Health Promotion and Wellness launches CBD poster campaign

Jacob Wendler/The Daily Northwestern

The posters list the potential risks of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, and are the newest iteration of a cannabis awareness campaign started by Health Promotion and Wellness in 2019.

Walking through the halls of University buildings, Northwestern students are now greeted by posters with a concise message from Student Affairs: “Legal doesn’t equal safe.”

The posters list the potential risks of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, and are the newest iteration of a cannabis awareness campaign started by Health Promotion and Wellness in 2019. 

The office, which focuses on education and support programs related to substance use and other wellness issues, launched the cannabis awareness campaign more than two years ago in anticipation of cannabis legalization in Illinois, according to HPaW Assistant Director Kevin Meier. 

Meier said the office started the campaign to help students make informed decisions about cannabis use.

“Just like every conversation we have around substance use with our college population, we come at it from a harm reduction lens,” Meier said. “It’s not the ‘just say no’ message by any means, and that’s just to be realistic, meet the students where they’re at and provide them with the tools necessary to make informed decisions.”

Recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois for adults 21 and older in January 2020, when the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act went into effect. 

However, while City Council voted in September 2020 to allow the sale of recreational cannabis, the substance is still prohibited on all NU property and at University-sponsored events and activities. Because NU receives funding from the federal government, it is required to comply with federal law prohibiting the possession and use of cannabis, including the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.

While the posters around campus remind students that University policy prohibits the use of cannabis, Meier added that students can reach out to HPaW to engage in confidential conversations about their substance use or intention to use cannabis.

“We wanted to make sure that people who are choosing to turn to CBD for whatever reason understand that there is very limited research out there at this point around that substance,” Meier said. “There’s a lot that still needs to be learned about what amount of CBD actually helps in terms of certain health conditions.”

Lisa Brennan-Winefield, the co-owner of Botanica Plant Based Health in Evanston, pushed back on the assertion that research on CBD is limited. 

Cannabis products are regulated in the U.S. based on THC levels, Brennan-Winefield said. Any product with more than 3% THC, the psychoactive component of the plant, is regulated as marijuana. She said some of her customers saw positive results using marijuana to relieve anxiety at first, but later found that the high THC contents exacerbated their condition.

“Because CBD works so differently in everyone, some people see really phenomenal results using it for anxiety, and for some people it kind of (takes) the edge off,” she said. 

She also said customers at Botanica are often seeking CBD products — which range from products with only CBD to others that also feature other cannabinoids, such as THC — to ease conditions like insomnia, stress and anxiety or chronic pain. 

However, Feinberg Prof. Richard Miller, who studies pharmacology, said while more research is emerging on the effects of CBD, the current body of information provides little support for those uses. Some of the perceived positive impacts may be due to the placebo effect, he added. 

Miller said while CBD can often be tolerated in relatively high amounts, the primary complications come from excessively high doses or interactions with other medications. If individuals consume CBD products while on other anxiety medications, CBD may interfere with the way the medicine is metabolized, leading to potentially toxic levels of the drug, he said.

“There’s not a lot of evidence that cannabidiol does anything much either good or bad,” Miller said. “But there are a few well established cases, and one perhaps needs to keep an open mind.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacob.wendler

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