Paul Benhaim, who is credited with developing Europe’s first commercial hemp food product, a snack food that remains a best-seller today, has government licences to grow hemp. His hemp seeds, protein and oil company, Hemp Foods, is the only business in Australia granted an exemption from existing legislation that allows it to harvest the leaves and flowers of plants to produce CBD extracts for export.
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He believes opportunities now exist for companies interested in incorporating legal hemp CBD extracts into their products, even though these are currently only allowed for topical applications in Australia.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is the most prominent cannabinoid in hemp plants, and is many times more concentrated than in most marijuana plants.
“The stories you have heard about people reversing epilepsy, cancer, pain and most other ailments come from the use of special strains of marijuana that are low in THC [which produces a high] and high in CBD,” Benhaim explains.
“One of the best known examples is Charlotte’s web, grown by the Stanley brothers in Colorado. This plant was originally called ‘hippies’ disappointment’ due to the fact that no matter how much of it you smoke, you just can’t get high.”
The strain was later renamed after a little girl called Charlotte who went from having hundreds of life-threatening seizures a week to zero after eating a high-CBD oil extracted from the plant in one go.
“Charlotte had been on every epileptic drug there was,” says Benhaim, who has visited the family. “The drugs had ruined her brain and body; they were highly psychoactive, which would stop her heart bleeding, and most importantly failed to stop the seizures.
“Within hours of taking the CBD oil, the hundreds of seizures stopped, and in two years they have not returned. Charlotte consumes a blob of CBD oil about the size of a grain of rice twice a day. There are no negative side-effects.
It should be noted that the horrific side-effects of the drugs she was taking are well known and they are still approved for her and other children. It should also be considered that the western governments have known since 1971 that cannabis safely halts epilepsy, says Benhaim.
“The US government used research to release a patent for cannabinoids as a medicine for multiple conditions while publicly claiming that cannabis had no known health benefits. In 1971, the publication Medical World reported that ‘Cannabis is probably the most potent anti-epileptic known to medicine’.”
According to the WHO, 50m people suffer from epilepsy worldwide. There are currently 300,000 children in the USA suffering from epilepsy, and 90,000 in Australia.
A similar story to Charlotte’s took place recently in Australia, after the parents of another young girl, Ava, heard about the benefits of CBD, which Benhaim manufactures in Europe for his American-based company, Elixinol.
Born in 2005, at six months she was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic condition that causes benign growths in all the organs of the body. The initial symptom was infantile spasms, an early stage of epilepsy. She was having up to 12 seizures a day and was unable to sleep for more than a couple of hours.
After trying many different neurologists, medications and therapies, nothing had stopped the seizures, and Ava had started missing developmental milestones. Over nine years, she had tried many different anti-epileptic drugs, had two brain surgeries which have resulted in her intellectual disability and mild autism, but then her family learnt about CBD.
“They heard of Elixinol through a friend and decided to try it, starting with a small serving a day directly on her tongue. After five days, her seizures stopped completely, even without increasing the serving size. Her sleep and behaviour have also improved.”
Because of Australian restrictions, Ava’s parents bought the product from overseas and made their own decision to allow Ava to consume the CBD oil internally. It might well have contributed to her return to health, though can we be sure such a product is safe and effective, especially when regulators approach CBD with such care?
“If you look at hundreds of thousands of anecdotal reports of people using CBD oil, yes, it is safe. Yet, watch any TV report about it in Australia and someone will be giving—from the government or medical establishment—the same three scripted claims: we don’t know if it’s safe, we don’t know if it works, and there’s no science to support it,” says Benhaim.
No evidence of toxicity
According to top US scientists, no signs of toxicity or serious side effects have been observed following chronic administration of CBD. It is not psycho-active, it is not psycho-toxic, even at very high doses, and it can penetrate the brain.
Studies have also indicated that CBD is not toxic, even when chronically administered to humans, or given in acute doses. CBD is an anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety treatment, and the absence of side-effects allows very high doses to be used without encountering dangerous complications.
“Anti-oxidant blood levels of CBD can be up to 40mg per kilo without toxicity. The dosages that government scientists have used on humans and said were beneficial are up to 40 times higher than what is being eaten by these children. It may come as no surprise that in the 4,000 years of humans consuming cannabis, the number of known deaths are as a result zero,” Benhaim asserts.
He places responsibility for cannabis’ vilification at the hands of the pharmaceutical lobby, which he says has most to lose from any moves to give greater approvals to the plant.
“The two types of prescription drugs that kill most people are taken for pain and mood disorders. They are also the drugs that make the most money,” Benhaim says.
“Consider that the top of the list of the most well researched properties of CBD are relief from pain, inflammation, anxiety and depression. Most of the world’s top-10 selling drugs act by targeting a cell receptor known as the G protein-coupled receptor. In fact, 40% of the world’s pharmaceutical drugs target this receptor, as does CBD.”
The GPCR factor
This brings into play a secret kept from the health world since that US research in the early ‘Seventies: the endo-cannabinoid system. In a medical paper, Dr V Bugner wrote: “Cannabinoid receptors are the most prevalent of any G protein-coupled receptor. They are the only ones to play a direct role in virtually every aspect of the human body.”
And in a 2013 article in Cerebrum, Dr Bradley Alger stated: “The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is one of the most important physiological systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Receptors are found throughout the body; they are literally a bridge between the body and the mind. The body is hard-wired to function optimally in the presence of cannabinoids from hemp.”
“So, putting this together, the most prevalent G protein receptors in the body are cannabinoid receptors,” says Benhaim. “Cannabinoids activate these receptors to promote health without side effects. Pharmaceutical drugs target G protein receptors but all cause serious side effects. In 2013, drug companies made US$85bn in profit.”
Although he has been given licences to work with hemp in Australia, Benhaim says he is not confident that the plant’s status as a complementary medicine will progress much further until the old guard of state politicians is replaced by those who are more comfortable with such a controversial raw material. Neither does the Tony Abbott government fill him with hope, even if it appears to be showing greater confidence in the alternative medicines industry.
“Whether in Europe or Australia, we only use organic plants and state-of-the-art cold-extraction technologies, which guarantee legal THC limits. The THC is currently the part of the plant that is not currently legal. So right now we are currently producing bulk oils, powders, we’ve been approved for production of capsules and other forms, but we still cannot provide it for consumption,” he says, however, across the Tasman, in New Zealand, hemp seed oil, produced under licence, is permitted for human consumption as a food.
“The wellness revolution couldn’t be more fitting for the topic of hemp extracts, and when you realise that the hemp revolution has the weight of more than 4,000 years of human history behind it, you can forget about words like trend; you’re witnessing a pillar of human civilisation returning to global prominence.”
Each day this week, FoodNavigator-Asia will be looking at elements of Australia’s complementary health industry, and assessing its progress in the face of a regulatory system that might well be trimmed to deliver greater innovation. Tomorrow, we will look at how companies and individuals in the field of alternative medicines can rally their industry onwards.