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Use of CBD for Medical Conditions Largely Driven by Self-Directed Research, Study Finds
A new university study suggests that advertising and marketing were not the biggest motivators for patients considering using CBD for medical reasons.
CBD may be a useful alternative for managing symptoms in conditions and diseases that lack adequate treatment options. But the rising popularity of CBD has some health researchers and policymakers worried that patients may only be using it because of advertising and marketing “hype,” without thoroughly understanding its benefits and risks.
However, a new Simon Fraser University study suggests that many who try CBD are doing so because of internally motivated reasons, rather than due to exposure to advertisements or other types of marketing.
Social media “hype” and celebrity stories often brand CBD as a “cure-all” with exaggerated efficacy claims.
For instance, testimonials from popular personalities such as Kim Kardashian and NFL player Rob Gronkowski using CBD for anxiety and chronic pain relief may skew patients into trying CBD without first researching benefits and risks or seeking advice from a trusted health care provider.
The rising popularity of CBD also coincides with the legalization of CBD products in Canada and the declassification of hemp-derived CBD as a controlled substance in the U.S.
Overall, the U.S. CBD industry has grown from doing $108 million in sales in 2014 to over $1.9 billion in 2020.
But despite the “hype” surrounding CBD, when it comes down to incorporating CBD into medical treatments, advertising and marketing were not a key driver for most users.
Instead, the Canadian research team found that the three key motivators for trying CBD for medical reasons included self-directed research, recommendations from a trusted care provider, and experiential insights shared by someone in a personal network.
Most Users Considered CBD After Self-Directed Research
To capture popular motivations for using CBD to potentially treat various medical conditions, researchers studied 164 CBD-related crowdfunding campaigns between June 2017 and May 2019.
The study’s authors then used information provided in the fundraising ask, campaign title, description, and other sections to determine the medical and personal context behind the campaign and why the campaigners decided to try CBD as a potential treatment option.
“The content is unsolicited,” the study said. “Therefore, allowing for unprompted narratives detailing the point of view of the fundraiser.”
Over 90% of campaigners considered trying CBD after self-directed research performed by either the individual organizing the campaign or a close loved one.
“This pathway is seen predominantly in cancer and seizure-inducing diseases and conditions where no cure exists or symptoms were debilitating,” the study added.
In one campaign, the family members of a young child with frequent seizures chose to try CBD after experiencing several unsuccessful management attempts and performing self-directed research on CBD.
“We have done research on CBD oil and it is something we are interested in and believe will help stop the seizures,” the campaigner wrote.
In another campaign, a husband started researching alternative treatment options after being told that his wife’s cancer was incurable.
“My wife has small cell cancer of the pancreas. We were told by doctors there is nothing more they can do,” the man wrote. “I have been investigating alternative therapies and they look very promising.”
Many Received Recommendation From a Trusted Care Provider
The second most common reason campaigners tried CBD was because of recommendations from a trusted care provider. Almost 22% of campaigners received a recommendation for CBD from either medical or alternative practitioners - including certified physicians and naturopaths.
Physicians most often recommended CBD to help control seizures.
“A new neurologist along with another one of her doctors has recommended that we start [the recipient] on CBD oil,” one campaigner posted. “The CBD oil has the potential to be life-changing for [the recipient]. We are hopeful that it could help with her seizures.”
In other cases, patients were advised to try CBD as part of a natural cancer regimen when no other options were available.
“Usage of CBD was seen as an alternative option to those offered by a medical system that had abandoned them,” the study said.
Occasionally, trusted care providers were also approached directly by individuals looking to learn more about CBD and its safety or efficacy.
“[The] family research alternative methods to try to control her seizures and asked the doctor about CBD,” another campaigner posted. “He was immediately on board with the idea and gave her a recommendation for it.”
Study Urges Importance of Relying on Scientifically Supported Health Resources
While CBD has been scientifically shown to aid in treating many symptoms and disease conditions, it’s not the “cure-all” that advertisers and marketers often claim it is.
How people learn about CBD is changing and the study revealed that most rely on self-directed research rather than possibly biased advertising and marketing before deciding to try CBD.
But as the popularity of CBD continues to rise, study authors urge that even more needs to be done to improve the accessibility of evidence-based information and encourage potential users to rely on qualified sources when learning about the medical benefits and risks of CBD.
“These include health literacy interventions, incorporation of patient perspectives into treatment decisions, careful media dissemination of new study findings to avoid sensational reporting, online fact-checking, and social media campaigns,” study authors said.
For instance, in the study, many campaigners incorporated the scientific advice of a medical practitioner into their treatment decisions.
“This finding underscores the importance of policymakers and medical bodies to provide and disseminate health literacy materials for the scientifically-supported uses of CBD.