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Snake oil gets a bad rap.

Ever since the American people caught on to the shady tactics of highly portable and personable pitchmen preaching the preternatural properties of their prepackaged potions for pain and plagues, one of the quickest ways to raise doubts about what someone is selling is to label it as "snake oil."

What’s the point?

The rapid rise of CBD’s popularity is creating an atmosphere in which shysters can easily take advantage of a curious public.

The label these days attaches to products as well as ideas. Add the word "salesman" and it can be wielded as an insult.

Mind you, though, the original snake oil brought into this country, often by indentured men from China in the 1800s, actually proved effective in the easing of some maladies. When more and more people began to learn of the alleviation of symptoms found in the application of snake oil-based patent medicines, tonics or lotions, it intensified a market for quick-relief products.

All one has to do is watch late-night television to recognize the appetite for such concoctions has never waned. Just call 1-800-CURE-ALL and we've got a remedy for what ails you.

We've come so far, right?

Not so fast. Welcome to the world of CBD.

That's the shorthand for cannabidiol, a chemical compound from the cannabis plant, and no, it's not going to get anyone high. That's a different chemical entirely.

Across the nation and here in Northwest Arkansas, CBD is the hot potion of the moment, in whatever form it actually comes in. People are always looking for those over-the-counter -- or maybe even behind-the-counter -- alternative remedies that aren't prescribed by doctors and aren't part of Big Pharma's assault on our wallets.

It turns out, however, that CBD is attracting some endorsements from medically informed voices such as CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Martha Stewart is said to be working to develop her own line of CBD products. In the New York Times, a seller told the newspaper the chemical's effects are "like taking a warm bath, melting the tension away. ... It is balancing; a leveling, smoothing sensation in the body mostly, and an evenness of attention of the mind."

Um-hmm. You won't find a description like that in the paperwork that comes with any pharmacy prescription.

Products "infused" with CBD are popping up all over the place, from beauty products to food and drink. There are even CBD-infused "intimate" oils. And this much is sure: Whether fad destined to fade or fabulous, CBD product makers are more than willing to charge premium prices for items that may or may not contain effective amounts of a substance that may or may not do everything people are promising.

CBD is derived from hemp or marijuana. In part, its popularity and availability have taken on new life because the federal farm bill passed last year gave state and federal authorities permission to regulate industrial hemp, a type of cannabis with plenty of CBD but not THC, the component in marijuana that produces a high when ingested.

In Arkansas, some agricultural operations are getting into the hemp-growing business, in large part because of the profits that can be made as CBD's popularity grows.

We do not today attempt to diminish the potential for legitimate CBD products. Real scientists have found its properties promising for some conditions. But because the target market for these over-the-counter, unregulated products are people often willing to do anything to treat an ailment or to seek comfort from its effects, there is great potential for people to be separated from their hard-earned money by substances that promise far, far more than the ointments and tinctures can ever deliver.

Regardless of what CBD can or cannot actually do, its unregulated nature means those products found next to the cash register at the local convenience store and promising relief from all sorts of infirmities may contain little CBD or none at all. If it does contain some, most of these products have gone through no scientific investigation to determine what concentrations are necessary to achieve an intended effect.

In other words, it's the wild, wild west out there and more than ample room for the scoundrels to bilk people. There is no prescription that can rid the world of those ready to take advantage of an all-too-receptive audience of potential buyers.

CBD represents true "let the buyer beware" territory. Promises of relief from muscle pain, sleep irregularities to cancer and high blood pressure must be examined with a healthy dose of skepticism.

At least that's our prescription.

Commentary on 06/09/2019

Print Headline: Patent-ly questionable

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