A new study published in JAMA Network Open led by UC San Diego health scientists finds that every month as many as 6.4 million Americans turn to Google to learn about or buy Cannabidiol (CBD), eclipsing or rivalling interest in most other health products or topics.
Filling Data Gaps to Measure Public Demand for CBD
Touted as a "cure all," researchers have documented unfounded claims that CBD treats acne, anxiety, opioid addiction, pain, and menstrual problems. You 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 United States from January 2004 through April 2019 and forecasted searches through December 2019.
"This big data strategy allowed us to directly observe public interest in CBD," said Dr. Eric Leas, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and lead author of the study. "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."
The fraction of CBD search queries in the United States grew by 125 percent during 2017, an additional 160 percent during 2018, and is forecasted to grow 180 percent more during 2019. This rise in CBD searches occurred across all states, ranging from a 211 percent increase in Oklahoma to a 605 percent increase in Alabama, suggesting CBD is truly national phenomena.
"CBD has become insanely popular," said 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. "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."
Internet Searches in Perspective
To further appreciate CBD's exploding popularity the team contrasted search query volumes for CBD against those for other trending health topics, products, or alternative medicines.
Search queries for CBD eclipsed those for acupuncture by 749 percent, apple cider vinegar by 517 percent, meditation by 338 percent, vaccination by 63 percent, exercise by 59 percent, marijuana by 13 percent, and veganism by 12 percent.
"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," said Dr. Alicia Nobles a research fellow at UC San Diego. "Consider this one example. For every two internet searches for dieting in the United States we found there is one for CBD!"
A Call to Action
"At this time there are no known benefits for taking CBD over-the-counter," said Dr. Davey Smith, a physician and 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."
Even when CBD might not help the public it might harm them added Dr. Leas. "There are already documented cases of CBD products unknowingly containing potential poisons, because there are no government regulations that oversee the manufacturing of CBD."
"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," added Dr. Smith.
"Now is the time to act," concluded Dr. Ayers. "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."