What Are the Benefits of CBD?
More than 60 percent of CBD users were taking it for anxiety, according to a survey of 5,000 people. Does it help?
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By Dawn MacKeen
The CBD industry is flourishing, conservatively projected to hit $16 billion in the United States by 2025. Already, the plant extract is being added to cheeseburgers, toothpicks and breath sprays. More than 60 percent of CBD users have taken it for anxiety, according to a survey of 5,000 people, conducted by the Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm. Chronic pain, insomnia and depression follow behind. Kim Kardashian West, for example, turned to the product when “freaking out” over the birth of her fourth baby. The professional golfer Bubba Watson drifts off to sleep with it. And Martha Stewart’s French bulldog partakes, too.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the lesser-known child of the cannabis sativa plant; its more famous sibling, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active ingredient in pot that catapults users’ “high.” With roots in Central Asia, the plant is believed to have been first used medicinally — or for rituals — around 750 B.C., though there are other estimates too.
Cannabidiol and THC are just two of the plant’s more than 100 cannabinoids. THC is psychoactive, and CBD may or may not be, which is a matter of debate. THC can increase anxiety; it is not clear what effect CBD is having, if any, in reducing it. THC can lead to addiction and cravings; CBD is being studied to help those in recovery.
Cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less of THC is hemp. Although last year’s Farm Bill legalized hemp under federal law, it also preserved the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of products derived from cannabis.
What are the claims?
CBD is advertised as providing relief for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also marketed to promote sleep. Part of CBD’s popularity is that it purports to be “nonpsychoactive,” and that consumers can reap health benefits from the plant without the high (or the midnight pizza munchies).
Just as hemp seedlings are sprouting up across the United States, so is the marketing. From oils and nasal sprays to lollipops and suppositories, it seems no place is too sacred for CBD. “It’s the monster that has taken over the room,” Dr. Brad Ingram, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said about all the wild uses for CBD now. He is leading a clinical trial into administering CBD to children and teenagers with drug-resistant epilepsy.
Is This A Scam?
An At-Home Face-Lift
A Stress-Relieving Drink
Cold Water Plunging
Brain Boosting Food
Facts about wellness.
Will these trends change your life — or
take your money?
Understand Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The invasive symptoms of PTSD can affect combat veterans and civilians alike. Early intervention is critical for managing the condition.
- Removing the Stigma: Misconceptions about how PTSD develops and its symptoms, can prevent people from seeking treatment.
- Psychedelic Drugs: As studies explore the therapeutic value of substances like MDMA, veterans are becoming unlikely advocates for their decriminalization.
- SeekingPeace: Mission Within is a Mexican retreat that uses hallucinogens to treat PTSD. Some female U.S. veterans and veteran spouses have turned to it to heal from trauma.
- Virtual Reality: A treatment using new technology to immerse patients in a simulation of a memory could helpthemovercome trauma.
Does CBD work?
“It’s promising in a lot of different therapeutic avenues because it’s relatively safe,” said James MacKillop, co-director of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in Hamilton, Ontario.
Last year, the F.D.A. approved Epidiolex, a purified CBD extract, to treat rare seizure disorders in patients 2 years or older after three randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trials with 516 patients that showed the drug, taken along with other medications, helped to reduce seizures. These types of studies are the gold standard in medicine, in which participants are divided by chance, and neither the subject nor the investigator knows which group is taking the placebo or the medication.
While there is hope for treating other conditions with the plant extract, Epidiolex remains the only CBD-derived drug approved by the F.D.A. Most of the research on cannabidiol has been in animals, and its current popularity has outpaced science. “We don’t have the 101 course on CBD quite figured out yet,” said Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Does CBD help anxiety and PTSD?
For students with generalized social anxiety, a four-minute talk, with minimal time to prepare, can be debilitating. Yet a small experiment in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that CBD seemed to reduce nervousness and cognitive impairment in patients with social anxiety in a simulated public speaking task.
However, a double-blind study found healthy volunteers administered CBD had little to no change in their emotional reaction to unpleasant images or words, compared to the placebo group. “If it’s a calming drug, it should change their responses to the stimuli,” said Harriet de Wit, co-author of the study and a professor in the University of Chicago’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. “But it didn’t.”
Many soldiers return home haunted by war and PTSD and often avoid certain activities, places or people associated with their traumatic events. The Department of Veterans Affairs is funding its first study on CBD, pairing it with psychotherapy.
“Our top therapies attempt to break the association between reminders of the trauma and the fear response,” said Mallory Loflin, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego and the study’s principal investigator. “We think that CBD, at least in animal models, can help that process happen a lot faster.” While large clinical trials are underway, psychologists say there isn’t compelling evidence yet as to whether this is a viable treatment.
Does CBD help sleep and depression?
Up in the wee hours of the night, stuck watching videos of puppies? CBD may be promising as a sleep aid; one of the side effects of the Epidiolex trials for epilepsy was drowsiness, according to Mr. MacKillop, a co-author of a review on cannabinoids and sleep. “If you are looking for new treatments for sleep, that may be a clue,” he said.
But he cautions that the side effects could have been because of an interaction with other medications the children were taking to control the seizures. So far, there hasn’t been a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial (the gold standard) on sleep disorders and CBD.
A recent chart review of 72 psychiatric patients treated with CBD found that anxiety improved, but not sleep. “Over all, we did not find that it panned out as a useful treatment for sleep,” said Dr. Scott Shannon, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, Denver and the lead author of the review in The Permanente Journal.
Sleep can be disrupted for many reasons, including depression. Rodents seemed to adapt better to stressful conditions and exhibited less depressive-like behavior after taking CBD, according to a review in Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. “Surprisingly, CBD seems to act faster than conventional antidepressants,” wrote one of the authors of a new review, Sâmia Joca, a fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark and an associate professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, in an email interview. Of course, it’s difficult to detect depression in animals, but the studies that Ms. Joca and her colleagues reviewed suggested that in models of chronic stress exposure, the mice and rats treated with CBD were more resilient.
But without clinical trials in humans, psychologists say CBD’s effect on depression is still a hypothesis, and not an evidence-based treatment.
Is CBD harmful?
“If you take pure CBD, it’s pretty safe,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Side effects in the Epidiolex trial included diarrhea, sleepiness, fatigue, weakness, rash, decreased appetite and elevated liver enzymes. Also, the safe amount to consume in a day, or at all during pregnancy, is still not known.
Recently, the F.D.A. sent a warning letter to Curaleaf Inc. about its “unsubstantiated claims” that the plant extract treats a variety of conditions from pet anxiety and depression to cancer and opioid withdrawal. (In a statement, the company said that some of the products in question had been discontinued and that it was working with the F.D.A.)
Dr. Smita Das, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry’s cannabis work group, does not recommend CBD for anxiety, PTSD, sleep or depression. With patients turning to these to unproven products, she is worried that they may delay seeking appropriate mental health care: “I’m dually concerned with how exposure to CBD products can lead somebody into continuing to cannabis products.”
Some CBD products may contain unwanted surprises. Forensic toxicologists at Virginia Commonwealth University examined nine e-liquids advertised as being 100 percent natural CBD extracts. They found one with dextromethorphan, or DXM, used in over-the counter cough medications and considered addictive when abused; and four with a synthetic cannabinoid, sometimes called Spice, that can cause anxiety, psychosis, tachycardia and death, according to a study last year in Forensic Science International.
Earlier research found fewer than a third of 84 products studied contained the amount of CBD on their labels. Some users of CBD have also failed drug tests when the product contained more THC than indicated.
This year, 1,090 people have contacted poison control centers about CBD, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Over a third are estimated to have received medical attention, and 46 were admitted into a critical care unit, possibly because of exposure to other products, or drug interactions. In addition, concern over 318 animals poured into the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center.
Is CBD a scam or not?
A few drops of CBD oil in a mocha or smoothie are not likely to do anything, researchers contend. Doctors say another force may also be at play in people feeling good: the placebo effect. That’s when someone believes a drug is working and symptoms seem to improve.
“CBD is not a scam,” said Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York City who led a double-blind study of 42 recovering heroin addicts and found that CBD reduced both cravings and cue-based anxiety, both of which can cycle people back into using. “It has a potential medicinal value, but when we are putting it into mascara and putting it into tampons, for God’s sake, to me, that’s a scam.”
I Tried CBD to Help Manage My Anxiety, and Here’s What Happened
If you ask anyone who knows me well, they’d probably list “stressing” as one of top skills. Whether it’s a work assignment or dating problem, I tend to overanalyze and fret about all the things that could go wrong.
Instead of endlessly ruminating on these hypothetical scenarios, I tested whether CBD supplements could help me relax and take my stress level down a notch. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is one of roughly 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant — and unlike its brother THC, it doesn’t get you high. Among its many purported health benefits, researchers are studying whether CBD could be a viable treatment for a variety of ailments including anxiety.
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Scientific studies on CBD are still pretty limited, but preliminary research suggests it might help with managing anxiety. In 2011, a very small study of 24 people showed that participants who took CBD before public speaking were less anxious during their speeches. Though we’re still waiting on a clearer picture of how CBD impacts our bodies and brains, Dr. Esther Blessing, psychiatrist at New York University, told NPR that current data seems promising.
“I think there’s good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction” and other disorders, Blessing — who received funding from the National Institute of Health to determine whether CBD could help people with PTSD — told the outlet. “But we need clinical trials to find out.”
A constant worrier, I tested whether CBD would help my stress level. It’s worth mentioning that although I get anxious, I haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. And remember: Before trying this on your own, it’s important to know that CBD laws vary by state, so make you know what the law is where you live. CBD is still banned on a federal level.
What it is: A chewable capsule that contains 99.9 percent CBD Isolate.
How to take it: The capsules need to be placed under your tongue for 10 seconds before swallowing, per the instructions. You can take two chews per per day.
How it tastes: It might be due to the the alluring pink bottle and matching strawberry flavored capsules, but I expected this to taste better. It’s extremely chalky and reminds me of something you’d take for an upset stomach.
How I felt: I tried this chewable for three days. The first night, I experienced a massive muscle spasm in my inner thigh. Since I’d never had a Charley Horse before, I initially wondered if the CBD could be to blame, but now I’m certain it was just a coincidence. I’m pretty active, hitting the CrossFit gym three to four times a week, so it’s natural for my muscles to get tired. And , CBD has been showed to soothe sore muscles — not cause them more pain.
The other two days, I took one capsule in the morning and went about my day, but didn’t feel any different. I wasn’t particularly stressed about anything, but everyday annoyances still irritated me. I went to the laundromat on Sunday and had to wait 20 minutes for a washer to open up; this put me behind for the day, and I frantically sped through the rest of my errands feeling cranky and stressed.
The bottom line
Although the CBD tablets didn’t work wonders for me, that’s not to say that they can’t help with anxiety. Anecdotally, many people on Reddit report feeling more relaxed and less anxious after taking CBD supplements.
But Dr. Margaret Haney, professor of neurobiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, warns that science doesn’t yet support these claims.
“We’re in the infancy of cannabis science,” she told MensHealth.com. When it comes to claims that CBD can help with pain, sleep, or anxiety, Haney warns that we’re still waiting on the hard science. “As a society we’ve jumped very far ahead of our use of CBD. We don’t have any of the data, and we really struggle to understand where and how it’s doing anything.”
But don’t get her wrong — she’s hopeful that future studies show the hype around CBD’s alleged benefits is legitimate.
“I actually am very excited about CBD,” Haney added. “I think there’s tremendous potential.”