Cannabidiol (CBD) products have grown increasingly popular in the past several years. It’s not difficult to see why — this natural compound may offer benefits for an exceptionally wide range of symptoms and disorders.
CBD is one among many dozens of naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD is non-psychomimetic, which means it doesn’t cause the intoxicating effects its close cousin THC is known for.
It works mainly by interacting with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and through other other complex chemical ‘second messenger’ systems in the brain and body, which maintains a healthy state of balance called homeostasis by regulating major processes such as mood, pain, brain function, and metabolism.
So far, early research has shown that CBD and other cannabinoid based therapies have the potential to help with everything from anxiety to difficult-to-treat conditions or symptoms such as chronic pain.
Here’s a closer look at the evidence-based benefits of CBD.
1. Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health disorders globally. There’s evidence that CBD may be able to help with anxiety in humans, and so far in animal rat models, CBD has been shown to have antidepressant properties, although not directly yet in humans. However, certain strains of medical cannabis anecdotally have been shown to help with depression and mixed anxiety/depression in clinical practice.
Researchers believe CBD can be helpful for various kinds of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One Brazilian study found that unlike the placebo, a 600 mg dose of pure CBD relieved anxiety caused by public speaking in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Similarly, a 2019 Japanese study reported that CBD oil decreased anxiety in teenagers with SAD, whereas placebo had no effect.
Evidence from animal studies also suggests that CBD can have antidepressant effects.
One case report of a young woman suffering from anxiety and depression linked to substance abuse found that CBD treatment improved “depressive as well as anxiety symptoms.”
Researchers believe that CBD produces its antidepressant and anxiety-relieving effects by interacting with the ECS, as well as receptors for serotonin and the calming neurotransmitter (brain chemical) GABA.
2. Pain and Inflammation
Pain and inflammation can manifest themselves in many ways, such as soreness after working out or the chronic pain associated with numerous conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.
Cannabis has been used to relieve pain for centuries, and chronic pain remains the most common qualifying condition for medical cannabis use. Since CBD is a significant component of cannabis, it’s no surprise that it possesses pain-relieving properties.
CBD can relieve pain and inflammation in two ways. To begin with, it may help regulate pain signals via the ECS through a number of signalling pathways. Additionally, CBD interacts with multiple receptors that regulate pain and inflammation, such as TRPV1 and glycine.
One animal study found that a topical gel containing CBD relieved pain and inflammation in mice with arthritis. Similarly, a study of Sativex, a drug containing CBD and THC, reported improvements in chronic pain in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who use medical cannabis have also found it helpful in pain related to autoimmune arthritis and similar disorders, normally high CBD varieties.
An even more promising 2020 study looked at whether full-spectrum CBD hemp oil can help chronic pain sufferers reduce their use of prescription opioid painkillers. A total of 97 patients used CBD oil for 8 weeks alongside their standard medication.
By the end of the study, more than half of the participants lowered or completely stopped their opioid usage, with 94% saying that CBD improved their quality of life, particularly in terms of pain and sleep quality.
In sum, available evidence suggests that CBD has potent anti-inflammatory properties and may relieve various types of pain, especially when used in combination with THC. In addition, CBD also helps with the anxiety that chronic pain sufferers experience due to the effects of chronic pain in regions of the brain related to stress, mood and anxiety.
Insomnia and other sleep issues are among the most common health problems in the world. Just like whole cannabis, CBD may offer some help.
In one study, adults with anxiety or sleep issues were given CBD capsules daily for 3 months. During the first month, 79% saw a reduction in anxiety and 67% had improved sleep as a secondary benefit.
Another study found that CBD improved the symptoms of REM sleep behaviour disorder. There’s also evidence that medical cannabis may help with restless leg syndrome (RLS), which makes it difficult to sleep by causing an urge to move your legs at night.
Researchers are not entirely sure how CBD helps with sleep directly, however one of the most common reasons for unrestful or poor sleep that leads to daytime fatigue and reduced quality of life is from stress and anxiety, and we do know CBD can lower stress and anxiety and possibly affect stress hormone levels too, all of which remove barriers to healthy sleep.
CBD may also directly influence certain aspects of sleep through its effects on different brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, one of the calming brain chemicals but we do not yet know the exact mechanism. Its pain and inflammation-relieving effects might also help since these issues can keep you awake at night, and this is especially this case with medical cannabis which also contains varying amounts of THC.
Neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease are some of the most difficult-to-treat conditions out there. What they share in common is the breakdown of neuron function and structure.
Multiple studies have shown that CBD has neuroprotective properties.
In one mouse study, CBD reversed or prevented thinking issues associated with cognitive decline. A similar study found that CBD counteracted the development of memory problems in rats with Alzeihmers disease (AD).
Meanwhile, a promising 2019 pilot study tested the effects of cannabis oil containing a 2:1 ratio of CBD to THC in people with severe dementia.
The treatment not only improved patient behaviour but also reduced their daily care needs. Also, half of the participants were able to reduce or completely stop taking other prescription medications.
Similarly positive results have been reported in studies of Parkinson’s disease (PD). In one clinical trial, 300 mg doses of CBD improved the quality of life in people with PD while the placebo had no effect. Another study found that CBD improved psychosis, a symptom in some forms of PD.
Besides, animal and cell culture studies demonstrate overwhelming evidence for CBD’s neuroprotective properties.
If there’s one benefit of CBD that’s backed by so much strong evidence that it’s recommended by clinicians, it’s the relief of treatment-resistant epilepsy.
The first and only pharmaceutical drug containing pure CBD — Epidiolex — was recently approved for treating Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare, severe types of epilepsy that affect children.
Several randomised clinical trials — the gold standard in medical research — found that Epidiolex significantly reduced seizures in children suffering from these conditions.
Aside from this, many other studies have also found that CBD helps with epilepsy. One review paper of 36 studies reported that CBD not only reduces the number of seizures but can even completely stop them in some people.
Researchers believe CBD works by disrupting the abnormal neuron activity that causes seizures.
6. Cardiovascular Health
There’s also emerging evidence that CBD has multiple benefits for the heart and other components of the cardiovascular system.
For one, CBD can lower elevated blood pressure, one of the key risk factors for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. In one study, CBD lowered resting blood pressure and reduced the blood pressure increase associated with stressful situations.
CBD may also protect against atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the walls of your arteries. This was demonstrated in a test tube study where CBD protected human coronary artery cells from damage caused by high blood sugar.
Studies have also shown that CBD can:
- Help with cardiomyopathy and other cardiovascular complications of diabetes in animals
- Protect against stroke by increasing cerebral blood flow in stressed mice
7. Skin Health
The ECS is present throughout the body, including the skin — our largest organ.
It plays a critical role in skin health by regulating viral processes such as inflammation and cell growth. There’s also evidence that ECS dysfunction is involved in many skin disorders, such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
That’s why CBD has a potential role to play in supporting skin health.
One recent study looked at the efficacy of a CBD-infused topical ointment in people with psoriasis, eczema, and scarring from these and other inflammatory skin conditions.
After 90 days, the study participants saw improvements in skin elasticity and hydration, as well as psoriasis symptoms, scarring, blemishes, and other measures of skin health.
Another study examined the effects of CBD on human sebocytes, the skin cells that produce sebum, the oily substance that plays the central role in acne.
CBD lowered inflammation and suppressed the production of sebum and new sebocytes, leading the researchers to conclude that “CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
Cannabinoids are a new and exciting new area of cancer treatment research. Currently, medical cannabis containing both CBD and varying amounts of THC can be helpful for helping with quality of life, cancer symptoms and treatment side effects from chemotherapy, when used under medical guidance.
One study looked at the efficacy of THC alone or alongside CBD in patients with treatment-resistant, advanced cancer pain. Only the CBD plus THC group saw a reduction in pain, with 43% of the patients reporting an improvement of 30% or more.
One study in rats using CBD showed it may have antiemetic (anti-vomiting) properties just like THC, which are particularly helpful for the side effects of chemotherapy, although so far in humans CBD alone has not been proven for this indication and THC-containing medical cannabis is the cannabinoid treatment of choice for nausea and vomiting, along with CBD to buffer possible THC side effects.
This was demonstrated by a study where a synthetic drug medicine version of THC alone improved chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients. Meanwhile, a study in mice found that CBD reduced neuropathic pain caused by the chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel.
CBD and medical cannabis can also help with anxiety, and sleeping problems that have an increased chance of occurring in cancer sufferers.
Another mouse study found that CBD has chemopreventive effects that protected the animals from developing colon cancer.
Overall, CBD seems to offer many benefits to cancer sufferers, especially when paired with THC. However, human research is needed to confirm its direct anti-cancer benefits, as different tumours have different responses to each cannabinoid and even at different doses may have opposite tumour effects. Even within a specific cancer type, the cannabinoid receptors on the tumour itself may also impact the potential anti-cancer effect CBD and other cannabinoids may have so we still have much to learn about how to target specific cannabinoids to specific tumour types.
9. Other Health Benefits
Here are some other potential benefits of CBD that have received less attention but show just as much promise.
Early studies suggest that CBD might be beneficial for digestive symptoms like nausea and abdominal pain as well as disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In one such study, CBD-rich cannabis extract improved the quality of life and symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis, one of the two main types of IBD.
Aside from that, there’s some evidence that cannabinoids can also help with various digestive symptoms. One 2011 study noted that IBD sufferers used cannabis to alleviate abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and bloating.
One of the most exciting areas of CBD research is substance addiction treatment. CBD doesn’t have addictive properties and there’s evidence that it can reduce cravings for many common drugs, including opioids and nicotine.
One study of 24 smokers tested whether CBD can help them quit. They used an inhaler containing CBD or a placebo every day for a week.
The CBD group smoked 40% fewer cigarettes during the study, and some smokers even maintained this reduction after the study. Meanwhile, studies in rats suggest that CBD can reduce cravings for alcohol and cocaine.
CBD can also help people quit cannabis. One study of 94 cannabis users found that those who smoked high-CBD strains of marijuana scored better on ratings of cannabis addiction.
Similarly, a case report of a woman suffering from anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other symptoms of cannabis withdrawal syndrome reported that CBD led to a major improvement.
CBD may also be helpful for opioid addiction. One study of people addicted to heroin tested whether CBD can reduce opioid cravings. They took CBD for 3 days. Whereas the placebo treatment had no effect, CBD significant reduced opioid cravings, with the effects persisting for a week after the study.
CBD is so promising that highly respected neuroscientist and addiction researcher Yasmin Hurd believes it has real potential to combat the U.S. opioid epidemic — the widespread misuse of prescription and non-prescription opioid medications which results in tens of thousands of overdose deaths every year.
Research demonstrates that CBD can have a positive effect on type 1 diabetes and diabetic complications, such as nerve damage.
Multiple studies in mice have shown that CBD can slow and prevent the development of type 1 diabetes, particularly through its anti-inflammatory effects and a shift in the immune response away from diabetes development and pancreatic cell destruction.
Animal research evidence also suggests that CBD can be beneficial for complications of diabetes, including:
Considering that CBD counteracts the psychotropic effects of THC, it’s not surprising that it can have a similar effect on psychosis, the main symptom of schizophrenia.
One study found that CBD improved symptoms of psychosis in people with schizophrenia with similar effectiveness but fewer side effects than the prescription drug amisulpride.
A more recent study of 88 schizophrenia sufferers compared the effects of CBD and placebo alongside antipsychotic medication. The CBD group had impressive results, with lower levels of psychotic symptoms and greater improvements in cognitive function.
In short, CBD shows great promise when used at high doses under medical supervision as a possible new treatment for psychosis and schizophrenia.
There’s growing evidence that migraines and some other difficult-to-treat conditions are caused by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CEDC) — insufficient endocannabinoid activity.
Since we know that CBD seems to help by potentially modulating the body’s levels of endocannabinoids, this may suggest a mechanism through which it can relieve migraines.
However, clinical research evidence is needed to substantiate this theory.
CBD has the potential to benefit your health in many ways, but does it have any side effects? Thankfully, one of the reasons CBD is so popular is because it’s extremely well tolerated by most people, especially at the over-counter wellness doses used without a doctor’s supervision.
Although CBD can cause some side effects, they are generally quite rare and they tend to be mild and temporary. These potential adverse effects include diarrhoea, dry mouth, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, tiredness, and changes in appetite or weight, but at the wellness doses used these are very uncommon. Generally, these effects have only been noted by studies utilising high doses of pure CBD (300 mg or more daily), much higher than the doses normally used in OTC CBD wellness products.
Animal studies also suggest that CBD can also increase or in some cases decrease the effectiveness of certain medications and prescription drugs by affecting the function of CYP450 liver enzymes, but most of these interactions are unpublished and likely not clinically relevant. However, some types of drugs can be higher risk, so if you take any medications the safety recommendation is to speak to your doctor first before trying CBD.
CBD does not have any addictive properties, doesn’t cause withdrawal, and there’s no evidence that it produces tolerance when used regularly for long periods of time.
Summing Up The Benefits of CBD
CBD has been studied extensively, suggesting that it may be beneficial for many common issues such as anxiety, pain, and poor sleep, as well as a long list of chronic diseases and symptoms at varying doses.
Although more high-quality human research is needed to substantiate CBD’s benefits, the available evidence suggests that it’s a safe compound that offers a natural alternative to many common wellness issues.
Still, it’s always best to consult your doctor before taking CBD for the first time, especially if you’re already using prescription medication.