CBD: The largest clinical trial in the world?

Author: Ties van de Laar PhD

Is anecdotal evidence enough?

Over the years you have probably taken part in a lot of major uncontrolled ‘clinical trials’ without knowing. For instance, are you a person that looks at their phone, iPad or computer in the evening? If so, then congratulations, you have been part of a massive (uncontrolled) "clinical trial"! The effect of blue light on sleep has been studied for a long time (1), and at some point, it was seen as the biggest nemesis of a good night of sleep. However, it seems that all together we have proven it may not be as simple as once thought (2), with blue light going from big evil to big gluten (3). It seems that when investigating the complex problems that face us today, it no longer works to point to one small thing and lay the blame there. Complex problems tend to require complex solutions.

My point is that when researchers and journalists claim that consumer use of CBD oil is the largest uncontrolled clinical trial in the world (4) (5), that this is not the first time such rhetoric is used. Of course, we should be careful, as researchers investigating these effects and as food producers producing these products for the consumer market. We need to ensure a safe product for everyone, but in my opinion such scary rhetoric, which ignores a lot of data, does no one any good.

How many people have tried CBD?

So, let's have a look at some actual data! If the consumer use of CBD oil is indeed the largest clinical trial in the world, how many people are participating? Let us first look at sales numbers for the UK, where at the low end of estimations at least 4 million people have tried CBD as of 2019 (6), with an active market of about 1.2 million people. In the Benelux region it is estimated that over 6.5 million people have tried CBD, while in Germany it is estimated that over 11 million people have tried various CBD products (7). If we add up all those numbers, we see that we are apparently running a clinical trial with close to 20 million people! And that doesn’t include the market in the Northern America or any other European countries.

Is CBD safe?

Are a large percentage of these consumers (or patients, if we are sticking to this medical trial story) experiencing negative side-effects from using CBD oil? This does not seem to be the case, most complaints regarding CBD oil seem to relate to poor labeling (8), at least in the US. This should not come as a total surprise, since hemp and its extracts have a long history of consumption worldwide. For centuries hemp and its extracts have been used in traditional medicine and parts of the hemp plant have been used in a large variety of foods for centuries as well (9). And let's not forget that smoking of cannabis is a practice that is millennia old as well (10).

I don’t want to claim that this proves without a doubt that CBD oil poses no danger to public health. As has also become clear from these consumer surveys and research articles (5) (6), this young market suffers from problems typical to every new frontier in foods and supplements. Labeling should be improved, and companies need to tighten their quality control to ensure consumers have access to safe products, where they know what these products contain. However, I do think that the lack of widespread reports of side-effects and consumer complaints shows that maybe using rhetoric such as calling CBD oil the largest uncontrolled clinical trial (and all the implications that come with that claim) might be overstating the problems.

Completely ignoring the long tradition of using hemp, its extracts and the smoking of cannabis seems like a very limited scope and view, which is not something that fits with research into our complex world. When scientists make broad statements, such as this uncontrolled clinical trial claim, it also makes it look as if there is broad consensus on this topic. Which is clearly not the case, for instance, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) said in their 2018 report on CBD that ‘to date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD’ (11). In addition, they also suggest that cannabis itself should be reexamined as to whether the strict regulations in place now are still appropriate (11).

What Becanex is doing in this new frontier

At Becanex we strive to create the safest, best controlled product possible for consumers. We have strict quality control throughout the entire production process and provide as much information on our labeling as possible, so that you, the consumer can make an informed choice on how to consume CBD oil. Our hope is that by leading by example, the rest of the fast-growing CBD industry in Europe will follow, to ensure the safety and health of everyone.

About the author 

Ties completed his PhD in Soft Matter physics and Food Process Engineering at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He now works at Becanex as a Senior Researcher, where amongst other things, he is responsible for novel food applications.


  1. [Online] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.
  2. [Online] https://onezero.medium.com/blue-light-isnt-as-bad-as-you-think-d9e1e48f0cc6.
  3. [Online] https://time.com/5752454/blue-light-sleep/.
  4. [Online] https://www.newsweek.com/2019/09/06/cbd-oil-miracle-drug-science-1456629.html.
  5. Are side effects of cannabidiol (CBD) products caused by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) contamination? Lachenmeier, Dirk W., et al. 1394, s.l. : F1000 Research, 2020, Vol. 8. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.19931.2.
  6. Gibbs, Blair, Yates, Andrew and Liebling, John. CBD in the UK. s.l. : Centre for Medical Cannabis, 2019.
  7. Data, New Frontier. The EU CBD consumer report . s.l. : New Frontier Data, 2019.
  8. [Online] https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/and-so-it-begins-the-wave-of-cbd-87926/.
  9. [Online] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/01/cannabis-medical-cannabidiol-cbd-uk-consumers.
  10. Clarke, Robert C. and Merlin, Mark D. Cannabis, Evolution and Ethnobotany. s.l. : University of California Press., 2013. ISBN 978-0-520-27048-0.
  11. WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. WHO Technical Report Series, Fortieth report No. 1013. s.l. : WHO, 2018. ISSN 0512-3054.