Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is hailed by many as a “miracle cure” for everything from obesity to cancer. As one of over 80 active cannabinoids in the hemp plant, CBD exerts specific effects on the body and may have benefits for some conditions, but the current science doesn’t always support widely touted health claims.
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Article Quick Links:
- History of CBD
- CBD vs THC
- Medical uses
- CBD research
- Unsubstantiated claims
- Choosing CBD products
- Side effects of CBD
- Treatment with CBD
- Is CBD legal in my state
CBD may make up as much as 40 percent of the extracts from a hemp plant. When administered as a medical treatment, the cannabinoid interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors in many areas of the body, including the brain, and prevents the breakdown of naturally occurring cannabinoids. The resulting higher levels of cannabinoids in the bloodstream may be responsible for some of the positive effects researchers are beginning to associate with CBD use. CBD may also influence opioid and dopamine receptors, help regulate neurotransmitters by acting on CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and influence the activity of CB2 receptors to improve immune system function.
The biggest confusion surrounding CBD is whether or not it’s psychoactive in the same way as marijuana. Although CBD is a cannabinoid, it differs from THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” experienced by marijuana users. Current research shows little or no psychoactive effects from CBD alone, and this is likely due to the way CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Instead of directly binding to and activating receptors, CBD has an indirect influence and appears to act more as a regulatory substance rather than making users feel “high.”
It’s clear CBD has a complex effect on human physiology, and researchers are just beginning to uncover the positive and negative effects of its use. From strong beginnings through a murky and tumultuous period of regulation and reform, the potential medical use CBD and the hemp from which it’s derived may now be coming full circle.
History of CBD
To understand the interest in and significance of CBD in the fields of traditional and alternative medicine, it’s necessary to look at the history of the hemp plant and its uses. Evidence suggests hemp plants have been in usefor as long as agriculture has been part of human existence. The Chinese used seeds and oils from the plants in food as early as 6,000 B.C. and were using hemp fibers in textiles by 4,000 B.C.
Use of hemp spread around the world in subsequent centuries. Vikings carried hemp rope and seeds to Iceland in 850 A.D., and Italians began using hemp rope on sailing ships around the year 1,000. During this period, about 900 A.D., Arabs started using hemp as a basis for paper. Subsequent records show many major historical figures taking advantage of the medicinal properties of hemp, including Nero, Napoleon and Queen Victoria. Garcia da Orta of Portugal officially reported on the potential medical benefits in 1563, and marijuana was widely used as medicine throughout the U.S. by 1850and was even added to the database of the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
In the early 1900s, the stance on marijuana began to change in the U.S. A series of laws relating to substance control and drug trafficking were passed between 1906 and 1970, culminating in the Controlled Substances Act, in which marijuana was officially declared to be illegal for all purposes, including medicinal use.
Throughout the 1970s and into today, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the opposite direction. Measures are being taken to decriminalize marijuana and make it possible to study and administer hemp-derived products for a variety of conditions. According to Project CBD, Britain took a major step by licensing GW Pharmaceuticals to grow cannabis for the purpose of extracting CBD for use in clinical trials. Instead of breeding plants for higher THC levels, the focus has begun to shift toward increasing CBD concentrations for medical purposes.
Currently, industrial hemp can be grown in over 30 U.S. states and used in “commercial, research or pilot programs.” CBD may be extracted in the form of an oil from the stalks and seeds of these plants using a variety of methods, but CO2 extraction is considered to be the best. Some CBD products are also decarboxylated to increase cannabinoid bioavailability.
CBD vs. THC
When people think of marijuana or even of hemp, their first thought is of the substance responsible for the mellow high experienced when marijuana is smoked. However, CBD products are often derived from a variety of hemp produced for industrial use and therefore low in THC. Marijuana plants, on the other hand, have been bred for higher THC levels, thus their reputation for creating the “high” associated with intoxicated behaviors like getting “the munchies.”
THC affects cannabinoid receptors directly to produce this infamous high, making its actions different from CBD. CBD exerts and influence rather than interacting and is even different from THC at a molecular level. However, because not all CBD comes from hemp plants and all hemp may have some level of THC, it’s possible for CBD products to contain varying amounts of THC in the final formulas. This means CBD users can test positive for marijuana on drug tests even if they’ve never smoked marijuana or deliberately consumed other products with high levels of THC. Such an effect must be taken into account for potential CBD users whose jobs require drug testing.
Medical Uses for CBD
When might CBD be useful as a medicinal substance? The strongest body of research shows promising results for adults and children suffering from refractory epilepsy, a form of epilepsy in which seizures don’t respond to traditional treatments. CBD use may reduce the frequency of seizures or even offer complete freedom from epileptic episodes in some individuals, resulting in improved quality of life.
CBD products have also shown promise for:
- Damage to organs such as the liver and brain
- Drug addiction
- High blood pressure
- Inflammatory disorders and diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and IBD
- Pain reduction and management
- Panic disorders
Because of its wide range of effects on the endocannabinoid system, CBD may also provide relief for individuals unable to tolerate traditional medications for certain conditions. This has the potential to be especially useful for people who wish to stop relying on pain medications with addictive properties, hence the hope some proponents have for CBD as a solution to the growing epidemic of opioid abuse.
Ongoing CBD Research
Research papers and articles citing recent studies must be read with a critical eye to determine if the studies focused on CBD or medical marijuana. Some of the effects of medical marijuana may be due to THC or other cannabinoids, therefore studies failing to isolate CBD may not provide sufficient evidence for its effects.
Research on the effects of CBD independent of other cannabinoids is currently looking into:
- Antioxidant activity with the potential to counteract damage from reactive oxygen species (ROS)
- Antipsychotic effects, including benefits for schizophrenia
- Benefits for Alzheimer’s disease and related brain disorders
- Cannabinoid influence on cancer, including cleaning up or eliminating malignant cells and encouraging programmed cell death
- Effects on serotonin and dopamine with the potential to ease symptoms of depression
- Improving quality of life for Parkinson’s patients
- Potential to help curb the spread of drug addiction
- Prevention and control of tumor growth
- Reducing cardiovascular inflammation to prevent heart attacks
Studies on long-term CBD use are currently lacking, meaning the safety and efficacy of CBD for ongoing treatment can’t yet be verified. As more research is conducted, medical professionals will be better equipped to make decisions regarding CBD as part of patient treatment plans.
Those interested in recent studies and research can visit the archives at PubMed and Science Daily. Abstracts and complete papers detailing cannabidiol studies are available, and information is updated as new studies are published.
Unsupported Claims About CBD
Although alternative medicine has helped many people and has the potential to enhance or even replace traditional treatment in some cases, unsubstantiated health claims still run rampant. CBD products are no exception. In 2017, the FDA began cracking down on companies promising their CBD preparations could kill malignant cells and even cure cancer. Science supports the potential use of CBD as part of cancer treatment programs but hasn’t provided enough evidence to support extreme claims.
Those interested in using CBD should also be wary of products claiming to:
- Heal brain damage or aid in recovery from brain injuries
- Improve athletic performance and recovery
- Improve the behavior of hyperactive children
- Make it easier to quit smoking or other drug habits
- Regulate blood sugar
- Reverse dementia
No matter what benefits are touted, any language suggesting CBD is a “miracle cure” should raise red flags. Research on CBD use, especially in the long term, is still in the early stages and requires a larger body of evidencebefore words like treat, prevent or cure can be considered appropriate for marketing CBD.
It’s also important to keep in mind many people still confuse CBD with marijuana and think it will produce a high. Unless a CBD product also contains THC, there appears to be little or no risk of psychoactive effects.
Precautions When Choosing CBD Products
Oil is the most common and popular form for administering CBD, but the cannabinoid can also be purchased in capsules, as a sublingual spray, as a tincture and in topical rubs. Some users prefer to inhale CBD through a vaporizer or mix it into foods.
Individuals considering CBD use in any form must be critical of the following factors when assessing CBD products:
- Levels of CBD
- Levels of THC
- Ratio of CBD to hemp oil
- Concentration of CBD
- Ease of use
- Accuracy of labeling
Some evidence shows up to 70 percent of the CBD products sold by online merchants don’t contain what they claim, making it difficult for the average consumer to discern whether a particular preparation will have the desired effects. Unexpectedly high levels of THC in CBD products may also lead to unforeseen side effects or put users in violation of local laws.
CBD products aren’t currently regulated by the FDA and aren’t subject to any kind of quality control. To minimize the risk of falling prey to a scam, potential users must be diligent when researching their options. Products made by companies adhering to good manufacturing processes (GMP) and tested by third-party labs for quality and CBD levels are more likely to be safe and effective than those sold by companies making unsupported health claims.
What Are The Side Effects of CBD Use?
Individual tolerance levels for CBD vary, but current research suggests it’s safe to use 300 milligrams per day for six months or up to 1,500 milligrams per day for four weeks. Some users have reported one or more side effects, including:
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Changes in appetite
- Dry mouth
- Feeling sluggish
- Low blood pressure due to interaction with blood pressure medications
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Most side effects appear to be associated with high doses or the use of concentrated CBD extracts. Adhering to dosage levels deemed appropriate for specific conditions shouldn’t cause adverse reactions in most people.
CBD may affect some enzymes and pathways responsible for metabolizing other medications, potentially changing concentration levels or affecting efficacy. Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using CBD until more research is available on the effects it may have on developing infants.
Considerations for CBD as Treatment
Dosage levels are a common concern among those looking into CBD as a potential treatment for various conditions. The amount of CBD used varies according to ailments, and individual tolerance levels must be taken into account. The form in which CBD is delivered can also affect its efficacy, including how quickly the benefits are felt and what level of relief an individual experiences.
Current medications must be assessed before CBD is introduced as part of a treatment regimen, and legality is always an important issue. Those curious about the potential benefits of CBD for their medical conditions should consult with their doctors to ensure no dangerous interactions will occur. Local laws and regulations must also be researched before using CBD.
It’s important to keep in mind the CBD products on the market and extracts used in lab tests aren’t always the same. The lack of regulation for CBD formulas means potency and effectiveness vary, making it important for individuals to work with medical professionals to find the right products.
Is CBD Legal?
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Sixteen other states have laws restricting the use of CBD to certain medical conditions. Users living in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin are likely to require a prescription to legally take CBD.
THC levels in CBD products dictate legality in the remaining U.S. states. Hemp-derived CBD is the most common source because of the very low THC levels in industrial hemp plants. When CBD is derived from marijuana, THC levels are often much higher. Products labeled “CBD-rich” may not be appropriate due to THC concentrations, so individuals interested in cannabidiol as a treatment should look for “CBD-dominant” products instead.
The FDA currently classifies hemp-derived CBD as a “food-based product,” but restrictions regarding the growth of any kind of hemp in the U.S. can make it difficult to find products produced in the country. The lack of regulations to govern the formulation of CBD products raises questions about the reliability of imported CBD products, making caution of the utmost importance when researching which ones to purchase.
Based on current scientific and anecdotal information, CBD appears to be similar to many other alternative remedies. Like other plant-derived substances, it has good and bad points and can’t be claimed as a miracle cure for any condition. Additional scientific evidence is needed to back up many of the claims producers and sellers of CBD use to promote their products, and until the results of such research come to light, it’s best to be objective when considering CBD and its potential benefits.
Laws will also continue to change, making it critical for those considering CBD as a remedy to check current local regulations before use. Although the two are different, governing bodies often still view CBD in the same way as marijuana and are hesitant to change the way products containing CBD are controlled until more research is performed to confirm its safety and efficacy. Anyone considering CBD for the treatment of specific conditions should discuss the potential benefits, side effects and dangers with a knowledgeable physician and obtain CBD products from reliable sources to ensure the proper potency and dosage levels are achieved.