Proponents insist that CBD oil is capable of curing a wide variety of ailments, from anxiety to nerve pain. But is it the miraculous cure-all we’d like it to be?
CBD oil is a natural product that has gained popularity in recent years, thanks, in part, to the legalization of cannabis in many states. You’ve likely seen businesses advertise that they’re now selling CBD oil (and similar products), and heard various claims about what constitutes the “best” CBD oil.
What Is CBD Oil?
Let’s start by explaining what CBD oil is. CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a cannabinoid, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants. CBD oil is a concentrated form of CBD that is separated from other components of cannabis. It’s available in a wide variety of products, ranging from drops, capsules, and edibles to topical creams.
Note that CBD is non-intoxicating; it does not make you high. A different cannabis compound called THC is responsible for the high feeling associated with consuming cannabis.
The Evidence for CBD Oil
What is the evidence for CBD oil as a beneficial remedy?
One of the most common claims of CBD proponents is that CBD oil can relieve anxiety. Generally speaking, there’s evidence to suggest that this is true. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBD oil is shown to reduce stress in animals like rats. Research subjects treated with CBD showed lower signs of behavioral anxiety, as well as fewer physical symptoms of generalized anxiety, like high heart rate.
Research on humans has also been promising. For example, one scientific study found multiple studies supporting the benefits of using CBD when treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder related to anxiety.
Because CBD produces a relaxing effect, some people may find it useful in treating anxiety-induced insomnia.
One study, which examined the sleep patterns of 103 adults, found that CBD use was capable of decreasing anxiety and improving sleep in about 66.7 percent of subjects. However, this rate fluctuated over time, suggesting that the effects of CBD may not be entirely consistent. The research also showed very low risk associated with CBD use. Only three subjects did not tolerate CBD oil well.
CBD has also been claimed to be an effective treatment for depression, but the evidence is sparse.
One review from 2017 suggested that there isn’t currently enough evidence to support CBD as an effective treatment for depression. This review also concluded that CBD may be effective for treating anxiety symptoms. However, it pointed out that many of the largest and best-received studies thus far have lacked rigorous scientific standards, such as the presence of a control group.
Other studies have suggested possible uses for CBD oil in other areas related to psychotherapy. For example, one study from 2016 found that CBD could have antipsychotic effects in some people suffering from schizophrenia. The substance also doesn’t have the same debilitating side effects linked to most other conventional antipsychotic drugs.
There is early supporting evidence that CBD (and other cannabinoids) may reduce tumor growth — at least in animal models. For example, one 2019 review of both in vitro and in vivo studies on pancreatic cancer development found that cannabinoids reduce tumor invasion, slow tumor growth, and in some cases, can even cause death of tumor cells. However, the exact mechanisms responsible for this effect are in debate, and factors like appropriate dosing are not yet clear.
CBD may also improve the uptake or potency of certain cancer treatment drugs. It’s also considered an antiemetic, which can be useful in specific types of cancer treatment.
Seizures and Epilepsy Treatment
For people suffering from severe forms of epilepsy or seizures, CBD may be an effective treatment. In fact, the prescription drug Epidiolex was contains CBD. When taken orally, Epidiolex can reduce the number of seizures suffered by a patient. However, it’s worth noting that the patients in these studies were taking Epidiolex with at least two other epilepsy drugs and were suffering from an extreme form of epilepsy (i.e., Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome).
Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug made from cannabis; researchers are eager to learn more about how and why cannabidiol protects against seizures.
Arthritis Pain and Topical Pain Relief
CBD can also function as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic, according to some studies.
In these applications, CBD can be applied topically, usually as a spray. Anecdotally, sufferers of arthritis and similar forms of chronic pain have found relief when regularly applying CBD. As with many of the other potential applications for CBD, we need more research for a definitive analysis of its effectiveness for pain management.
Tolerance and Side Effects
Additionally, early research shows CBD to be well-tolerated by humans and animals. A review from 2011 suggests that CBD is “non-toxic in non-transformed cells and does not induce changes on food intake, does not induce catalepsy, does not affect physiological parameters (heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature), does not affect gastrointestinal transit and does not alter psychomotor or psychological functions.” This study covered even high doses of up to 1,500 mg of CBD per day.
There is some evidence that there may be long-term side effects of CBD, such as inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism, decreased fertilization rates, and alterations of in vitro cell viability. We need more research to confirm the extent and occurrence rate of these side effects.
Short-term side effects from CBD seem to be rare and limited, but can include diarrhea, fatigue, changes in weight, and changes in appetite. It’s also unknown how and when CBD may interfere with medications and dietary supplements. Thus far, CBD appears to be less habit-forming than substances like alcohol and tobacco but may produce withdrawal symptoms if someone uses it consistently for an extended period of time then suddenly stops.
Caveats and Recommendations
CBD oil appears to have some evidence-backed benefits for humans, with limited side effects. But it’s still something we don’t know a lot about. The FDA does not yet regulate CBD, and warns that there are unanswered questions about its safety. Future studies may reveal important information about its applications for human health.
If you want to start taking CBD oil, consider talking to your doctor first.
Feature image by Julia Teichmann from Pixabay