Last updated: Sat 29 April 201 – By Jon Johnson
Reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
Cannabidiol oil is used for health purposes, but it is controversial. There is some confusion about what it is, and its effect on the human body.
Cannabidiol (CBD) may have some health benefits, but there may also be some risks.
What is CBD oil?
CBD is the name of a compound found in the cannabis plant. It is one of numerous compounds found in the plant that are called cannabinoids. Researchers have been looking at the potential therapeutic uses of CBD. Oils that contain concentrations of CBD are known as CBD oil, but the concentration and uses of different oils vary.
Is CBD Marijuana?
Until recently, the most well-known compound in cannabis was delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the most active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, but the compounds have different effects. THC is well-known for the mind-altering “high” it produces when broken down by heat and introduced to the body, such as when smoking the plant or cooking it into foods. CBD is not psychoactive. This means that it does not change the state of mind of the person who uses it. However, it does appear to produce significant changes in the body, and it may have medical benefits. Most of the CBD used medicinally is found in the least processed form of the cannabis plant, known as hemp. Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, cannabis sativa, but they are very different. Over the years, marijuana farmers have selectively bred their plants to be very high in THC and other compounds that interested them, either for a smell or an effect they had on the plant’s flowers. On the other hand, hemp farmers have not tended to modify the plant. It is these hemp plants that are used to create CBD oil.
How CBD works
All cannabinoids, including CBD, attach themselves to certain receptors in the body to produce their effects. The human body produces certain cannabinoids on its own. It has two receptors for cannabinoids, called CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found all around the body, but many of them are in the brain. The CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination and movement, pain, emotions and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, among others. THC attaches to these receptors. CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They have an effect on inflammation and pain. It used to be thought that CBD acts on these CB2 receptors, but it appears now that CBD does not act on either receptor directly. Instead, it seems to influence the body to use more of its own cannabinoids.
Potential Health Benefits
Because of the way that CBD acts in the body, it has many potential uses. CBD oil is taken orally, rubbed on the skin, and sometimes inhaled through vapor or used intravenously to produce its effects.
Natural pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties?
People commonly use prescription or over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain and stiffness, including chronic pain. Some people feel that CBD offers a more natural way to lower pain. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD significantly reduced chronic inflammation and pain in some mice and rats. The researchers suggest that the non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana, such as CBD, could be a new treatment for chronic pain. CBD is already in use for some conditions that cause chronic pain, such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
Quitting smoking and drug withdrawals?
There is some promising evidence that CBD use may help people to quit smoking. A pilot study posted to Addictive Behaviors found that smokers who used an inhaler containing the compound CBD smoked fewer cigarettes but did not have any additional craving for nicotine. Another similar study posted to Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may be a promising substance for people who abuse opioids. Researchers noted that some symptoms experienced by patients with substance use disorders may be reduced by CBD. These include anxiety, mood symptoms, pain, and insomnia. These are early findings, but they suggest that CBD may be used to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Epilepsy and other mental health disorders?
CBD is also being studied for its possible role in treating epilepsy and neuropsychiatric disorders. A review posted to Epilepsia noted that CBD has anti-seizure properties and a low risk of side effects for people with epilepsy. Studies into CBD’s effect on neurological disorders suggest that it may help to treat many of the disorders that are linked to epilepsy, such as neurodegeneration, neuronal injury, and psychiatric diseases. Another study posted to Current Pharmaceutical Design found that CBD may have similar effects to certain antipsychotic drugs, and that it may be safe and effective in treating patients with schizophrenia. More research is needed to understand how this works, however.
Helps fight cancer?
CBD has been studied for its use as an anti-cancer agent. A review posted to the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology notes that CBD appears to block cancer cells from spreading around the body and invading an area entirely. The review indicates that CBD tends to suppress the growth of cancer cells and promote the death of these cells. Researchers note that CBD may help in cancer treatment because of its low toxicity levels. They call for it to be studied along with standard treatments, to check for synergistic effects.
Patients with chronic anxiety are often advised to avoid cannabis, as THC can trigger or amplify anxiety and paranoia in some people. However, a review from Neurotherapeutics suggests that CBD may help to reduce the anxiety felt by people with certain anxiety disorders.
The researchers point to studies showing that CBD may reduce anxiety behaviors in disorders such as:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- general anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
The review notes that current medications for these disorders can lead to additional symptoms and side effects, and that people may stop taking the drugs because of these unwanted effects. CBD has not shown any adverse effects in these cases to date, and the researchers call for CBD to be studied as a potential treatment method.
Type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is caused by inflammation when the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas. Recent research posted to Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation found that CBD may ease the inflammation in the pancreas in type 1 diabetes. This may be the first step in finding a CBD-based treatment for type 1 diabetes.
Another promising use for CBD is as a new treatment for acne. Acne is caused, in part, by inflammation and overworked sebaceous glands on the body. A recent study posted to the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD helps to lower the production of sebum that leads to acne, partly because of its anti-inflammatory effect on the body. CBD could be a future treatment for acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.
Initial research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that CBD was able to prevent the development of social recognition deficit in subjects. This means that CBD could potentially prevent people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s from losing their ability to recognize the faces of people that they know. This is the first evidence that CBD has potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
Potential side effects and health risks?
Many small-scale studies have looked into the safety of CBD in adults and found that it is well tolerated across a wide dose range. There have been no significant central nervous system side effects, or effects on vital signs or mood among people who use it either slightly or heavily. The most common side effect noted is tiredness. Some people have noticed diarrhea and changes in appetite or weight. There are still very little long-term safety data, and tests have not been carried out on children as of yet. As with any new or alternative treatment option, a patient should discuss CBD with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using it.