The world of cannabis goes far beyond stoners who get the munchies.
In fact, the body of research on the health benefits of cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, has grown exponentially in the past decade.
Thousands of years ago, doctors and healers across the globe prescribed cannabis because they believed they’d witnessed its purported medical benefits firsthand. In the last half century, modern science has brought cannabis back to the forefront and has shed light on the biological processes behind the healing properties it is believed to have.
Although we still need more research to better understand the potential efficacy of cannabis, CBD may have a variety of notable benefits.
What is CBD oil and how is it used?
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is one of the 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. While CBD is also found in medical marijuana, CBD oil is actually derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant and doesn’t cause a high like the recreational drug.
According to the World Health Organization, “[i]n humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential [and] [t]o date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
CBD-based products come in many forms. Some people use it as a topical oil while others mix it into different foods or drinks or take it straight with a pipette or dropper. It’s also available in capsules or as a thick paste that can be massaged into the skin, and there are even sprays you can administer under the tongue.
Regulations related to CBD products are still evolving. Recommended dosages vary between individuals, so it’s important to work with a medical professional to determine the best dosage for a specific patient’s needs.
The key potential benefits of CBD oil
Since CBD and related cannabis compounds are so similar to the chemicals created by our own bodies, they may be integrated and absorbed into the body very well.
Bradley E. Alger, a leading scientist in the study of endocannabinoids reported that,
“With complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease.”
Here are some of the most notable potential benefits.
Relief from chronic pain
Millions of people suffer from chronic pain, and many say CBD has helped them regain their quality of life. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that in some mice and rats, CBD significantly reduced chronic inflammation and pain. In addition, researchers have found that subjects are not likely to build up a tolerance to the effects of CBD, meaning they wouldn’t have to continually increase their dose.
CBD is believed to reduce inflammation in the body by limiting re-uptake of the neurotransmitter adenosine. An increase in the amount of adenosine in the brain impacts the activity of adenosine receptors, which play a significant role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Alleviation of anxiety
Anxiety and depression are common, yet debilitating, health issues. And while doctors often advise patients with anxiety and/or depression to avoid THC (which can trigger or amplify feelings of anxiousness and paranoia), the same may not be the case for CBD.
CBD oil is attracting increased interest due to its potential to help treat anxiety disorders. CBD is considered a natural approach that could act on the brain’s receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood and social behavior. It’s even thought that taking CBD before a yoga session may lead to a more relaxed workout.
Reduction of acne
More than 9 percent of the population is affected by acne, which is thought to be the result of various factors, including the overproduction of an oily secretion made by sebaceous glands in the skin known as sebum.
One study found that CBD oil prevented sebaceous gland cells from secreting excessive sebum. In addition, it prevented the activation of “pro-acne” agents such as inflammatory cytokines. Another study suggests CBD may be able to prevent acne, and based on its purported anti-inflammatory qualities. It may even treat the common skin condition.
Alleviation of symptoms of cancer and treatment side effects
While a majority of cancer research has involved animals, researchers have found promising connections between CBD and cancer treatment. In several studies, CBD has demonstrated anti-tumor effects, preventing the spread of breast, prostate, brain, colon, and lung cancer. It doesn’t cure the disease but might help prevent the spread and lessen the symptoms. Of course, more research on humans is needed in this area.
CBD may also help reduce chemotherapy-induced side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
In one study, a one-to-one combination of CBD and THC administered via a mouth spray was a more effective way to reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting than standard treatment alone.
Prevention of seizures
After thorough research on the safety and efficacy of CBD oil for treating epilepsy, the FDA approved the use of a specific form of CBD (called prescription Epidiolex) in 2008 for two rare, severe forms of epilepsy most found in children: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome (DS). These forms of the disease typically don’t respond to anti-seizure medications.
Because CBD may have the ability to reduce anxiety, it could also help reduce sleep difficulties and potentially improve sleep quality by calming the nervous system. It’s thought that CBD may help stimulate melatonin production by boosting levels of tryptophan in the bloodstream, all while improving serotonin production in the same way. Promising research has shown that this combination may effectively treat insomnia.
The Bottom Line
With emerging research on the potential health benefits of CBD, it’s expected that new therapeutic uses for this natural remedy will be discovered. Just keep in mind that without sufficient evidence in human studies, it can be hard to pinpoint effective doses and a complete understanding of the benefits. If you decide to try CBD, be sure to talk with your doctor about your motivations, your symptoms, and any other medications you take.
Abby has more than 15 years professional experience and her personal work has been featured multiple times in Reader's Digest, Huffington Post, The Today Show, Vend, Shopify, and BuzzFeed, among other places. She was the editor of two specialty retail trade publications before moving on to become the associate editor of a website that was ranked as one of the top 10 mobile websites in the world. She also has an award-winning blog and more than 60,000 social media followers.