CBD products are often touted as cures for a wide range of ailments, from cancer to anxiety. But are these claims really true? Is CBD the safe and effective treatment so many claim it to be? Derived from the cannabis sativa plant (hemp plants, to be precise; typically not the cannabis indica or cannabis sativa cultivars) CBD has become a bit of a wonder child in the world holistic medicine. But for all the promises of CBD, can it live up to the hype when put to peer-tested scrutiny?
In today’s article we’ll be going over nine of the most common uses for (and claimed benefits of) CBD oil, talking about the science behind each claim, and we’ll discuss potential side effects of its use as well. Let’s get ready for a deep dive into the health information you need to know about CBD.
(Note: This article is part of High There!’s CBD 101 series; if you’d like further reading on “What is CBD?”, “What CBD Feels Like” (1), “CBD vs THC” (2), or “Will CBD Get You High?“(3), please click the links above for more information on this unique chemical compound). Lastly, the information contained here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical or legal advice.
CBD & Neurological Disorders
One of the most dramatic – and most studied – uses for CBD oil is for a variety of neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other ailments that cause muscle spasticity and seizures in the human body.
For seizure treatment CBD is often paired with THC, such as with the nasal spray medication “Nabiximols” (aka “Sativex”)(4). A 2014 German study of Sativex showed up to a 75% reduction in muscle spasms for it’s test group of over 275 individuals (5), particularly ones who had shown resistance to other forms of medication. This combination of THC and CBD is believed to have more significant benefits than simply taking CBD alone, though that doesn’t mean pure CBD oil can’t be effective; a study done by a coalition of United States hospitals in 2015 using CBD alone in treatment of epilepsy showed a reduction of seizures by over 35% (6).
Using CBD to treat Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s has also seen promising results in clinical trials, with studies showing that CBD treatment can help prevent against neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s (7), as well as offer relief for the sleep-related issues that often accompany Parkinson’s (8). Though long-term, medically reviewed studies are still underway one promising trial, involving mice, showed that regular administration of cannabidiol could even preemptively prevent (9) many of the social recognition deficits that are common signifiers of Alzheimer’s.
CBD as a Cancer Treatment
Though still a burgeoning field of research early laboratory tests show fascinating anti-cancer fighting properties in CBD. Beyond the typical pain relief and nausea calming properties of cannabis (which we’ll talk about below), multiple studies have shown CBD oil to be a potential combatant in the fight against breast cancer.
One published article, written by a team from the Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 2011, showed signs of initiating programmed cell death in breast cancer tumor cells (10), backing up similar research in a 2007 study done by the California Pacific Medical Center (11). Both tests were completed “in the laboratory” – This means the first mentioned test was done on human cells in test tubes while the second was done on mice. However these sorts of tests can be indicative of potential results in live, human subjects.
A 2012 study completed by the University of Naples Federico II also showed promising results in the treatment of colon cancer (12). Despite being yet another in-lab study (also performed on mice), cannabidiol showed signs of not only slowing tumor growth but protecting the body’s DNA from the oxidative damage caused by cancerous cells. A paper published in the same year by the University of Rostock, Germany also showed the inhibition of cellular metastasis when treated with CBD (13), helping to prevent the proliferation of lung cancer cells.
Diabetes & CBD
In an interesting case, CBD oil has shown promise as an effective treatment for many symptoms related to diabetes. In a 2016 study from the UK found that CBD and THCV (another form of THC) both reduced cholesterol, increased insulin production, and an overall lowering of high blood sugar levels (14). Combined with studies that show CBD to have powerful effects on inflammation and various forms of pain, these properties work in concert to help alleviate many of the ailments that accompany type 2 diabetes.
Likewise, a 2006 paper studying the effects of cannabidiol on diabetic, non-obese mice showed an induction decrease of over 55% (15), while also further confirming CBD’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties; again, though animal tests cannot be equated 1:1 to human studies, these results are promising, and worth looking into for those suffering from the effects of diabetes.
CBD as Addiction Cessation
Addiction is both a physical and mental health issue that effects millions of American citizens. With an opiate-based health crisis blanketing the United States, CBD use for symptoms stemming from heroin addiction are swiftly becoming an appealing potential treatment. In 2019 a study by several New York institutes showed strong correlation between the usage of CBD and the cessation of anxiety and drug-related cravings (16) in those attempting to prevent relapsing into habitual drug use.
And though regular readers of our site may not think of it as such, too much cannabis use (medically known as “cannabis use disorder”) can be an addiction of its own, and one that CBD oil has also shown promising effects in treating. In a medically reviewed UK-based study from October, 2020 researchers found that moderate doses of cannabidiol were effective in reducing cannabis use (17), increasing abstinence from marijuana by up to nearly half a day per week. Not an astounding amount, but still a marked improvement over placebo.
Reducing Blood Pressure with CBD
One area of CBD study that does have a wealth of available research is regarding blood pressure. In 2011 a research paper presented by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, of Bethesda, Maryland, showed an overall reduction in stress levels and heart damage for mice with both diabetes and heart disease (18). Similarly, human studies conducted in the UK showed that a single dose of 600mg CBD not only helped to decrease overall blood pressure (19) but, when the subjects were presented with stressful situations, actually prevented blood pressure levels from elevating.
CBD as an Inflammation Treatment
Among it’s many benefits, CBD treatment for anti-inflammatory purposes has to be one of it’s most well-studied and popular uses. A 2016 Canadian paper has shown that CBD oil can cause a marked reduction in the pancreatic inflammation that can lead to diabetes (20), with mice in the test who received treatment developing diabetes much later than mice who weren’t similarly treated.
Likewise, in 2017, another Canadian research team showed cannabidiol working to prevent both pain and potential arthritic nerve damage due to inflammation of the joints (21). These results seem backed by a 2015 study completed by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which discussed and reviewed the potential action of CBD on the body (22) and it’s overall influence on inflammation.
CBD for Pain Relief
Though CBD can certainly aid in relieving chronic pain due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties, using CBD oil may even have interesting applications for reducing topical pain. A 2017 study from the University of São Paulo, Brazil showed a marked decrease in pain caused by surgical cuts on rats (23), by injecting CBD locally into the area of incision. Another paper, published in 2012, even showed that CBD worked to fight against neuropathic pain (24) – one of the more complicated forms of nerve pain to treat – by targeting specific glycine receptors in the spine.
CBD Treatment for Anxiety & Sleep Disorders
The anti-anxiety and relaxing properties of CBD have been widely claimed since using cannabidiol as a health supplement first began gaining popularity, and though little information is to had on human-based clinical trials involving CBD oil, animal-based studies have shown promising results.
As the body’s endocannabinoid system is (among other things) believed to be involved in the regulation of our moods and aversive memories, CBD (and THC) have been routinely studied for these properties. A 1990 study by, again, the University of São Paulo, Brazil showed notable reduction in anxiety levels to mice treated with CBD and placed within a maze (25), comparable to the benzodiazepine “Diazepam”.
A 2010 study by the same university has also shown that CBD treatment can be effective against schizophrenia (26) (though with a note that more clinical trials were needed to verify these findings), and CBD has even been found to be beneficial in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (27).
Cannabidiol may also have a strong effect on the body’s natural sleep cycle. Research has shown (in laboratory rat testing) that the endocannabinoid system works to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle (28), meaning CBD and other cannabinoids can offer potential benefits to those suffering from insomnia (29); though these tests were completed using compounds other than CBD and THC, the antagonizing effects remain similar and are worth further study.
CBD & Depression
Despite research into CBD’s effects on depression being somewhat slim there is still promising news for use of cannabidiol as a depression treatment. As CBD acts on the body it alters the way the human brain and our cannabinoid receptors respond to the serotonin available in our system, offering a pseudo “boost” to our serotonin levels. In 2018 a review (once more from the University of São Paulo, Brazil) collected numerous studies that showed a marked decrease in depression-based symptoms among diagnosed adults treated with CBD (30), often focusing on the compound’s stress-relieving properties.
Potential Side Effects of CBD Oil Use
Though it’s easy to think of cannabidiol (and even THC) as being relatively harmless there are potential adverse reactions that may be worth keeping an eye on. Medically reviewed studies released by the Nova Institute of Germany in 2017 showed side effects including adverse changes in diet, weight, and overall tiredness, as well as diarrhea (31) – Particularly poor side effects for those going through more intense medical issues such as cancer.
CBD can also have adverse reactions with other prescription medications. Much like parmesan cheese or grapefruits (32), CBD oil can interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) by causing serious blood pressure spikes, potentially leading to the need for emergency treatment or even death. Though these are often extreme cases, care should be taken when supplementing other medication with CBD products, and your doctor should always be consulted before beginning a new medication of any sort.
Is CBD Really Effective?
Well… the truth there is that nobody is really 100% sure. While we’ve discussed and linked to a wealth of scientific studies discussing the health benefits of CBD use and how it can effect the body, many of these studies were done in environments often excluding human participants – Tests were either run on laboratory animal test subjects or on human cell & tissue samples contained in a lab environment. This can often be very different from The Real Thing (aka: live humans).
And it’s here where the disclaimer must come in. As of this article’s publication date, only one medicine containing legal, hemp derived CBD is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, as a treatment for a very particular (and rare) form of epilepsy. In fact the FDA is very adamant about ensuring that cannabidiol is not used in food production or marketed as a dietary supplement, because as stands, the science to completely verify CBD as a compound with notable medical properties simply isn’t there.
That doesn’t make the FDA right, nor does it mean that our readers, as a grown and responsible adults, lack the ability to make up their own minds by researching and experimenting with this perfectly legal substance. But it does mean that there are no solid pieces of evidence to point to that say “Yes, CBD oil is effective!”, and that experimenting with medicating one’s self with CBD oil may help, or may potentially lead to disappointing – if not harmful – results.
Despite still having plenty of room for further study, there is quite a bit of solid, medically reviewed research on the health benefits of using CBD oil and other related hemp derived CBD products. And though the legality of the hemp plant may be relatively new in the United States (and is still a mystery to the FDA), the benefits of CBD products (from tinctures to coconut oil) are being touted by a legion of ardent believers.
It’s important to remember, however, that far-flung claims and promises of CBD being a cure-all may not always be accurate; even though one person may swear that the health benefits of CBD oil that they’ve received are borderline miraculous, that doesn’t mean that their personal experience is universally correct, and ultimately only time (and peer-tested studies reviewed by medically trained officials) can tell if cannabidiol is as amazing as claims can make it out to be.