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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For the past decade, University of Pittsburgh graduate student Andrea Maxwell has suffered from debilitating depression and paralyzing anxiety, all of which came to a head last summer.

“I couldn’t do my work, I couldn’t write my dissertation, I couldn’t go out, even going to the grocery school was a nightmare,” she said.

But where years of therapy and psychotropic drugs like Prozac failed, Maxwell says she found a light at the end of the tunnel when she tried a cannabis extract called CBD Oil.

Photo Credit: KDKA

“I feel better. I’m functioning. I’m not at rock bottom,” she said. “And I’m living my life, again.”

CBD or Cannabinoid Oil is a compound derived from the cannabis plant, hemp, but it won’t get you high like marijuana. Instead, proponents say it helps relieve all kinds of afflictions, everything from arthritis to Crohn’s Disease to PTSD.

Doubters say there’s little or no proof.

“You just don’t know. You don’t know what it is, and all of the so-called medical evidence is basically anecdotal,” said Dr. Michael Zemaitis, of Pitt’s School of Pharmacy.

Despite the recent legalization of hemp, most all of the CBD Oil on the market is still technically illegal. As a result, there has been very little medical research done on it.

The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned the public about unsubstantiated claims of its healing powers. The FDA doesn’t inspect or regulate what’s being sold, and as a result, Dr. Zemaitis says buyer beware.

Dr. Zemaitis: “You don’t know if any CBD is in it or how much. You don’t know what other cannabinoids are present, and you don’t know if there are any agricultural contaminants.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “So it’s a crap-shoot?”
Dr. Zemaitis: “It’s a crap-shoot.”

But suddenly CBD is everywhere you look. It’s on sale in smoke shops, five and dimes, and gas stations. Some coffee houses are serving CBD lattes, and in Shadyside, there’s even a what’s called a “CBD Bar,” which markets CBD lotions, candles, bath bombs and other products.

But the product doesn’t come cheap.

“This one is $69.95, and it would typically last anywhere from two to three months,” said Susan Merenstein, of Murray Avenue Apothecary.

Merenstein distills her own CBD and vouches for its purity. While that’s still a lot to pay for a medically untested product, she says you need only talk to dozens of her clients about its transformative power.

“I see hope where there was no hope. I see light where there was darkness,” said Merenstein.

Still, Dr. Zemaitis says the real worth of CBD may be a placebo-effect. In other words, it’s all in the user’s mind.

“I’m taking something for my blood pressure. I’m doing well, I’m doing something good, and that helps your blood pressure to go down. I’ve been a pharmacologist for a long time, there’s a large placebo effect in any drug,” he said.

Maxwell doesn’t believe that but says it really doesn’t matter either way.

“For now, I’m satisfied with it regardless of why,” Maxwell said.