CBD is being touted as a cure-all for pain management, acne, anxiety, and more. Experts help us weed through the marketing and get to what’s real.
CBD oil has been the star of 2018, at least when it comes to health (and beauty, for that matter). And the pandemonium is warranted. The natural, holistic remedy has real medicinal use spanning from stopping seizures to alleviating anxiety and helping insomniacs get some much-needed rest—with little to no side effects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Those who are new to cannabis find CBD to be a great first step, because unlike psychoactive THC, CBD doesn’t give you the intoxication or “high” effect. It can be vaporized using a pen, but many patients using CBD as medicine are turning to sublingual tinctures, ingestible oils and treats, capsules, and even topical products.
But CBD (an acronym for cannabidiol) oil isn’t a cure-all, despite what the best efforts of marketers the world over may tell you. “It doesn’t work for everything,” said Perry Solomon, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist and founder/chief medical officer of HelloMD. For example, “if you have a lung infection like bronchitis, you can’t put a cream on your chest—you need to take a Z-pack. You’re not going to cure something like that with cannabis.”
There are a lot of claims out there about what CBD supposedly cures—and it’s still early on in the research game for cannabidiol. The good news? “CBD doesn’t cause any harm,” said Dr. Solomon (and WHO agrees). “The placebo effect is very strong, but it’s not harmful.”
It’s still early days of CBD research (particularly in the U.S.); government regulations have prohibited much scientific research and funding when it comes to CBD as medicine in the past few decades. However, what has been researched and proven is pretty incredible—and thanks to changing laws, more is coming.
Here, we break down what we know about the benefits of CBD oil and what it can treat so far, including what’s been studied, what doctors are saying, and what’s still left up to interpretation.
Epilepsy and Seizures
This year, the FDA approved a CBD-based drug to treat seizures, which was a huge step in making this natural medicine more available to the public and to patients who need it to survive. To date, of all the reported health benefits of CBD oil, this has been the most researched (and proven) use.
Anxiety and Mood Disorders
CBD has been touted as a bona fide anxiolytic, and possibly an antidepressant. Whether it’s social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder, CBD may be the solution you’re looking for. “Most patients seem to be using CBD as an anxiolytic [anti-anxiety medication]… it helps calm them down and relax them,” said Dr. Solomon. “The biggest clinical studies [that have been done] show it does help decrease anxiety when you take 300 to 600mg of CBD.”
If you’re considering using CBD as a replacement for your current mood disorder or mental health medication, first consult with your psychiatrist and/or physician.
In addition to mood disorders, CBD is also known to help patients with psychosis—some doctors have called it a legitimate antipsychotic, and a study from just this year called CBD “a new class of treatment for the disorder.”
Recent research, including animal studies, have suggested that “CBD has a pharmacological profile similar to that of atypical antipsychotic drugs,” and additionally have encouraged more research to evaluate its ability to treat similar illnesses and disorders, like bipolar disorder.
Have you heard about CBD oil for sleep issues? If you’re looking to catch up on some zzz’s, or you’re fighting a legitimate bout of insomnia, CBD may be able to help you fall—and stay—asleep. Some smaller studies have shown that CBD at bedtime could improve sleep, and a study on rats in 2013 showed that CBD increased total sleep time. That said, Jordan Tishler, M.D., noted that the rat study found “at high doses, CBD can cause insomnia and jitteriness”—so do your research on the appropriate dosage for each product before you go overboard. (Related: Can CBD Products Help You Sleep Better?)
Aside from being an antiseizure and antianxiety remedy, CBD is also known as an anti-inflammatory. Delivery for internal and muscular inflammation is recommended to be taken orally (sublingually, ingested, or vaporized) versus topically, which hasn’t been backed by clinical studies. Doctors have said it could be outright impossible for CBD to permeate the layers of your skin (transdermally) to actually sink into your muscles. (See: Do CBD Pain-Relief Creams Really Work?)
CBD could potentially be as effective for pain relief as an opioid, but without the potential for deadly addiction. Dr. Solomon shared a self-report study he conducted at UC Berkeley last year, which tracked patients that were using opioids for pain relief. When subjects tried using cannabis in lieu of opioids, the majority “reported that cannabis provided relief on par with their other medications, but without the unwanted side effects.” He noted that more research needs to be done, but all signs point to pain relief—which would lead to fewer opioid-related deaths.
Additionally, animal studies have been conducted to find that CBD may be a potential treatment for arthritis, and one report concluded that “there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” Dr. Tishler, however, credited THC as the pain-reliever in this case, not CBD.
As it is an anti-inflammatory, you may find CBD skin-care products helpful when applied topically. Some research even points to its efficacy as an acne treatment, since it may limit inflammation in the sebum-producing glands that can lead to breakouts. If you’re not having luck with traditional acne-fighting ingredients (like salicylic acid), it may be worth giving it a shot.
As for anti-aging beauty products (yes, there are anti-aging CBD products) such as serums, creams, cleansers—you name it—the jury’s out. Unfortunately, searches through medical archives yielded nothing substantial, but it can’t hurt to try (well, only your wallet). As always, consult with your dermatologist first.
Crohn’s and IBD
Because studies are pointing to cannabinoids as a promising treatment for inflammation, CBD may, in fact, be a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s. While there is some initial evidence, there’s not a ton of clinical backing just yet. Stay tuned.
WHO’s 2018 report showed that CBD may be a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and multiple sclerosis. Many reports say that, though results look good in small studies, more clinical research is needed to know for sure.
There is mounting evidence that CBD could potentially fight cancer and, at the very least, help ease symptoms of cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found, for the first time, that CBD potently and selectively inhibited the growth of different breast tumor cell lines.
And while there are some studies being done to see if CBD is anti-tumor, it is not recommended to use CBD in lieu of chemotherapy. “I would never recommend someone stop seeing an oncologist or stop medication their oncologist recommended to take CBD,” said Dr. Solomon. “I would add it as an adjunct to that medication, letting the oncologist know that they’re taking it.” The stories you may hear by word of mouth claiming that CBD alone cured someone’s cancer? Purely anecdotal as of now.
More research needs to be done, but there is some evidence CBD can protect the heart against vascular damage caused by high glucose, inflammation, or type 2 diabetes, according to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. The European Journal of Pharmacology also published a study earlier this year that pointed toward CBD aiding heart health. Perhaps what is most interesting is that CBD could mitigate the negative cardiovascular effects of stress and high blood pressure, providing a potential alternative to traditional medications used to lower blood pressure.