Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the compounds found in the marijuana plant, does not make users “high.” It has, however, been shown to have many medical benefits. A number of laboratory studies and human clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness as a replacement for dangerous neuroleptic (antipsychotic) drugs.

It provides effective pain relief, but is not addictive like opioids. Most recently, the American Epilepsy Society has confirmed what a number of parents with epileptic children had known for some time; CBD can stop seizures. Currently, CBD is being studied for the treatment of arthritis, diabetes, addiction, antibiotic-resistant infections, and even as a cancer treatment. Furthermore, there are no dangerous side effects – even at high doses. Even the World Anti-Doping Agency has removed CBD from its Prohibited List.

So why are some state governments determined to keep CBD illegal?

Three “vape” shops in Indiana began carrying CBD oil products in 2016. Since then, they have become best sellers. However, last week, state governor Eric Holcomb issued a statement, warning retailers to remove CBD oil from their shelves within 60 days and ordering law enforcement to “spot checks” for any such products containing “any level of THC” (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).

This is a reversal for the Hoosier state. Earlier this year, Holcomb signed a law establishing a registry that would allow Indiana residents with treatment-resistant epilepsy to use CBD, considering such products legal as long as the THC content did not exceed 0.3 percent. However, in October – six months after the registry was created – the state’s Child Protective Services began threatening a woman for treating her epileptic child with CBD with the removal of the child from her home.

Part of the problem is confusion over the law. Another factor is a DEA ruling, made last December, that essentially lumps all marijuana extracts as “Schedule I controlled substances” – meaning they have “no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This essentially makes CBD illegal across the board, despite the fact that it does have medical uses and no potential for abuse.

Interestingly, the 2014 Farm Bill lifted a decades-old ban on industrial hemp, a relative of the cannabis plant that also contains CBD. Douglas Shontz, an attorney with a background in chemistry, offered testimony before the Indiana state legislature during which he said, “If you are talking about CBD as this extract from industrial hemp, it’s legal, it’s completely legal…the nature of the problem is that people continue to assume that all things coming from the cannabis plant are ‘marijuana,’ a Schedule one substance….there’s a lot of misunderstanding about that.”

There are other problems as well. Over the past several months, the FDA has issued a number of warning letters to companies manufacturing and marketing CBD products over making “unsubstantiated medical claims.” Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that almost 70% of CBD products sold online are mislabeled in terms of the amount of CBD present. The problem here is that people who are coming to rely on CBD to treat their ailments may not be getting the correct dosage.

It is becoming apparent that the law needs clarification and the industry requires more regulation. Furthermore, while current research into the benefits of CBD is promising, even advocates have acknowledged the need for additional clinical studies that would demonstrate the efficacy of CBD for the treatment of specific conditions. Unfortunately, given the DEA’s policy on marijuana research, it may be some time before such clinical studies are carried out.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.