For the past couple of years, consumer behaviours have shifted in looking for the natural alternative to traditional medicine and, as a result, the market for cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded with products popping up everywhere from gas stations to the neighborhood craft store. Three years into the 2020’s, CBD awareness and popularity remain at all-time highs. A 2021 report from Research and Markets states the global cannabis market was estimated to be valued at US$20.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach US$90.4 billion by 2026, recording a CAGR of 28%.1 Then, according to a recent Gallup poll, CBD user demographics skew young. Of all age groups, Americans aged 18-29 are most likely to use CBD consistently.2
Taking a quick CBD scan across Instagram, popular #CBD related hashtags including #CBDProducts, #CBDMovement, #CBDWellness and #CBDHeals will return 18,314,501 results. Interestingly enough, searching the hashtag #CBD on the popular social network TikTok will return with this message “This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines. Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok's top priority.” Community Guidelines read: “We do not allow the depiction, promotion, or trade of drugs or other controlled substances.”
A rocky road
While CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity and neuroprotective properties3-8 it has yet to be clinically validated in a healthy population and proven safe as studies have only shown evidence in diseased populations with anecdotal evidence. Without further high-quality studies and evidence with human trials, consumers won’t be able to identify the proper efficacies and doses of the product.
Another uphill battle for CBD is that it faces increasing scrutiny by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of a lack of human clinical studies, legalities, safety, compliance, dosing, and mislabeled products. With CBD being so readily available, one of the biggest hurdles it faces is that consumers may not know what they are actually purchasing.
A new study by Penn Medicine research found that nearly 70% of all CBD products sold online are mislabeled, with 26% containing less CBD than marked.9 On top of that, FDA tested dozens of products from four major online CBD retailers based in Florida, Colorado, and California. Many products did not contain the levels of CBD that retailers advertised along with unfounded claims such as, “CBD makes cancer cells commit.‘10Sadly, this type of misinformation does more to hurt the CBD industry than it does to help. With this, mislabeled products can create serious problems to consumers. With the online CBD market being almost entirely unregulated, buyers need to be more careful now than ever before. Far too often, the players in this CBD game become their own worst enemy.
Where to turn? A CBD alternative
Recent research has shown that palmitoylethanolamide (PEA,) similar to CBD, can influence the endocannabinoid system. However, unlike CBD, PEA is structurally related to the ‘bliss’ molecule, and it could co-enhance anandamide’s (AEA) effects as well as inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).11 PEA also works both directly and indirectly within the central and peripheral nervous systems and directly reduces inflammation locally by halting the activity of pro-inflammatory genes and the production of many inflammatory substances via PPAR-α receptors.12 PEA indirectly enhances the levels and actions of other compounds (e.g. AEA) that are anti-inflammatory and provide analgesic relief—also known as the ‘entourage effect’.12AEA’s ability to bind on to both CB receptors and TRPV-1 channels helps combat inflammation and increase relaxation.
PEA resembles CBD as both offer anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties. However, CBD is not produced naturally by the human body, while PEA is endogenously produced as a direct response for repair mechanisms with inflammation. PEA counteracts endotoxin-induced inflammation in cells in the same cell lineage as CBD.
Research on PEA has been conducted for more than 50 years, and over 350 papers are referenced in PubMed describing the physiological properties of this endogenous modulator and its pharmacological and therapeutical profile. A search for palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) in PubMed will return 959 results, so it’s safe to say that it is very well researched. PEA has been substantiated by more than 40 human clinical studies for different benefits, thereby making it a safe and clinically proven alternative to CBD.13,14
PEA is considered a food supplement and complies with government regulations globally. Levagen+ is manufactured in a by Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved facility in Australia and has Informed Ingredient Certification by LGC, ensuring every batch to be absent of WADA-prohibited substances, making it very attractive in sports nutrition formulas. Levagen+ PEA has further been approved by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Natural Health Products Directorate (NDPD) in Canada, and the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA).
It’s unfair at this point to label CBD as a Pandora’s Box that releases nothing but negative consequences upon the unsuspecting consumer, but it isn’t hard to argue that there is a need in the CBD sector for science to validate or correct all these claims and benefits. “There is ‘great potential’ for CBD,” said Margaret Haney, director of the Marijuana Research Laboratory at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (who is currently testing CBD’s ability to treat nerve damage pain.) “I’m excited about it, but I caution people to not jump 20 steps ahead of the science.”10 Until such a time, PEA is legal, safe and clinically proven to support pain, mood, recovery, sleep and immunity, and thus provides a solution for brands to quickly bring products to market.
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11 Ho WS, Barrett DA, Randall MD. ‘Entourage’ effects of Npalmitoylethanolamide and N-oleoylethanolamide on vasorelaxation to anandamide occur through TRPV1 receptors. Br J Pharmacol. 2008 Nov;155(6):837-46.
12 Petrosino, S., & Marzo, V. D. (2016, September 29). BPS Publications. Retrieved from https:// bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ [email protected]/(ISSN)1476-5381.nutraceuticalsjoint-virtual-issue.
13 Hesselink, J.M.K. (2012). New targets in pain, nonneuronal cells, and the role of palmitoylethanolamide. The Open Pain Journal, 5, 12-23.
14 Hesselink J.M.K., et al. (2013). Palmitoylethanolamide: a natural body-own anti-inflammatory agent, effective and safe against influenza and common cold. International Journal of Inflammation. In press.