Nowadays, CBD is a bit of a health and wellness buzzword. Plant power is definitely in – and, wherever you turn, there seem to be countless CBD-infused products available to try.
With the surge in CBD marketing, presumptuous health claims about its therapeutic power are often thrown around. Whilst some of them are true, it is important to not get ahead of the science. CBD is unlikely to be the panacea that many claim it to be, so it’s time to separate fact from science-fiction and break down what the researchers are saying about CBD.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike the plant’s mind-altering molecule, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD cannot get you high. It has therefore become a hugely popular health supplement amongst those seeking some of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, without the ‘high’.
CBD interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell-signalling network that supports and coordinates a number of biological functions. By regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, pain levels, immune health, and much more, the ECS aims to maintain biological stability in the body.
The mechanisms behind the therapeutic effects of CBD aren’t entirely clear. It is thought that it can indirectly modulate the activity of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, and subsequently alter the signalling of endocannabinoids, our body’s naturally-derived cannabinoids. This, in turn, can help to support the vast array of biological functions coordinated by the ECS.
The science-backed benefits of CBD
Clinical interest in cannabinoids is a fairly recent progression, so the research remains in its infancy. As it stands, CBD has only been approved for one clinical avenue, but there are various other conditions for which CBD shows immeasurable therapeutic potential.
The rigorous standards of medical testing mean that CBD’s commercial success is outpacing its clinical research. So, despite the mounting evidence, future clinical trials are needed to fully verify some of the following statements – but these are certainly some of the more advanced areas of CBD research.
1. CBD can improve symptoms of epilepsy
The strongest evidence we have for using CBD in the clinic is for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy. In 2019, Epidiolex, an oral CBD solution (99% CBD, 0.1% THC), was licensed for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome – two childhood epilepsy syndromes that are particularly resistant to current treatments.
Several randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials – the “gold standard” of experimental design – have found that CBD significantly reduces seizure frequency in children and young adults with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, with some patients becoming seizure-free with CBD treatment. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how cannabinoids work so well for reducing seizures, but CBD and cannabis are already changing the lives of many young people living with epilepsy.
2. CBD is anti-inflammatory
Although CBD is not an accepted treatment for inflammatory disorders, there is robust evidence for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. CBD has been shown to modulate the activity of immune cells and subsequently inhibit the release of inflammatory cytokines, which are the molecules that mediate and exacerbate the body’s inflammatory response.
As a result, CBD shows immeasurable promise in the treatment of inflammatory pain and, in turn, may help to alleviate the symptoms of numerous conditions associated with inflammation, including arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The anecdotal evidence seems to agree. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over two-thirds of CBD users experienced significant improvements to their arthritis symptoms since taking the cannabinoid.
3. CBD can alleviate anxiety
It is well-cited that the ECS is involved in the signalling of serotonin (our “happy hormone”). More recently, it has been established that CBD can help to enhance serotonin signalling in the brain and, in turn, reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There is now increasing evidence in favour of the use of CBD in the treatment of anxiety, particularly social anxiety disorder. In an analysis of recent CBD publications, anxiety was the focus of nearly 40%. Of those studies, 70.6% showed CBD to be effective at alleviating the symptoms of anxiety.
For more information, see leafie’s guide to CBD for anxiety.
4. CBD can reduce the negative effects of THC
In some people, medicinal cannabis can cause some unpleasant side effects – all thanks to THC. At high doses, THC can cause anxiety, panic, and paranoia. Though it may seem counterintuitive to fight cannabinoids with more cannabinoids, there is solid evidence to suggest that CBD can be used to undo the negative effects of THC.
In a review published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in 2013, CBD was said to be effective at counteracting the negative psychological effects of THC, including “cognitive impairment, anxiety, paranoia, and increased risks of developing chronic psychosis or drug addiction.”
5. CBD is protective against addiction
Piggybacking off the previous point, CBD appears to be hugely effective at treating numerous forms of addiction, including those with a psychological dependence on cannabis. Since CBD shows almost zero potential for abuse, this makes it an ideal drug candidate for managing addiction and dependence.
The strongest anti-addiction evidence for CBD comes from people living with opioid use disorder. CBD has been shown to reduce heroin cravings in people recently abstinent from the drug and is now being trialled as a treatment for opioid addiction in the US.
6. CBD can act as an antipsychotic
Various studies have demonstrated that CBD can reduce the symptoms of psychosis in people with schizophrenia when given alongside existing antipsychotic medication. Researchers have noted that “CBD may be a future therapeutic option in psychosis, in general, and in schizophrenia, in particular.”
CBD has been shown to enhance the signalling of anandamide, a key endocannabinoid, which is thought to be the mechanism underlying its antipsychotic effects. For this reason, CBD may also benefit people living with Parkinson’s disease who experience hallucinations and delusions.
It’s important to acknowledge that there is preliminary evidence in favour of using CBD for a number of other conditions, including autism, neuropathic pain, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, cancer, and chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. If you or a loved one are living with any of these conditions, CBD could help, but there’s not quite enough evidence to say it will.
Another thing to consider is that the clinical doses of CBD are often much higher than those in commercial products. For example, most human studies investigate the effects of a few hundred milligrams of CBD, whereas very few CBD products exceed 50 milligrams per dose – so it’s not guaranteed that your experiences with CBD products will mirror those seen in the participants of these studies.
But hope isn’t lost. Commercially-available CBD products can still be hugely beneficial. And with the booming CBD industry, high-quality products are widely available. When on the hunt for a trustworthy brand, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
As with any supplement, it’s important that you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. CBD brands should disclose lab reports from third-party laboratory testing to ensure that their products contain no harmful ingredients.
This also provides a useful indication of the potency of the product. You should be able to see exactly how much CBD it contains and if there are any other useful cannabinoids present in the product.
Another crucial thing to consider is CBD traceability; as in, being able to trace the CBD back to its origin. If a brand isn’t transparent about where their plants were grown or how their CBD was extracted, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Keen to test some of these science-backed benefits for yourself? Take a look at our beginner’s guide to CBD.