8 Medical Conditions That CBD Can Help Treat
It seems like everywhere you look, cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is being touted as a cure for, well, anything that might ail you. At last check, you can find CBD in hundreds of products meant to relieve all manner of pain and anxiety, and in lifestyle-enhancing products like sports-recovery balms, personal lubricants, sleeping aids, and energy boosters that might keep you up all night (yep, take your pick!).
What Is Cannabidiol (CBD) and Where Is It Found?
But first, what is CBD? Cannabidiol is a nonpsychoactive compound found in both cannabis and hemp plants, which are different varieties of the same plant species. Cannabis plants are often grown in order to cultivate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the component in marijuana that is responsible for the “high” feeling in people who smoke or ingest it. Many hemp plants, on the other hand, have had the THC largely bred out of them, according to a report published in November 2016 in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. These plants are grown for a variety of products, including textiles, insulation, food, paper, supplements, and skin-care items.
While headlines may lead you to believe that CBD — sold in oils, edibles, tinctures, creams, capsules, and more — is a cure-all, there are really just a handful of conditions that scientific studies suggest it can treat, according to a report published in 2018 by the World Health Organization. It’s important to know that CBD is treated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way as dietary supplements — that is, like supplements, CBD products can go to market without scientific evidence that they actually work. It’s a “buyer beware” situation.
Can CBD Help With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
What Conditions Is CBD Used For?
Here’s a look at what a handful of scientific studies have found in recent years concerning CBD’s medical usefulness, including some diseases and ailments for which the FDA has approved CBD products.
- Pain When CBD reaches a family of receptors, or cells that receive stimuli, called vanilloid receptors, the interaction results in lower inflammation and levels and pain perception, according to a study published in Current Neuropharmacology. And a study published in July 2016 in the European Journal of Pain found that CBD could help people with arthritis manage their pain. The animal study looked at whether using a CBD gel transdermally (on the skin) would reduce inflammation and signs of pain, and researchers concluded that the topical product did offer relief from pain-related behaviors without evidence of side effects.
- Anxiety and depression Hundreds of studies have looked at how cannabidiol might be used to treat various neuropsychiatric disorders. One of the most recent, published in October 2015 in Neurotherapeutics, concluded that topical CBD has “considerable potential as treatment for multiple anxiety disorders.” What’s more, a study review published in September 2015 in the Journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics found that “preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders,” including PTSD, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
- Epilepsy Anecdotal reports about CBD’s use as a treatment for epilepsy have been around for decades, and a handful of rigorous scientific studies seem to support these claims. One, published in May 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed CBD to be effective at reducing the number of seizures in people with a form of epilepsy called Lennox–Gastaut syndrome (LGS). And in 2018, the FDA approved an oral CBD formulation for LGS and another type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.
- Symptoms related to cancer treatment The focus on CBD for cancer treatment has been for its use in reducing the nausea and vomiting that often accompany chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Two cannabinoid drugs have been approved by the FDA to combat those side effects: Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone). More recently, researchers have discovered CBD may slow the growth of cancer cells, according to the American Cancer Society.
- Acne and other skin issues A study published in July 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggested topical CBD can be a potent antiacne agent, likely because of its anti-inflammatory properties. And a study published in July 2017 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found CBD (and THC) useful for reducing the itch and inflammation associated with eczema and psoriasis.
- High blood pressure Researchers in England studied the effects of CBD on a small group of healthy men ages 19 to 29 — all nonsmokers who had never used cannabis — and discovered a single dose of CBD reduced resting blood pressure by 6 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), which may ultimately also reduce the risk of stroke. The study, published in July 2017 in JCI Insight, concluded that the response may be due to CBD’s anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.
- Addiction As ironic as it sounds, CBD — which technically is classified as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration and as such is currently illegal in nearly half the United States — has shown a lot of promise in fighting addiction to everything from opioids and cocaine to alcohol and tobacco. In addition, a number of preclinical studies, including a study published in June 2017 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, suggest CBD might be useful as a pain therapy in place of opioids.
- Diabetes A number of studies, including one published in February 2012 in the American Journal of Pathology, have suggested that CBD could play a role in improving outcomes for people with diabetes. Observational studies have shown that people who use marijuana have lower fasting insulin levels and measures of insulin resistance.
Is CBD Right for You, and What Are the Possible Side Effects?
If you’re suffering from any of the ailments or diseases on this list and are curious to see if CBD could help, you should also know about the side effects that some people experience when using CBD products. The most common are dizziness, dry mouth, mood changes, gastrointestinal issues — including nausea — and fatigue. And since research has shown that CBD can interact with a variety of medications, including warfarin (a blood thinner) and clobazam (used to treat epilepsy), it’s essential to discuss your use of CBD-containing products with your physician or other healthcare provider.
How Do You Know What’s in CBD Products?
The next challenge is finding products that are accurately labeled. According to research published in November 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, many CBD products do not contain the amount of CBD their labels claim. The research, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, involved testing 84 CBD products to see if they contained the amount of CBD listed. The researchers found 70 percent of CBD products are mislabeled, and “26 percent contained less CBD than labeled, which could negate any potential clinical response.”
Like any other product, from aspirin to zinc oxide, CBD is not for everyone. And even though it’s “natural,” it’s not necessarily safe, especially for people who are taking other medications. If you decide to try CBD products, make sure you know where the products are sourced from, how they’re manufactured, and how they’re meant to be used.
CBD Oil: 9 Science-Backed Benefits
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an integrative medicine physician with expertise in functional and holistic medicine based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis sativa plant. When applied topically or consumed through smoke inhalation or edible consumption, CBD interacts with neuroreceptors in your endocannabinoid system, which sends signals between your cells to help regulate your movement, mood, homeostasis and immune system.
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CBD is often extracted from the cannabis sativa plant in oil form and mixed with an inert carrier oil like hemp seed oil for consumption. In fact, of the 60% of U.S. adults who report having used CBD before, 55% of them use CBD oils and tinctures specifically, according to a recent Forbes Health survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by OnePoll.
CBD research is growing, too. Here are nine ways studies suggest CBD oil could benefit your health.
1. Offset Anxiety and Depression
CBD’s ability to calm is perhaps its most popular effect and the reason its use is so widespread. A 2017 study in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry tested the anxiety levels of 57 men in a simulated public speaking test. Some received a placebo while others received either 150 milligrams, 300 milligrams or 600 milligrams of CBD before their speeches. Those who received 300 milligrams of CBD experienced significantly reduced anxiety during the test compared to those who received the placebo. Interestingly, participants who received either 150 or 600 milligrams of CBD experienced more anxiety during the test than the 300 milligrams group.
Meanwhile, at least one study in mice revealed CBD had effects similar to the antidepressant imipramine. Human trials are needed, though, to confirm whether CBD can induce this same antidepressant reaction in our bodies.
2. Treat Select Epilepsy Syndromes
In some instances, CBD can be used to treat epileptic seizures.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of CBD under the brand name Epidiolex to treat seizures resulting from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome—two rare forms of epilepsy—in patients at least 2 years old.
Three well-vetted studies provide the basis of support for the FDA’s decision. In these trials, 516 patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome received either Epidiolex or a placebo. Epidiolex, when taken along with other prescribed medications, decreased the frequency of participants’ seizures compared to the placebo.
3. Reduce PTSD Symptoms
In a small 2018 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11 people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) received CBD along with routine psychiatric care for eight weeks in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. Ten of the 11 experienced a decrease in their PTSD symptoms. CBD was generally well tolerated, the researchers write.
Margaret Rajnic, a doctor of nursing practice experienced in medical cannabis and CBD, emphasizes the importance of using therapy in tandem with any type of cannabis or CBD for PTSD. “There is an amount of therapy that is needed for PTSD,” she says. “But CBD will give you that little bit of decreased anxiety.”
Four other human trials from 2012 to 2016 suggest CBD reduces PTSD symptoms, although some include THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main mind-altering element in cannabis. When THC and CBD work together, they create what’s called an “entourage effect,” complementing each other’s benefits and potency. For example, taking the same dose of THC and CBD together tempers the “high” from THC, while just a little THC paired with more CBD enhances the effects of the CBD.
4. Treat Opioid Addiction
Some studies—both preclinical animal and human clinical trials—suggest CBD could be used to help treat people who are dependent on opioids.
In one such study, researchers administered CBD to people with heroin use disorder. Over the course of a week, CBD significantly reduced heroin users’ cue-induced cravings, withdrawal anxiety, resting heart rate and salivary cortisol levels. No serious adverse effects were found.
Other studies find CBD helpful in reducing various psychiatric and medical symptoms like anxiety, insomnia and pain in patients with substance use disorders, indicating that CBD may be an effective treatment for opioid addiction. However, further studies are necessary.
5. Alleviate ALS Symptoms
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to deteriorate, resulting in loss of muscle control that worsens over time. It’s not yet understood exactly why ALS occurs, although it can be hereditary in some cases. There’s no known cure, and there are only two FDA-approved medications to help treat ALS symptoms.
Research suggests people with ALS can benefit from the entourage effect created by the combination of THC and CBD, similar to people with PTSD. In a 2019 study, patients received a combination of THC and CBD in varying doses depending on their needs and preferences. Those with mild, moderate or severe spasticity (muscle tightness and stiffness) due to ALS reported high levels of satisfaction with the treatment, and those with moderate to severe spasticity reported higher satisfaction rates than those with mild spasticity.
6. Relieve Unmanageable Pain
In 2005, Canada approved the use of Sativex, an oromucosal (absorbed in the lining of the mouth) spray with equal proportions of THC and CBD, for the treatment of multiple sclerosis-related central neuropathic pain. In 2007, Canada approved the medicine’s use again for cancer pain that proved unresponsive to other medications.
Meanwhile, continued studies in the U.S. indicate CBD is effective in treating chronic, non-cancer pain. In one 2020 study, researchers administered CBD topically to a group of patients with symptomatic peripheral neuropathy (a result of brain nerve and spinal cord nerve damage) while another group with the same condition received a placebo. Results showed a significant reduction in intense, sharp pains and cold, itchy sensations in those who used the topical CBD compared to those who used the placebo. No participants reported adverse side effects.
When introduced topically, CBD oil doesn’t affect the systemic issue as it might if it were introduced directly into the bloodstream. Instead, topical CBD is more localized and treats pain in a certain area. Since it’s more direct, it may have a more pronounced effect.
7. Ease Diabetic Complications
For starters, tests on human cells found that CBD helps reduce the effects of high glucose levels on other cells in the body, which typically precedes the development of diabetes and various complications. Researchers concluded that with further studies, CBD could have significant benefits when used in patients with diabetes, diabetic complications and plaque buildup in artery walls.
In another small study, 13 patients with type 2 diabetes who weren’t on insulin treatment were given both CBD and a placebo (in lieu of insulin). Researchers found CBD decreased their levels of resistin (which causes resistance to insulin, the protein that regulates sugar levels) and increased their levels of glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (a hormone that ensures a sufficient release of insulin from digested food) compared to their baselines before they started the test. These results suggest CBD could be a natural treatment for diabetes by helping the body regulate insulin-related hormone levels.
8. Protect Against Neurological Disease
Preclinical and clinical studies show that CBD has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers deduce these characteristics can provide significant neuroprotection, or protection against numerous pathological disorders.
Several preclinical studies suggest CBD can produce beneficial effects against Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Huntington’s disease and cerebral ischemia were also tested, although significant positive results were not recorded. Further clinical studies are needed to confirm CBD’s benefits when used as a treatment for these disorders.
9. Inhibit Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis involves the deterioration of the tissues in and around your joints. There are several types of arthritis, and symptoms include pain, stiffness and loss of motion. Arthritis treatment usually targets pain relief and improved joint function.
A 2006 study found that Sativex—a CBD-based botanical drug approved in the United Kingdom in 2010—promoted statistically significant improvements in quality of sleep, pain during movement and pain at rest in patients with rheumatoid arthritis when compared to a placebo. It was the first controlled trial of Sativex as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, involving 58 patients. CBD was found to have a pain-relieving effect, as well as an ability to suppress disease activity.
In 2018, in a study of more localized treatment, researchers administered a synthetic CBD gel in either 250-milligram or 500-milligram doses daily or a placebo to patients with knee pain due to osteoarthritis. Patients also stopped taking any other anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers, with the exception of acetaminophen, before and during the study period.
The results were interesting, although not entirely conclusive. On one hand, those treated with CBD did not experience much change in pain when compared with placebo patients. On the other hand, there were statistically significant differences between the group receiving the 250-milligram dose and the placebo group when measuring the average weekly improvement of their worst pain levels and their WOMAC (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index) physical function rating. Additionally, men seemed to benefit from CBD more significantly than women in this test.
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