If you live in a state where it’s legal, you probably can’t walk or drive more than a couple of blocks without seeing a cafe or shop advertising CBD something (or everything).
CBD, or cannabidiol, is certainly trendy right now, and its sellers insist it may be very useful in treating things like pain, anxiety and epilepsy.
But, as is the case with most fads, there is plenty of misinformation about what CBD is, what it isn’t, and what it can and can’t actually do.
We break down the basics of the hot compound and its far-from-magical properties.
CBD oil is everywhere, and advertised as a treatment from everything from mental health isues to seizures and nausea – but, in fact, little has been scientifically confirmed about its uses
WHAT IS CANNABIDIOL, OR CBD?
The marijuana plant is made up of some 480 natural component parts, including 66 chemicals that aren’t found in any other flora. These are called cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are divided into six subgroups, including the two best-known sets, cannabidiols (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).
THC and CBD are sort of the yin and yang of marijuana.
Each acts differently on the body because each has its own unique chemical shape that allows it to bind to receptors in our central nervous system.
When it binds with our receptors for it, THC is responsible for the ‘high,’ psychoactive feeling and euphoria associated with marijuana.
CBD has nothing to do with that effect.
Instead, it binds to its own receptors and actually blocks the effects of the most powerful form THC takes as it gets metabolized.
CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects and is thought to soften the less pleasant side effects of THC, like anxiety and paranoia.
It’s unclear whether CBD itself has as the ‘relaxing’ effect promised inside cups of caffeinated CBD latte.
It does bind with central nervous system receptors, and some evidence has suggested that the cannabinoid receptor system is involved in our stress and anxiety responses.
But no one has been able to empirically, definitively show that this is more than a placebo effect.
HOW CBD AFFECTS YOUR BODY
The truth of the matter is that we know far about THC – and with much greater certainty – than we do about CBD’s effects.
CBD seems to dampen THC’s side effects, and, essentially do the opposite things from THC.
There have been about 10,000 legitimate studies of cannabis in the US, but precious few have focused on CBD alone.
In fact, the most clearly demonstrated benefits of CBD itself are for the small number of people that have one of several unusual forms of epilepsy.
There is only one FDA-approved CBD drug – as of of June 2018 – and it is an anti-seizure medication called Epidiolex.
It comes as an oral solution and CBD – not THC – is its active ingredient. Epidiolex is approved to be given to anyone over two years old, but only those with one of two severe forms of epilepsy.
Even GW Pharmaceuticals the company that makes Epidiolex admits it isn’t really understood why it has the effect it does on the nervous system, though they think CBD may do something to improve faults in the GABA neurochemical communication channels of epileptic people.
There are also some indicators that, like THC, CBD may have an anti-inflammatory effect that helps to reduce seizure activity.
GW itself is currently in the early stages of clinical research on CBD and its potential to treat a slew of medical problems, including schizophrenia, anxiety and muscle stiffness from multiple sclerosis.
In a landmark 2017 review of some 10,000 studies cannabis – including both THC and CBD, 16 experts determined that there is ‘conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective’ to treat pain, nausea and vomiting from cancer treatment and improving the same kind of MS stiffness GW is testing its drug for.
Even so, there’s no guarantee that the dropper bottle you bought at your local health food store will have similar effects.
WHAT CBD PROBABLY DOES NOT DO
The January 2017xposed a number of applications for which there is ‘limited’ evidence that cannabis (comprised of both CBD and THC) is effective.
There’s little to substantiate claims that it will help those with HIV or AIDS regain their appetites.
Unfortunately, the only trial suggesting that cannabis could help those with PTSD was small and not particularly reliably done.
The review included just one possible uses for CBD oil itself – for anxiety.
But the authors found that there was ‘limited’ evidence that it might work.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t be fooled by claims that CBD is a cure-all – especially for something as serious as cancer.
As is a hallmark of empirical, cautious research, the review admits that there is simply not enough evidence to wholesale confirm or deny that cannabis could help (or harm) people with cancer, IBS, symptoms of Parkinson’s, schizophrenia or addiction treatment.