Every pharmacist has their favourite remedies they instinctively reach for, and I’m no exception. Back in the 1980s, my particular favourites included an emollient for any dodgy looking patch of skin that eluded easy diagnosis called Pink Healing Ointment, as well as the ammonia solution Sal Volatile, which was taken with water as a palliative for anxiety and exam nerves. Then there was Thomas’s Chest & Lung Mixture, which tasted so foul that it must've done you good and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a BBC Victorian drama series.
As the years went on, and the killjoy bureaucrats demanded proof of effectiveness, these seemingly harmless panaceas fell out of favour and were discounted by younger, evidence-based pharmacists arriving in the workplace. Yet somehow, there are still some products that quietly sit upon the shelves, managing to cling on and justify their place by being both profitable and inoffensive.
Products such as herbal remedies, homeopathic treatments, and probably 90% of the vitamins, minerals and other food supplements bought by desperate patients who shun the side-effects of modern allopathic medicine in favour of “safe natural remedies”. And thus, in much a similar way over the last ten years, the problem for pharmacy has been where to put cannabidiol (CBD) products.
I can understand why people instinctively feel that CBD products must be an untapped trove of beneficial goodness. Such natural plant derived treatments, with their faint allusion to the anti-establishment pot-smoking rebellion from the sixties, represent for some the very essence of liberation from the man-made drugs foisted upon us by Big Pharma. They embody the era of peace and truth at a time when conspiracy theories encourage fear of man-made diseases and their complimentary man-made vaccines, even though it is CBD that may yet turn out to be the greatest over-promise of recent times.
Internet claims for CBD oil range from the subtle and subjective improvement in wellness to wild assertions that recall the snake-oil advertisements of the 19th century. Cures for alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, autism symptoms, cancer, colitis, depression, diabetes, encephalopathy, lupus, Lyme disease, schizophrenia…the list goes on and on, confused even further by repeated media reports of desperately ill children being denied treatment with CBD for severe neurological diseases.
Only four manufacturers of CBD products are currently on an advisory list by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It will be a blow for the companies that have invested huge sums of money into their products that don’t make it onto the FSA’s final list, expected in June, and the pharmacies that have purchased large stocks of not inexpensive remedies they may soon be unable to sell, but it may be the right thing for modern medicine.
30 years as a pharmacist has shown me how drug treatments swing in and out of fashion. From the promise in the 1990s that hormone replacement therapy would prevent osteoporosis and heart disease as well as menopause symptoms, the 21st century aspirin-statin-antihypertensive polypill that assured an end to cardiovascular disease, to the latest promises of CBD oil – it all seems too good to be true. And we know what they say about something that seems too good to be true.
A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser