Last summer I was hit with a nasty illness called gouty arthritis which caused my toes to swell to the size of gherkins. Walking was torture. Each step felt like a hot knife stabbing into the joints of my bloated digits. Even the weight of a single cotton sheet bearing down during sleep was unbearable.
I am an active, healthy man, but this condition left me feeling hobbled, unhappy and unfashionable. The only shoes I could comfortably wear were Birkenstocks, which just look wrong with a suit. I spent thousands of dollars on dozens of blood tests only to be told by the specialists at NYU’s Langone Medical Center that my best treatment option was Advil.
That was not a welcome prescription. Advil and other NSAID anti-inflammatories can, over time, can lead to damaged liver, kidneys, and, in extreme cases, death. An estimated 16,500 Americans die each year from complications related to these drugs.
The bigger problem for me was that NSAIDs offered spotty and unreliable relief.
So I looked into a cannabis-based solution.
On my next trip to Colorado, I bought some cannabidiol (CBD) tinctures, pills and salves. While CBD is no cure for arthritis—nothing can replace the joint lubricating synovial fluid once it diminishes—one 25 ml dose of tincture twice a day under the tongue, plus the occasional puff of CBD oil in a vape pen and the obligatory Omega 3 oils (which, I subsequently learned, optimize the cannabinoid receptors in the body) has noticeably reduced my pain. I am steadier on my feet and back in shoes.
But the fact is, when it comes to CBD medications I, like most patients, am groping in the dark. There are no reliable dosage guidelines for specific conditions, nor are there standard measurements, which is confusing when attempting to compare products. Most patients don’t understand which delivery system is optimal: Capsule? Tincture? Flower?
What’s more, the complete absence of federal safety regulations means the purity of CBD is always in question.
The most confusing and frustrating aspect, though, is the vast disparity in price. Some products offer CBD at 5 cents per milligram. Others charge four times as much—20 cents per mg. One company charges 60 cents per mg!
Here are the latest prices I could find online:
Consider this: Pine Tsunami, a low-THC (4.5%), high-CBD (15.3%) strain of cannabis flower, sells at Vela in Seattle for $184 an ounce. Chanel No.5 Grand Extrait perfume retails online for $276 an ounce. An ounce of HP printer ink goes for about $75 at Staples. A bar of .999 percent pure silver costs $18 an ounce. Most medicinal dried herbs retail for under $4 an ounce.
Pure CBD, at 10 cents per milligram, carries a consumer cost of $2,835 an ounce—more than twice that of pure gold.
If you scatter plot the prices of CBD for sale online, you get a sense of the helter-skelter nature of the market:
What gives? Are some producers turning this medicine into the “weed of greed? Or is the still-lingering weight of prohibition driving prices skyward?
As a journalist with piqued curiosity, and a patient seeking reliable medicine at a reasonable price, I decided to investigate.