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What Is CBD Oil?

This cannabis extract may help treat nerve pain, anxiety, and epilepsy

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman’s World, and Natural Health.

Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Meredith Bull, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Los Angeles. She helped co-author the first integrative geriatrics textbook, “Integrative Geriatric Medicine.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is an extract from hemp plants called Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa . You might be more familiar with cannabis plants because they are grown for marijuana. However, CBD is not the same thing as marijuana.

CBD oil contains CBD that’s mixed with a base (carrier) oil, like coconut oil or hemp seed oil. These are called tinctures. You can get tinctures in different concentrations. The oil can also be put into capsules, gummies, and sprays.

People who support using CBD oil say that it can treat pain and anxiety; can help stimulate appetite and may help manage some types of seizures.

This article goes over what CBD is used for, the possible side effects, and what you should look for if you choose to buy CBD.

CBD vs. Marijuana

CBD is one component (called a cannabinoid ) that’s found in a hemp plant. Marijuana is a separate plant but it’s from the same species that hemp belongs to. Marijuana has CBD and hundreds of other compounds in it.

The main difference between hemp plants and marijuana plants is how much of a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is in them. Hemp is grown to have less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana has more.

THC is what’s responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis—in other words, it’s what makes you feel “high.”

CBD oil generally does not have THC in it; however, a very small (trace) amount might be in products sold in certain states.

What Is CBD Oil Used For?

We’re not sure exactly how CBD works. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t have a strong connection with the molecules in the brain that THC binds to create psychoactive effects. These are called cannabinoid receptors.

Instead, CBD works on other receptors, like the opioid receptors that help control pain. It also affects glycine receptors that control a brain chemical called serotonin which helps control your mood.

People that support the use of CBD claim that CBD oil can treat a variety of health problems, including:

  • Acne
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Drug use and withdrawal
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Poor appetite

As CBD has gained popularity, researchers have been trying to study it more. Still, there has not been a lot of clinical research to look for evidence in support of these health claims.

CBD is not a safe option for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider if you want to try it for managing a health condition.

Anxiety

A 2015 review of research that was published in the journal Neurotherapeutics suggested that CBD might help treat anxiety disorders.

The study authors reported that CBD had previously shown powerful anxiety-relieving effects in animal research—and the results were kind of surprising.

In most of the studies, lower doses of CBD (10 milligrams per kilogram, mg/kg, or less) improved some symptoms of anxiety, while higher doses (100 mg/kg or more) had almost no effect.

The way that CBD acts in the brain could explain why this happens. In low doses, CBD might act the same as the surrounding molecules that normally bind to the receptor that “turns up” their signaling.

However, at higher doses, too much activity at this receptor site could produce the opposite effect.

There have not been many trials to look at CBD’s anxiety-relieving effects in humans. However, one was a 2019 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry.

For the study, 57 men took either CBD oil or a sugar pill with no CBD in it (placebo) before a public-speaking event.

The researchers assessed the participants’ anxiety levels using measures like blood pressure and heart rate. The researchers also used a reliable test for mood states called the Visual Analog Mood Scale (VAMS).

The men who took 300 mg of CBD oil reported less anxiety than the men who were given a placebo; however, the men who took 100 mg or 600 mg of CBD oil did not experience the same effects.

Addiction

CBD oil might help people with substance use disorder, according to a 2015 review published in the journal Substance Abuse.

The review looked at the findings from 14 published studies. Nine of the studies looked at the effects of CBD on animals, and five studies looked at the effects on humans.

The researchers reported that CBD showed promise for treating people with opioid, cocaine, or psychostimulant use disorders.

However, the effects of CBD were quite different depending on the substance. For example, CBD without THC did not decrease withdrawal symptoms related to opioid use.

On the other hand, it did reduce drug-seeking behaviors in people using cocaine, methamphetamine, and other similar drugs.

Some experts suggest that CBD could help treat cannabis and nicotine dependence, but more research is needed to provide this theory.

High Blood Pressure

A 2017 study found that CBD oil may reduce the risk of heart disease because it can lower high blood pressure in some people.

For the study, nine healthy men took either 600 mg of CBD or the same dose of a placebo. The men who took CBD had lower blood pressure before and after experiencing stressors like exercise or extreme cold.

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The study also looked at the amount of blood remaining in the heart after a heartbeat (stroke volume).

The stroke volume in the men who took CBD was lower than in was in the placebo group, meaning their hearts were pumping more efficiently.

The study suggested that CBD oil could be a complementary therapy for people with high blood pressure that is affected by stress and anxiety.

However, there is no evidence that CBD oil can treat high blood pressure on its own or prevent it in people at risk. While stress can complicate high blood pressure, it does not cause it.

Seizures

In June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD oral solution called Epidiolex.

Epidiolex is used to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in children under the age of 2: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These are very rare genetic disorders that cause lifelong seizures starting in the first year of life.

Other than for these two disorders, CBD’s effectiveness for treating seizures is not known. Even with Epidiolex, it’s not clear if the anti-seizure effects are from CBD or another factor.

However, there is some evidence that CBD interacts with seizure medicines like Onfi (clobazam) and raises their concentration in the blood. That said, more research is needed to understand the link.

Possible Side Effects

Clinical research has shown that CBD oil can cause side effects. The specific side effects a person has and how bad they are varies from one person to the next and from one type of CBD to another.

Some common side effects people report from using CBD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

CBD oil may also increase liver enzymes, which is a marker of liver inflammation.

People with liver disease should talk to their healthcare provider before taking CBD oil. They may need to have their liver enzymes checked regularly if they are using CBD.

Can You Use CBD If You’re Pregnant?

You should not use CBD oil if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Even though the effects of CBD are not fully understood, it does pass through the placenta.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) further states that pregnant people should not use marijuana because of the potential risks to a developing fetus.

Do not drive or use heavy machinery when taking CBD oil—especially when you first start using it or switch to a new brand. Remember that some products do contain THC, even in small amounts.

Interactions

CBD oil can interact with medications, including many that are used to treat epilepsy. One of the reasons for this has to do with how your body breaks down (metabolizes) drugs.

Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) is an enzyme your body uses to break down some drugs. CBD oil can block CYP450. That means that taking CBD oil with these drugs could make them have a stronger effect than you need or make them not work at all.

Drugs that could potentially interact with CBD include:

  • Anti-arrhythmia drugs like quinidine
  • Anticonvulsants like Tegretol (carbamazepine) and Trileptal (oxcarbazepine)
  • Antifungal drugs like Nizoral (ketoconazole) and Vfend (voriconazole)
  • Antipsychotic drugs like Orap (pimozide)
  • Atypical antidepressants like Remeron (mirtazapine)
  • Benzodiazepine sedatives like Klonopin (clonazepam) and Halcion (triazolam)
  • Immune-suppressive drugs like Sandimmune (cyclosporine)
  • Macrolide antibiotics like clarithromycin and telithromycin
  • Migraine medicine like Ergomar (ergotamine)
  • Opioid painkillers like Duragesic (fentanyl) and alfentanil
  • Rifampin-based drugs used to treat tuberculosis

Always tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines you take, including prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), herbal, or recreational drugs.

The interactions between these medications and CBD are often mild and you might not have to change your treatment.

However, in some cases, you might have to change medications or space out your doses to avoid a reaction. That said, never change or stop medication without talking to your provider.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no guidelines for using CBD oil. Each product works a bit differently, depending on the form.

For example, putting the oil under your tongue can produce effects more quickly than swallowing a capsule that needs to be digested.

Here are a few ways that you can take CBD oil:

  • Placing one or more drops under your tongue and holding it there for 30 to 60 seconds without swallowing. You can also use a spray that is spritz in your mouth/under your tongue.
  • Taking a capsule or chewing a gummy

There’s no “correct” dose of CBD oil. How much you take and the form you choose will depend on your needs and what you hope to get for effects. The average dose range is from 5 mg to 25 mg.

Most oils come in 30-milliliter (mL) bottles and include a dropper cap to help you measure.

That said, it’s hard to figure out the exact amount of CBD per milliliter of oil. Some tinctures have concentrations of 1,500 mg per 30 mL, while others have 3,000 mg per mL or more.

How to Calculate CBD Dose

To determine an exact dose of CBD, remember that each drop of oil equals 0.05 mL of fluid. This means that a 30-mL bottle of CBD oil will have about 600 drops in it.

If the concentration of the tincture is 1,500 mg per mL, one drop would have 2.5 mg of CBD in it. The math to figure that out looks like this: 1,500 mg ÷ 600 drops = 2.5 mg

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What to Look For

CBD oil comes in different forms: isolates, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum.

  • Isolates contain only CBD
  • Broad-spectrum oils nearly all of the components of the plan (e.g., proteins, flavonoids, terpenes, and chlorophyll), but does not have THC oils have all the compounds including THC (up to 0.3%)

Alternative medicine practitioners believe that the compounds provide more health benefits, but the is a lack of evidence to support these claims.

Remember that CBD oils are unregulated. There’s no guarantee that a product is what it claims to be on its packaging. You also can’t know for sure that it’s safe and effective.

A 2017 study reported that only 31% of CBD products sold online were correctly labeled. Most had less CBD in them than was advertised, and 21% had significant amounts of THC.

If you are interested in buying CBD products, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Buy American: Domestically produced CBD oil might be a safer option than those that have been imported.
  • Go organic: Brands certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are less likely to expose you to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
  • Read the product label: Even if you choose a full-spectrum oil, don’t assume that every ingredient on the product label is natural. CBD products can also have preservatives, flavorings, or thinning agents in them. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, ask the dispenser what it is or check online.

Summary

Hemp plants can be grown for different purposes. Some species are made for marijuana but others are used to make CBD products.

Unlike marijuana, CBD oil does not “get you high.” Instead, it may help relieve stress, anxiety, drug withdrawals, and nerve pain.

While there are many claims about the health benefits of using CBD oil, the evidence is lacking. A lot of studies were done with animals, not humans.

If you want to try CBD oil, you should learn about the different dosages and preparations first.

You should also know that the products are not regulated, which means you can’t know for sure that a product will work and be safe.

Before you use CBD oil, talk to your provider. If you take certain medications or have a health condition, you may not be able to use these products.

Frequently Asked Questions

It would be hard to overdose on CBD oil. Research has shown that human tolerance for CBD is very high. One study reported the toxic dose would be about 20,000 mg taken at one time.

It depends on where you live, the type of product, how it was sourced (e.g., is it from hemp or marijuana), and its intended purpose (medical or recreational). In many states, you must be 18 or 21 to buy CBD oil. Check your state’s laws.

Not necessarily. While the names are sometimes used interchangeably, hemp oil can also refer to hemp seed oil, which is used for cooking, food production, and skincare products.

CBD oil is made from the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers of the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plant. It should contain less than 0.3% THC.

Hemp oil is made from the seeds of Cannabis sativa and does not have TCH in it.

What is CBD Oil (and How Do I Use It?)

CBD (cannabidiol) oil has recently exploded into the mainstream. According to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of consumers has drastically increased, shooting up from 125,000 users in 2017 to 250,000 in 2018. Gaining the attention of numerous industries from medicine to cosmetic, why has there been a sudden rise in CBD oil and products?

One of the primary reasons for the rise of CBD oil is thought to be thanks to recent studies and research highlighting its benefits, including stress and anxiety relief, as well as promoting better sleep. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CBD may have beneficial effects on treating symptoms relating to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, cancer and diabetic complications, as well as pain, anxiety, and depression. It has become increasingly popular amongst people looking for products to help with inflammation and joint pain, amongst other conditions and symptoms.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids that are found within cannabis and hemp plants. A naturally occurring substance, it can be extracted and mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut or hemp seed to create CBD oil.

Having no narcotic effect (none of the euphoric highs associated with Cannabis and THC – also known as tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is believed to have a range of health benefits. Legal to purchase and use in the UK as long as it doesn’t contain any THC, CBD has begun to be more readily available as an oil, within beauty products, chocolate, and as a topical ointment.

Used as a form of alternative or complementary therapy for thousands of years, medical studies have only recently begun identifying the potential benefits and side-effects using CBD oil can have. Although it is thought to have significant therapeutic properties, researchers are still looking to prove or disprove many of the claims surrounding the use of CBD oil.

What can CBD oil help with?

Skin problems

Early studies have suggested skincare products containing CBD oil may be able to help combat some skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Facial moisturisers containing CBD have also had success combatting oily skin and acne. Experts do warn that the concentration of CBD oil may affect how much of an impact these products can have, with many emphasising that further studies are needed to fully understand the extent to which CBD may affect skin related ailments.

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Stress, anxiety, PTSD and insomnia

According to one YouGov study, 74% of UK adults feel overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress. With symptoms ranging from general feelings of anxiety to trouble sleeping and muscle tension, some experts attribute recent spikes in the sales of CBD products to our increasing desire to find alternative or complementary methods of relaxing and unwinding. With long hours of staring at screens, around 30% of us are thought to experience insomnia.

CBD oil is thought to help users achieve a more restful night sleep, increasing the overall amount of sleep and reducing insomnia. Research has indicated that CBD may interact with our serotonin (which plays an important role in our mood and anxiety) and GABA (calming excess activity and promoting relaxation) receptors, though further studies are still needed. Thought to be due to its anti-anxiety properties, CBD promotes relaxation, allowing for a more restful nights sleep.

So far, most evidence around CBD’s effects on anxiety has come from animal studies. While more human trials are still needed overall, some early trials have suggested CBD may have positive effects on helping to alleviate social anxiety. Further studies have examined the antidepressant-like effects CBD can have on individuals, with trials showing an improvement in symptoms of those experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Pain management

Many individuals report the positive impact CBD oil has on combatting chronic pain, as well as workout related aches and discomfort. As a whole, the scientific community have expressed that there needs to be further, comprehensive research to fully understand the safety around this. Before using CBD oil to help with pain management, it is recommended that you seek advice from a medical professional.

Studies have suggested CBD may be able to have a positive impact for those affected by arthritis to help effectively manage their pain. According to research, participants showed a significant drop in both inflammation and signs of pain without any additional side effects. A limited number of studies have also suggested that there is evidence that CBD may be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation.

Further research has suggested CBD may have anti-inflammatory benefits. Numerous studies have shown that CBD engages with the endocannabinoid system in many organs throughout the body, helping to systemically reduce inflammation.

Stop smoking

According to one 2013 study, CBD may be an effective aid in reducing or stopping smoking. Research revealed that when CBD was used as part of an inhaler, participants reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked each day by 40%.

How do I use CBD?

CBD can be used in a number of different ways. Available in a wide variety of products, some of the most common ways people use CBD products include:

Cosmetics and beauty products – A whole range of beauty and body products centred around the benefits of CBD are now available. From online to on the high street in stores such as Holland & Barrett, these products include refreshing body washes that claim to help energise and hydrate; body oils to both relax and stimulate; intensive moisturisers to help with dry skin; as well as muscle balms for relaxation.

Oils – Available to purchase over the counter as well as online, CBD oils ranging from as low as 3% cannabidiol oil concentration up to 11% are readily available on the high street. Typically taken orally by holding the CBD beneath your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing, topical oils and ointments are also available. It can also be added to water, purchased as capsules, sprayed directly beneath your tongue, or purchased in liquid form for vape devices.

While many forms of CBD are available to purchase from health stores, it is worth noting that the majority of clinical trials hailing the benefits of CBD focused on using CBD oil rather than as part of a beauty product.

Does CBD have any side effects?

Potentially. Some research has indicated CBD oil use may cause changes in appetite and mood. Other potential side-effects can include dizziness, feeling drowsy, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, and low blood pressure. While not all users report experiencing negative side-effects, experts have highlighted that there is a need for the long-term effects of CBD to be studied as some areas (such as effects on hormones) have yet to be looked into.

While the media has widely publicised the use of CBD oil for children experiencing seizures as well as a number of other conditions, experts do not currently recommend CBD oil for use in children. This is widely due to limited existing research on CBD oil, with the majority of studies focusing on the effects it can have on adults rather than the developing brains of children. For similar reasons, it is generally not recommended to combine with breastfeeding or to use whilst pregnant.

While CBD appears to be helpful and show benefits for users across many areas, more research is still needed to fully understand the effects it can have both short and long-term. If you are experiencing any medical issues or concerns, it is always recommended that you consult a medical expert or doctor prior to starting alternative therapies. Complementary therapies should be used in addition to (rather than instead of) other forms of treatment recommended by professionals.

For more information on complementary and holistic therapeutic options for anxiety, stress, insomnia and more, visit Therapy Directory.