CBD products have risen in popularity given CBD’s therapeutic potential and lack of legal oversight, despite lacking conclusive scientific evidence for widespread over-the-counter usage for many of its perceived benefits. While medical evidence is being generated, social media surveillance offers a fast and inexpensive alternative to traditional surveys in ascertaining perceived therapeutic purposes and modes of consumption for CBD products.
We collected all comments from the CBD subreddit posted between January 1 and April 30, 2019 as well as comments submitted to the FDA regarding regulation of cannabis-derived products and analyzed them using a rule-based language processing method. A relative ranking of popular therapeutic uses and product groups for CBD is obtained based on frequency of pattern matches including precise queries that entail identifying mentions of the condition, a CBD product, and some « trigger » phrase indicating therapeutic use. We validated the social media-based findings using a similar analysis on comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2019 request-for-comments on cannabis-derived products.
CBD is mostly discussed as a remedy for anxiety disorders and pain and this is consistent across both comment sources. Of comments posted to the CBD subreddit during the monitored time span, 6.19% mentioned anxiety at least once with at least 6.02% of these comments specifically mentioning CBD as a treatment for anxiety (i.e., 0.37% of total comments). The most popular CBD product group is oil and tinctures.
Social media surveillance of CBD usage has the potential to surface new therapeutic use-cases as they are posted. Contemporary social media data indicate, for example, that stress and nausea are frequently mentioned as therapeutic use cases for CBD without corresponding evidence, that affirms or denies, in the research literature. However, the abundance of anecdotal claims warrants serious scientific exploration moving forward. Meanwhile, as FDA ponders regulation, our effort demonstrates that social data offers a convenient affordance to surveil for CBD usage patterns in a way that is fast and inexpensive and can inform conventional electronic surveys.
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