CBD, or cannabidiol, is a type of chemical found in the same plant that produces marijuana.
CBD is different from marijuana though, and will not make you “high.” That’s because it does not contain the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC, which is the chemical responsible for the intoxicating feeling associated with consuming marijuana.
Recently, CBD has gained traction in the scientific community for its ability to treat multiple conditions — from chronic pain to epilepsy. Here are some of the benefits of CBD oil and whether science says it might be helpful for you.
1. CBD oil eases pain
CBD has been widely studied as a natural, non-addictive way to manage and treat pain symptoms — especially as an alternative to opioids for patients with severe pain.
While animal research found CBD to be a promising treatment for nerve-based (neuropathic) pain and inflammatory pain, few studies have examined its effects on humans.
Still, researchers know that CBD has antinociceptive and anti-hyperalgesic effects — meaning it can block the detection of pain by neurons and counter pain sensitivity.
“CBD has over 65 different targets in the brain and body, working at many receptors and other areas to change messages that cells are sending to each other. If the message of pain is being sent from one cell to another, CBD can block or diminish this message,” says Bonni Goldstein, MD, the Medical Director of Canna-Centers, a California-based medical practice devoted to patients about the use of cannabis for serious or chronic health conditions.
Goldstein says that higher ratios of CBD to THC are often more effective for inflammatory pain like rheumatoid arthritis, while lower ratios are more effective for nerve-based pain like shingles.
A 2006 study found that combining THC and CBD increased each cannabinoid’s effectiveness in reducing pain and diminished adverse effects of using just THC alone.
“Studies clearly show that all types of pain respond better to products that contain both compounds rather than each one alone,” Goldstein says.
2. CBD oil can treat epilepsy
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which abnormal brain activity causes seizures. Recent studies show that CBD may be an effective treatment for epilepsy, although scientists are unsure of the exact mechanisms, Goldstein says.
A 2017 study of patients ranging from two to 46-years-old with treatment-resistant epilepsy found that 86% of patients experienced a reduction in seizures after consuming various formulations of artisanal CBD, which is CBD that contains small amounts of THC. Of the participants, 10% reported becoming seizure-free.
Another small 2018 study found that children who took a daily 20mg/kg dose of CBD oil saw a significant decrease in seizure frequency compared to a placebo. However, the study did find seizure intensity increased in patients taking CBD.
3. CBD oil may reduce anxiety
Early research has found CBD may reduce symptoms of a number of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
A small 2011 study of patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) found 600mg of CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort when patients were subjected to a stressful situation like public speaking.
Goldstein says that CBD affects the brain in multiple ways, including enhancing the brain’s own anxiety-reducing chemicals and targeting serotonin receptors involved in mood.
“There is preliminary research that points to neuroinflammation as a cause of anxiety. CBD is a well-proven potent anti-inflammatory which may contribute to its anxiety-reducing effects,” Goldstein says.
Risks of CBD oil
However, much research on CBD oil is still preliminary, and there are also various health risks to consider before using it.
It’s unregulated. Unless you’re purchasing CBD with a medical card from a state-licensed store, known as a dispensary, or in a state where marijuana is legalized, you’re forced to navigate an unregulated market that’s potentially filled with “fake” or low-quality CBD. Make sure you check your state’s laws and look for companies who partake in third-party testing before purchasing CBD, says Goldstein.
It can interact with medications. CBD is broken down in the liver, where many other medications are metabolized. Medications that CBD can interact with include:
- Seizure medications like Brivaracetam or Carbamazepine
- Chemotherapy drugs like Everolimus
- Muscle relaxers like Chlorzoxazone
- Respiratory medicines like Theophylline
- High blood pressure medications like Verapamil or Propranolol
- Antidepressants like Amitriptyline
- Antipsychotic medications like Haloperidol or Clozapine
“Anyone with serious medical conditions who take medications should avoid using CBD without medical supervision,” Goldstein says. “Patients on certain medications such as blood thinners or other medications for serious illnesses should always have medical supervision.”
It may be unsafe if you’re pregnant. While there is a lack of research studying the effects of CBD on pregnant women and their children, the FDA recommends that pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid CBD oil.
Animal studies have shown that maternal or paternal exposure to CBD and THC can hinder proper fetal development, and unregulated CBD products could be contaminated with substances that could harm fetuses or breastfed babies.
It can have side effects. CBD is often well-tolerated, but adverse reactions can occur at higher doses. These side effects include:
- Worsening seizures in those with epilepsy
- Decreased appetite
How to use CBD oil safely
In 2018, US Congress passed a bill that regulated the production of hemp, or cannabis with extremely low levels of THC, allowing it to be grown and manufactured into products. But not all states have adjusted their laws, so CBD is still illegal in some states including Idaho, Nebraska, and Iowa.
In states where CBD is legal, you’ll have to be either 18 or 21 to purchase it — and make sure to check local laws before traveling across state lines with it.