Google searches for CBD expected to hit record high this year

PHOTO: CBD oil is seen displayed at The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition trade show in New York, May 30, 2019.PlayMike Segar/Reuters, FILE
WATCH Everything you need to know about CBD

It's not your imagination, cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, has seemingly infiltrated every consumer product -- from skin care to gummy candies to vape pens to dog treats.

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Now there's data to back up that trend, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open Wednesday.

Following a decade of stable Google searches for CBD, or cannabidiol, the number of searches for those terms spiked 126% between 2016 and 2018, and 160% between 2017 and 2018, according to the study.

Those searches are expected to be up another 118% this year, with 6.4 million CBD Google searches logged in April alone, the most current month for which data is available.

PHOTO: National and state trends in Google searches for Cannabidiol or CBD
since 2014. JAMA Network Open
National and state trends in Google searches for Cannabidiol or CBD since 2014.

In addition, the new study is a window into a nationwide phenomenon that's stretched beyond the wellness set or big cities. The biggest year-over-year spike in searches wasn't in New York or California, but rather, in Alabama, which saw searches grow more than 600% between 2018 and 2019.

Nationwide, searches for CBD outstripped queries for other popular health topics, like veganism, vaccination and marijuana.

"We think of dieting as being the most popular health search term ever, and for every two searches for dieting, there's one for CBD," said John Ayers, co-author of the study and associate professor at the University of California, San Diego.

"What you search for predicts what you buy," he added.

PHOTO: Google searches for Cannabidiol or CBD and other health
topics in April 2019. JAMA Network Open
Google searches for Cannabidiol or CBD and other health topics in April 2019.

Clearly there's a demand for information, but details about the product itself is frustratingly limited. CBD, which is derived from cannabis plants, isn't psychoactive, meaning unlike the other well-known ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it doesn't get you high.

While CBD has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating epilepsy, beyond that that limited use, it has no proven health benefits.

That hasn't stopped brands from marketing their CBD products with claims promising to aid sleep, sooth anxiety, relieve menstrual cramps, help with headaches, treat acne and cure opioid addiction, among other benefits.

"When people are allowed to market CBD by saying anything, is it surprising that demand for it is so high?" Ayers asked.

PHOTO: CBD oil is seen displayed at The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition trade show in New York, May 30, 2019. Mike Segar/Reuters, FILE
CBD oil is seen displayed at The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition trade show in New York, May 30, 2019.

In response to rampant misinformation over unapproved cures, the FDA sent at least six warning letters this year to firms improperly marketing CBD products, which the agency says "are not approved by FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease."

Under current FDA rules, CBD cannot be added to food or drink, nor marketed as a dietary supplement.

Still, in the wake of the nation's recent spate of lung injuries and deaths linked to vaping, a similarly unregulated product, Ayers thinks CBD's online popularity should serve as a call to action for regulators.

"We already saw what can happen with vaping," he said. "Imagine with the demand for CBD, if we have a tainted product out there."