the CBD online store. “Unless you are living in a cave, you know what Corona Virus is . . . Some medical researchers are finding the disease effects [sic] the lungs . . . Inflammation is the problem here . . . We have been saying on our blog since the beginning about the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of CBD . . . CBD has been found to decrease inflammations naturally, and through communicating with your endocannabinoid system.”
And although most suppliers do end up complying with the FDA’s requests, some are stubborn, like NeuroXPF’s Kyle Turley, the former NFL player who quit his role in the company so he could continue to promote CBD as a cure for the coronavirus.
It doesn’t end with the current global pandemic either. From cancer to opioid use disorder and more, CBD advocates have played fast and loose with their claims, forcing the FDA’s hand when it comes to putting them in line.
So what’s the solution?
The potential for CBD is there, and with recent legislation, over the past few years, the industry has a real opportunity to become a legitimate force in the market. But until it can reach a place of moderation based on scientific certainty, then it will be subject to ridiculous backlash, such as being blamed for a woman’s death. That’s not to say they should be blamed because they shouldn’t, but the CBD industry is stuck in a world of extremes, and until it can learn to live in moderation, it may be forced to deal with the consequences.