8 Medical Conditions That CBD Can Help Treat
It seems like everywhere you look, cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is being touted as a cure for, well, anything that might ail you. At last check, you can find CBD in hundreds of products meant to relieve all manner of pain and anxiety, and in lifestyle-enhancing products like sports-recovery balms, personal lubricants, sleeping aids, and energy boosters that might keep you up all night (yep, take your pick!).
What Is Cannabidiol (CBD) and Where Is It Found?
But first, what is CBD? Cannabidiol is a nonpsychoactive compound found in both cannabis and hemp plants, which are different varieties of the same plant species. Cannabis plants are often grown in order to cultivate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the component in marijuana that is responsible for the “high” feeling in people who smoke or ingest it. Many hemp plants, on the other hand, have had the THC largely bred out of them, according to a report published in November 2016 in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. These plants are grown for a variety of products, including textiles, insulation, food, paper, supplements, and skin-care items.
While headlines may lead you to believe that CBD — sold in oils, edibles, tinctures, creams, capsules, and more — is a cure-all, there are really just a handful of conditions that scientific studies suggest it can treat, according to a report published in 2018 by the World Health Organization. It’s important to know that CBD is treated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way as dietary supplements — that is, like supplements, CBD products can go to market without scientific evidence that they actually work. It’s a “buyer beware” situation.
Can CBD Help With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
What Conditions Is CBD Used For?
Here’s a look at what a handful of scientific studies have found in recent years concerning CBD’s medical usefulness, including some diseases and ailments for which the FDA has approved CBD products.
- Pain When CBD reaches a family of receptors, or cells that receive stimuli, called vanilloid receptors, the interaction results in lower inflammation and levels and pain perception, according to a study published in Current Neuropharmacology. And a study published in July 2016 in the European Journal of Pain found that CBD could help people with arthritis manage their pain. The animal study looked at whether using a CBD gel transdermally (on the skin) would reduce inflammation and signs of pain, and researchers concluded that the topical product did offer relief from pain-related behaviors without evidence of side effects.
- Anxiety and depression Hundreds of studies have looked at how cannabidiol might be used to treat various neuropsychiatric disorders. One of the most recent, published in October 2015 in Neurotherapeutics, concluded that topical CBD has “considerable potential as treatment for multiple anxiety disorders.” What’s more, a study review published in September 2015 in the Journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics found that “preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders,” including PTSD, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
- Epilepsy Anecdotal reports about CBD’s use as a treatment for epilepsy have been around for decades, and a handful of rigorous scientific studies seem to support these claims. One, published in May 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed CBD to be effective at reducing the number of seizures in people with a form of epilepsy called Lennox–Gastaut syndrome (LGS). And in 2018, the FDA approved an oral CBD formulation for LGS and another type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.
- Symptoms related to cancer treatment The focus on CBD for cancer treatment has been for its use in reducing the nausea and vomiting that often accompany chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Two cannabinoid drugs have been approved by the FDA to combat those side effects: Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone). More recently, researchers have discovered CBD may slow the growth of cancer cells, according to the American Cancer Society.
- Acne and other skin issues A study published in July 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggested topical CBD can be a potent antiacne agent, likely because of its anti-inflammatory properties. And a study published in July 2017 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found CBD (and THC) useful for reducing the itch and inflammation associated with eczema and psoriasis.
- High blood pressure Researchers in England studied the effects of CBD on a small group of healthy men ages 19 to 29 — all nonsmokers who had never used cannabis — and discovered a single dose of CBD reduced resting blood pressure by 6 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), which may ultimately also reduce the risk of stroke. The study, published in July 2017 in JCI Insight, concluded that the response may be due to CBD’s anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.
- Addiction As ironic as it sounds, CBD — which technically is classified as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration and as such is currently illegal in nearly half the United States — has shown a lot of promise in fighting addiction to everything from opioids and cocaine to alcohol and tobacco. In addition, a number of preclinical studies, including a study published in June 2017 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, suggest CBD might be useful as a pain therapy in place of opioids.
- Diabetes A number of studies, including one published in February 2012 in the American Journal of Pathology, have suggested that CBD could play a role in improving outcomes for people with diabetes. Observational studies have shown that people who use marijuana have lower fasting insulin levels and measures of insulin resistance.
Is CBD Right for You, and What Are the Possible Side Effects?
If you’re suffering from any of the ailments or diseases on this list and are curious to see if CBD could help, you should also know about the side effects that some people experience when using CBD products. The most common are dizziness, dry mouth, mood changes, gastrointestinal issues — including nausea — and fatigue. And since research has shown that CBD can interact with a variety of medications, including warfarin (a blood thinner) and clobazam (used to treat epilepsy), it’s essential to discuss your use of CBD-containing products with your physician or other healthcare provider.
How Do You Know What’s in CBD Products?
The next challenge is finding products that are accurately labeled. According to research published in November 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, many CBD products do not contain the amount of CBD their labels claim. The research, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, involved testing 84 CBD products to see if they contained the amount of CBD listed. The researchers found 70 percent of CBD products are mislabeled, and “26 percent contained less CBD than labeled, which could negate any potential clinical response.”
Like any other product, from aspirin to zinc oxide, CBD is not for everyone. And even though it’s “natural,” it’s not necessarily safe, especially for people who are taking other medications. If you decide to try CBD products, make sure you know where the products are sourced from, how they’re manufactured, and how they’re meant to be used.
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?
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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.”