Our Opinion: Caution on CBD, and Gronk's backing

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In New England, including here in Vermont, few celebrities have more star power than current or retired stars of our champion professional sports teams. Think Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts — and the irrepressible Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski, who was part of three Super Bowl winning teams in his nine years with the New England Patriots, made the headlines again last week. Now retired from the game, he announced his affiliation with a company that markets CBD for a wide variety of ills, according to The Boston Globe.

A hot commodity in many quarters, CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating chemical in cannabis. CBD oil can be made from either hemp or marijuana. The hemp version has very low amounts of THC, the chemical that gets one high. CBD has quickly emerged from the shadows of alternative treatments into the mainstream. Questions remain, however, about its effectiveness.

The former tight end — featured in a-front page Globe article on Wednesday — said that CBD is the only thing that relieved the pain of more than a decade of physical punishment on the gridiron. "I was blown away with how well it worked," Gronk said.

He is now partnering with Abacus Health Products, makers of the CBDMEDIC line of creams, lotions and ointments for topical use. The brand's website features a huge photo of Gronkowski running in workout clothes. It claims the company's topical medications, "combining active pharmaceutical ingredients blended with THC-Free CBD hemp extract and other natural emollients," provide "Advanced Relief Powered by Nature."

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Hype over CBD has spread around the world, with claims ranging from anxiety reduction to improved heart health to a cure for cancer. Scientific evidence for these claims is lacking, however.

As the Globe notes, "Federal officials have slapped dozens of companies for marketing CBD with unsubstantiated claims out of concern that patients will forgo medical care because they believe CBD is treating their condition." The Food and Drug Administration is developing CBD regulations and says that companies cannot market CBD products as having medical benefits.

With the sea change in attitudes in recent years toward marijuana and it's non-intoxicating cousin — growing hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill — the CBD craze is part of an ongoing and predictable surge in products of all types. But in terms of knowledge about them, we're only on our 20-yard line.

While we're glad that "Gronk" is now pain-free, we hope his announcement will not generate a stampede toward products whose effectiveness, safety and quality is scientifically unproven.We know of other less famous folk who swear by the benefits of CBD, but specialists warn they may stem from the well-established placebo effect. This is when a beneficial result does not stem from the drug itself but from the patient's belief in its effectiveness.

Much more research and deliberation is needed before we should give CBD a clean bill of health.


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