CBD: Uses and Benefits
Today, there is a huge amount of buzz around CBD (short for Cannabidiol). It’s in the news, it’s in an incredible and ever-expanding range of products, and scientific evidence is increasingly showing the hype is well justified.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of that research, the various benefits of CBD and what people are using it for.
What is CBD and how does it work?
CBD is a natural remedy whose popularity has surged recently. It is just one of more than 120 compounds known as cannabinoids found in the Cannabis genus of plants. CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning it doesn’t cause the effects synonymous with marijuana. Those are caused by THC, a different cannabinoid. That makes CBD an attractive option for a lot of people looking for relief from pain and other symptoms with the mind-altering effects of marijuana.
The human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in regulating things like sleep, immune-system responses, pain, mood, sleep and even memory. The body produces cannabinoids of its own, called endocannabinoids, which bind to cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system to work.
CBD helps the body use its own endocannabinoids more effectively. A study in Neurotherapeutics theorised that this is because CBD itself does little to the ECS. Instead, it activates or inhibits other compounds in the endocannabinoid system. For example, CBD stops the body from absorbing anandamide, a compound associated with pain regulation. Increased levels of anandamide remaining in the bloodstream may, therefore, reduce the pain a person feels.
Uses for CBD
CBD is quickly gaining momentum in the health and wellness world. Many scientific studies are now confirming its efficacy in treating a variety of ailments like chronic pain and anxiety. New research is being carried out all the time, with encouraging findings of CBD’s role in helping treat many conditions including:
- Chronic Pain
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- High blood pressure
It is also thought that CBD can promote better sleep, suppress appetite and aid weight loss, reduce inflammation and protect against some forms of cancer.
The list above makes CBD sound like a wonder drug, and scientific studies are some way behind the anecdotal evidence for CBD’s effectiveness. That is in large part because even studying it was largely barred in the past. In fact, in some places, it is now easier to buy, sell and take CBD than it is to study it. However, much of the emerging science does support what many have found through use, which we’re really excited about.
Pain relief: Multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
Marijuana is often used to treat pain - in fact, there is evidence showing it has been used in this way as far back as 2,900 BC. More recently, we have found that it is CBD, in particular, that is largely responsible for pain relief.
Researchers publishing in the European Journal of Pain used an animal model to show that rats with arthritis experienced a significant drop in inflammation and signs of pain after four days of topical gel application, without side effects.
Several human studies have shown that a CBD/THC combination is effective at treating pain related to multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Sativex, an oral spray, is approved in several countries to treat pain from MS. In another study, 47 people with multiple sclerosis treated with Sativex found significant improvements in pain, walking and muscle spasms after one month, compared to placebo.
Elsewhere, researchers have found that Sativex significantly improved pain during movement and at rest and sleep quality among 58 people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Recently, researchers studied CBD for general chronic pain, compiling results from multiple systematic reviews covering dozens of trials and studies. They concluded there is now substantial evidence that CBD is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults. Another study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine supports those findings.
Neurological disorders: Multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s Disease
Researchers believe that CBD’s ability to act on the endocannabinoid system and other brain signalling systems may provide benefits for those with neurological disorders. One of the more studied uses for CBD is in treating neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Many studies in this area have shown very promising results. As mentioned above, Sativex has been proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce muscle spasticity in people with MS and reducing the associated pain. One study found Sativex reduced spasms in 75% of 276 people who experience muscle spasticity resistant to other medications.
There’s also significant support for the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of some forms of epilepsy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex (a drug made with a purified form of CBD oil) in June 2018 for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy in patients 2 years of age and older. These two epilepsy forms are known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana. Another study gave 214 people with severe epilepsy 0.9–2.3 grams of CBD oil per pound (2–5 g/kg) of body weight. Their seizures reduced by a median of 36.5%. One study found that CBD significantly reduced seizure activity in children with Dravet syndrome, a complex childhood epilepsy disorder, compared to a placebo.
CBD has also been researched for its potential effectiveness in treating several other neurological diseases. For example, several studies have shown that treatment with CBD improved quality of life and sleep quality for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Additionally, animal and test-tube studies have shown that CBD may decrease inflammation and help prevent the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In one long-term study, researchers gave CBD to mice genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease, finding that it helped prevent cognitive decline.
Anxiety and Depression
CBD has also shown promise as a treatment for both depression and anxiety.
According to a report published in the journal Neurotherapeutics in 2015, CBD can assist with anxiety disorders. The report’s authors, having looked at results from experimental research, clinical trials, and epidemiological studies, found evidence that CBD may help treat generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In one scientific study, 24 people with social anxiety disorder received either 600mg of CBD or a placebo before a public speaking test. The group that received the CBD had significantly less anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, compared to the placebo group.
CBD has even been used to safely treat insomnia and anxiety in children with post-traumatic stress disorder.
CBD has also shown antidepressant-like effects in several animal studies. These qualities are linked to CBD’s ability to act on the brain’s receptors for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and social behaviour.
A review published in the journal Substance Abuse in 2015 suggests CBD may be of some benefit to those with addiction. Scientists analysed 14 previously published studies and determined that CBD may have therapeutic effects in people with cocaine, opioid and/or psychostimulant addiction. They also found that CBD may be beneficial in the treatment of cannabis and tobacco addiction. There is also some evidence that CBD may block or reduce the effects of THC on the mind.
Recent scientific studies suggest that CBD may help treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce sebum production. One test-tube study found that CBD prevented sebaceous gland cells from secreting excessive sebum, exerted anti-inflammatory actions and prevented the activation of “pro-acne” agents like inflammatory cytokines. Another study had similar findings, concluding that CBD may be an efficient and safe way to treat acne, thanks in part to its remarkable anti-inflammatory qualities.
Recent research has linked CBD with several benefits for the heart and circulatory system, including the ability to lower high blood pressure. Given that high blood pressure is linked to higher risks of a number of other health conditions these are really positive findings.
Studies indicate that CBD may be a natural and effective treatment for high blood pressure. One recent study treated 10 healthy men with one dose of 600 mg of CBD oil and found it reduced resting blood pressure, compared to a placebo. The same study also gave the men stress tests that normally increase blood pressure. Interestingly, the single dose of CBD led the men to experience a smaller blood pressure increase than normal in response to these tests. Researchers have suggested that the stress and anxiety-reducing properties of CBD are responsible for its ability to help lower blood pressure.
Additionally, several animal studies have demonstrated that CBD may help reduce inflammation and cell death associated with heart disease due to its powerful antioxidant and stress-reducing properties. For example, one study found that treatment with CBD reduced oxidative stress and prevented heart damage in diabetic mice with heart disease.
Alleviation of cancer-related symptoms
CBD may help reduce symptoms related to cancer and side effects related to cancer treatment, like nausea, vomiting and pain.
One study looked at the effects of CBD and THC in 177 people with cancer-related pain who did not experience relief from pain medication. Those treated with an extract containing both compounds experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those who received only THC extract.
CBD may also help reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, which are among the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Though there are drugs that help with these distressing symptoms, they are sometimes ineffective, leading some people to seek alternatives. A study of 16 people undergoing chemotherapy found that a one-to-one combination of CBD and THC administered via mouth spray reduced chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting better than standard treatment alone.
Some test-tube and animal studies have even shown that CBD may have anticancer properties. For example, one test-tube study found that concentrated CBD induced cell death in human breast cancer cells. Another study showed that CBD inhibited the spread of aggressive breast cancer cells in mice. Of course, these are test-tube and animal studies, so they can only suggest what might work in people. More studies in humans are needed before conclusions can be made.
Other potential health benefits
CBD has featured in studies about its role in treating a number of other health issues. More studies - especially on humans - are needed, but research suggests CBD could help with:
- Diabetes prevention: In diabetic mice, treatment with CBD reduced the incidence of diabetes by 56% and significantly reduced inflammation.
- Antipsychotic effects: Studies suggest that CBD may help people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders by reducing psychotic symptoms.
- Substance abuse treatment: CBD has been shown to modify circuits in the brain related to drug addiction. In rats, CBD has been shown to reduce morphine dependence and heroin-seeking behaviour.
- Anti-tumour effects: In test-tube and animal studies, CBD has demonstrated anti-tumour effects. In animals, it has been shown to prevent the spread of breast, prostate, brain, colon and lung cancer.
Research has found that subjects are not likely to build up a tolerance to CBD, meaning they wouldn’t need to continually increase the dosage, which is great news from cost and efficacy point of view!
Research on the potential health benefits of CBD is ongoing and increasing in pace. We predict even more therapeutic uses for this natural remedy will soon be discovered. And although there is still much to be learned, results from current studies undoubtedly suggest CBD can provide a safe, powerful, versatile, natural treatment for many health problems.