CBD is not a drug and will not “cure” anything … but it may have some benefits (along with some potential safety risks).
Mounting scientific research has demonstrated CBD’s potential for a growing list of issues, including:
- Anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Sleep disorders
- Autoimmune and related conditions (inflammation, chronic arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus)
- Neurological conditions (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury)
- Neuropsychiatric illness (ADHD, PTSD, alcoholism, opioid addiction)
We’ll delve into each a bit further below. But first, one cannot discuss the potential benefits of CBD oil without also mentioning the side effects and potential risks.
Risk and Side Effects of CBD Use
According to a 2017 review from the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the three most common side effects from clinical studies looking at patients who used CBD to treat epilepsy and psychotic disorders (most of whom were treated at doses of hundreds of milligrams, it should be noted) were strong changes in food intake, some diarrhea, and tiredness at high doses.
CBD can thin blood, so people with thin blood or who are on blood thinners should consult a doctor before taking it.
CBD is also known to inhibit the CYP450 enzyme, which helps the body process large number of conventional medications (NSAIDs, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, steroids, anesthetics, etc.). So, with both CBD and these drugs in the system, the other drugs may be processed slower than normal, which can lead to problems, particularly liver toxicity in animal studies.
Here is the FDA’s current stance on CBD:
- The FDA has approved only one CBD product, a prescription drug product to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
- It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.
- The FDA has seen only limited data about CBD safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason.
- Some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality.
- The FDA will continue to update the public as it learns more about CBD.
- CBD has the potential to harm you, and harm can happen even before you become aware of it.
- CBD can cause liver injury.
- CBD can affect the metabolism of other drugs, causing serious side effects.
- Use of CBD with alcohol or other Central Nervous System depressants increases the risk of sedation and drowsiness, which can lead to injuries.
- CBD can cause side effects that you might notice. These side effects should improve when CBD is stopped or when the amount ingested is reduced.
- Changes in alertness, most commonly experienced as somnolence (drowsiness or sleepiness).
- Gastrointestinal distress, most commonly experienced as diarrhea and/or decreased appetite.
- Changes in mood, most commonly experienced as irritability and agitation.
- There are many important aspects about CBD that we just don’t know, such as:
- What happens if you take CBD daily for sustained periods of time?
- What is the effect of CBD on the developing brain (such as children who take CBD)?
- What are the effects of CBD on the developing fetus or breastfed newborn?
- How does CBD interact with herbs and botanicals?
- Does CBD cause male reproductive toxicity in humans, as has been reported in studies of animals?
Although CBD oil is used for many different health-related purposes, the truth is there isn’t a great deal of research on its potential health benefits … yet.
Here’s what CBD may be good for, based on what we know so far …
CBD Oil and Epilepsy
There’s significant clinical evidence to support CBD as a treatment option for specific forms of epilepsy, particularly in children.
In June, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex (a drug made with isolated CBD oil) for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome (DS) in patients 2 years of age and older.
CBD Oil Benefits for Anxiety and Mental Disorders
While human-based research on CBD and anxiety is fairly limited at this point, there are several small studies that show promise for lessening anxiety using CBD oil.
A 2015 review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may help improve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A 2019 study followed 72 adults with anxiety (n = 47) or poor sleep (n = 25).
Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 79% of patients who took 25 mg of CBD via capsule form daily.
One study also suggests that CBD may help people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders by reducing psychotic symptoms.
The CBD Project surveyed over 3,500 people who used CBD and found that CBD performed well at relieving anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks, mood swings, and feelings of agitation, irritability, and sadness.
Next let’s look at CBD’s impact on sleep …
CBD Oil for Sleep
Not surprisingly, CBD appears to help with sleep because of its anti-anxiety properties and ability to promote relaxation.
In a 2017 research review that studied CBD for insomnia, researchers said:
Preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia.
In the 2019 study mentioned in the Anxiety section above, researchers observed that sleep scores improved within the first month in 2 out of every 3 patients who took a 25 mg CBD capsule before bed (these results fluctuated over time though, it should be noted).
And finally, the aforementioned CBD Project surveyed over 3,500 people and found that CBD helped:
- Reduce the average time to fall asleep from about an hour to 20 minutes.
- Decrease the number of times participants woke up, on average, to 1.4 times per night versus 4.3 times per night without CBD.
- Lessen feelings of tiredness in the morning. Without CBD, nearly 75% of participants reported waking up tired; with CBD, just 9% said they woke up tired.
I will add a personal anecdote here about my experience using CBD to treat my insomnia …
I started experimenting with CBD to help treat my insomnia earlier this year. I have struggled for a long time with both falling asleep and waking up multiple times during the night and not being able to fall back to sleep. This would result in many a miserable morning … especially with two young boys!
Over the years, I have tried pretty much everything you can think of to sleep better: sleep masks, ear plugs, several different white noise machines, no screens in my room, essential oils, meditation, weighted blankets, body pillows, sleep devices and apps, a new mattress, and every sleep medication you can possibly think of (including benzodiazepines like klonopin … talk about morning brain bog, yikes!).
After experimenting with various doses and administration methods using CBD, I have found that taking a 25 mg CBD oil capsule an hour before I go to bed has helped me:
- Fall asleep within 5 minutes 95% of the time.
- Get back to sleep much faster when I wake up during the night.
- Improve my REM sleep by around 50% (note: I use a FitBit and the Withings Sleep Mat to track my sleep).
Best of all, I don’t feel groggy in the a.m. or other nasty side effects like I did when I was taking other sleep meds. CBD has been a game-changer for my insomnia!
CBD Oil for Pain
The human body contains a specialized system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is involved in hormonal regulation of a variety of functions, including food intake, sleep, pain and immune system response.
While the exact mechanism of action is still being uncovered, studies have suggested that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.
In one study, researchers found that:
There is evidence that cannabinoids are safe and modestly effective in neuropathic pain and also for relieving pain in patients with malignant diseases.
Note that researchers in the aforementioned study concluded that 25 mg of CBD was an effective dose to achieve pain relief benefits.
Here’s some other research worth noting:
- A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that using CBD can reduce pain and inflammation. Researchers said that subjects were not likely to build up a tolerance to the effects of CBD, so they would not need to increase their dose continually. They noted that cannabinoids, such as CBD, could offer helpful new treatments for people with chronic pain.
- An animal study found that CBD reduced pain response to surgical incision and reduced sciatic nerve pain and inflammation.
- Several studies have shown that CBD taken with THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana) led to the most pain relief benefits for patients.
- One study of 47 patients with multiple sclerosis looked at the effects of taking Sativex (a drug with a 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC) for one month. Study participants saw improvements in pain, walking, and muscle spasms. Another study concluded that Sativex significantly improved pain during movement, pain at rest and sleep quality in 58 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
- The CBD Project survey of 3,500 CBD users found that 90% of folks reported some improvement in the frequency and duration of their pain. Furthermore, before taking CBD, users reported an average pain score of 6.85. After taking CBD, the average pain score dropped to just 2.76–a whopping 60% decrease in intensity.
- In a research review published in the journal Molecules, researchers said, “Interesting and promising transdermal administration results can be found in the use of terpenes (from the same source) as CBD and THC penetration enhancers, and thus improve the effectiveness of the therapeutic components.”
In other words, full spectrum CBD products that include other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes are going to have a greater effect than CBD isolates. Make sure the product you choose is full spectrum!
Bottom line: full spectrum CBD oil may offer some relief for pain at doses starting at 25 mg.
CBD and Addiction
CBD oil may be of some benefit to those with addiction, according to several different human and animal studies.
Another review published in the journal Substance Abuse stated:
CBD may have therapeutic properties on opioid, cocaine, and psychostimulant addiction, and some preliminary data suggest that it may be beneficial in cannabis and tobacco addiction in humans.
More research is needed to understand the safety and potential benefits of CBD for addiction.
CBD and Heart Health
Recent research has linked CBD with several heart-related benefits, including the ability to lower high blood pressure, which can put you at higher risk of stroke, heart attack and metabolic syndrome.
In a study published in the journal JCI Insight in 2017, researchers observed that CBD may help prevent stress-related changes in blood pressure.
While this type of dose (600 mg) is unrealistic for most people at current market rates, researchers have suggested that the stress- and anxiety-reducing properties of CBD are responsible for its ability to help lower blood pressure … and anxiety-related improvements can be achieved with doses as little as 15-25 mg of CBD, as noted above!
More human studies are definitely needed, so it’ll be interesting to see if taking CBD actually does provide heart health benefits in the future.
Neuroprotective Properties of Cannabidiol
Animal studies have shown that CBD may decrease inflammation and help prevent the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And in one study, researchers gave CBD to mice genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease and found that it helped prevent cognitive decline.
Again, more research is needed to understand the safety, side effects, and potential benefits of CBD.
Wrap Up: What You Should Take From This Article
More controlled clinical trials are needed, but CBD may help people who suffer from anxiety, pain, sleep disorders, and some of the other issues we discussed above.
Before you take CBD, be sure to talk with your healthcare professional to determine if it’s safe for you.