As more and more states (and countries) legalize marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes, so too has the conversation over CBD grown exponentially. CBD Nation tackles the potential therapeutic applications of marijuana’s non-high-producing compound from numerous angles, and while its inquiry is far from comprehensive—to its detriment—it nonetheless adds to a growing chorus of voices contending that CBD is a safe, effective and possibly revolutionary treatment for a variety of ailments.
As with last year’s Waldo on Weed, Tommy Avallone’s portrait of a Pennsylvania couple that risked imprisonment by procuring and giving CBD to their eye cancer-stricken infant son, writer/director David Jakubovic’s documentary (on Amazon and VOD) is most compelling when it focuses on real-life examples of the magical benefits provided by the cannabidiol compound, which unlike THC, does not leave one stoned. Best of that bunch is the tale of Rylie Maedler, a young Delaware native whose life was threatened by a fierce bone tumor that—as horrifying facial scans illustrate—was literally eating away at her skull, causing her cheeks to slouch and her teeth to fall out. Faced with a fatal prognosis, Rylie’s mother Janie began giving Rylie CBD, and the effects were nothing short of astounding, eliminating the remainder of her post-surgery tumor, restoring her facial bone structure, and improving her general health and well-being.
The problem, however, is that it was illegal in Delaware for Rylie to take CBD, which meant she had to sneak off school grounds each day just to pop her pills. When her regimen produced phenomenal results, she took action, convincing the Delaware state legislature to pass Rylie’s Law, which allows kids under the age of 18 to use medical marijuana-based oils to treat conditions such as epilepsy and dystonia. With participation from both Rylie and Janie, CBD Nation persuasively casts this story as a prime example of the upside of CBD. Rylie’s own heartbreaking commentary about her ordeal—including breaking down in tears when recounting how she was alienated by her classmates for choosing to take this supposedly shady product—reinforces the impression that knee-jerk negative attitudes toward CBD only hurt those who most need it.
Key to the pro-CBD argument is both its many conceivable treatment functions for a wide swath of infirmities—from glaucoma and asthma to nausea, seizures, and pain and appetite-related conditions—and the fact that it has no apparent side effects. In other words, at best, it’s a miracle cure, and at worst, it’s a harmless balm—meaning that there’s little danger in trying it out for calamitous conditions. For those in dire straits, such as Jason David, whose son Jaylen was wracked by horrific non-stop seizures that only began to subside after he started taking CBD, the choice is not only clear, but difficult to object to in any serious fashion. And given that Jason himself has since opened a CBD dispensary, one can assume that he truly believes in what he’s selling.
It’s unfortunate, then, that CBD Nation tackles its topic in scattershot fashion. That’s felt most pressingly in a couple of anecdote-driven vignettes that are at once believable and yet inconclusive from a medical standpoint. Twentysomething Sio Rodriguez talks about how CBD alleviated her depression and anxiety, which wasn’t improved by Zoloft, Klonopin, Xanax, Wellbutrin and other prescribed meds, and Afghanistan war vet Colin Wells discusses how his homemade CBD oil has helped him—and fellow former soldiers, whom he meets with regularly on Southern California hikes—cope with crippling PTSD. Both are no doubt being honest about their experiences. But with scant scientific evidence to back up their claims, they come across as frustratingly circumstantial.
CBD Nation also offers up a wealth of medical-professional talking heads, and occasionally, they make a forceful argument for investigating CBD’s prospective value, such as Dr. Sari Prutchi Sagiv, director of Tech Transfer at Israel’s Mor Research, who details how CBD helped seriously ill patients in a clinical trial overcome their graft-versus-host disease, which materializes when transplanted bone marrow attacks its new body. Often, though, these medical professionals’ credentials are of a vague (and thus dubious) sort, and their commentary merely reinforces the basic notion that CBD might be the answer to everything under the sun. With no contrarian figures featured, and meager definitive evidence supporting their statements, the film sometimes feels weakest whenever one of its experts is on screen. And not helping matters is that such figures’ interviews do the analytical heavy-lifting here; few concrete statistics are employed by Jakubovic to bolster his logical, if still largely unproven, thesis.
That said, the director does lay out how certain government-sanctioned reports from the past half-century have concluded that cannabinoids have promising medicinal uses, and that—as the 2017 National Academy of Science report declared—the legal barriers to cannabis research are “a public health problem.” Equally informative is a passage about the biological means by which cannabinoids seamlessly interact with the human body’s receptors—a process duplicated by the body itself, which produces almost 100 compounds that act in the same beneficial way as cannabinoids. The idea is that we’re fundamentally built to interact with cannabis, and that such a symbiotic relationship explains why CBD appears to remedy an enormous number of unrelated disorders.
By jumping around from one point of interest to another rather than providing a thorough history lesson or survey of the current landscape, CBD Nation plays as more of a useful addendum than a definitive examination. Its haphazard nature is epitomized by director Jakubovic’s decision to preface a segment on PTSD with gratuitous scenes of the terrorist-hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center—a gesture that (like subsequent on-the-ground combat footage) is unwarranted by the material at hand. There’s no doubt that CBD is a booming business, and may very well be an answer to the prayers of those suffering from persistent and seemingly incurable maladies. Jakubovic’s documentary, however, is just a serviceable gateway into more in-depth inquiries into the subject.