Cannabidiol – aka “CBD” – has recently been making the rounds as one of the most popular supplements on the market. Some have even referred to this time as a “CBD Revolution”. Over the past couple of years, you have undoubtedly been hearing growing excitement over the benefits of CBD.
Whether taken orally or used topically, patients everywhere have been racing to tell friends, family, and strangers alike all about this magical “new” supplement. Little do many people know, but CBD is not new at all. On the contrary, cannabidiol (and other cannabinoids) have been used for thousands of years by people all around the globe as an important tool in holistic healthcare. There has been extensive evidence suggesting the use of medicinal cannabis more than 5,000 years ago in what is now Romania. Moreover, evidence of the medicinal use of cannabis was discovered in a 2500-year-old cemetery in the mountains of western China.
It is important to clarify that, while medicinal use of the whole cannabis plant has been common for centuries, hemp extracts approved for sale in the United States differ slightly. This is because they do not contain noticeable levels of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for psychotropic effects. Because these products are devoid of THC, they will not create euphoric feelings or the feeling of being “high” that is often associated with cannabis use.
But what exactly is CBD?
CBD refers to one of the phytocannabinoids present in hemp or cannabis plants. (Cannabis plants that contain less than 0.03% THC are considered “hemp”.) There are over 100 different phytocannabinoids present in cannabis, at varying amounts depending upon the strain.
Hemp plants that are grown for the purpose of producing CBD supplements typically contain other non-psychoactive cannabinoids (such as CBC, CBG, and other variants). These plants are processed into either full-spectrum hemp supplements or cannabinoid isolates. An “isolate” version of a hemp extract means the stated phytocannabinoid has been separated. Therefore, absolutely no other phytocannabinoids will be present in the end product.
Due to the fact that a great deal of the benefits of cannabis come from the “entourage effect”, we typically only recommend CBD Isolate products for those individuals who would like to give CBD a try, but may not be a good candidate for a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum product for a variety of reasons.
When producing a cannabidiol (or any other chosen phytocannabinoid) supplement, once the cannabinoid(s) have been extracted from the hemp plant flowers, the concentrated extract is diluted in a carrier oil. Typically, this is MCT (coconut) or hemp oil. Both of which are safe and effective for oral dosing as well as topical use. Some hemp extracts are also combined with other botanical ingredients. Then, developed into a variety of products such as highly effective muscle rubs and salves. These help combat inflammation and pain and promote healing.
What does CBD do, and how can it help me?
In order to discuss all of the many benefits associated with CBD supplementation, let’s begin with a review of our bodies. We are not merely a composition of unrelated organs, bones, muscles, and various chemicals. Rather we are creatures designed to acclimate to many environments and to take on many different types of stressors, both internal and external. A big part of how our bodies stay healthy comes down to how well we are achieving and maintaining internal balance. In biology, this process is referred to as “homeostasis”. And, it is a common trait of almost every living species of organism.
Simply put, our bodies are managed by our central nervous system, our endocrine system, and our immune system. Our central nervous system regulates neurological responses through the use of neurotransmitters. Our endocrine system regulates all of our hormones. And our immune system communicates with the rest of our body via cytokines. Whenever anyone of these systems or elements is thrown out of balance, we will inevitably begin to experience symptoms of illness. The key to maintaining wellness is to ensure you are supporting a robust immune system. Plus, giving your body all of the tools necessary to maintain this balance.
The Endocannabinoid System
You may be wondering what “maintaining homeostasis” has to do with CBD. First, we should give a short explanation of our endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is present naturally in all species of mammal. This endocannabinoid system sends out neurotransmitters that communicate with our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. These neurotransmitters facilitate the release and absorption of various chemicals throughout our body. These chemicals are responsible for the regulation of everything from mood to insulin levels. However, sometimes, our bodies can become deficient in these natural endocannabinoids.
Whether due to external or internal stress, when out of balance we may find that we are no longer quite as able to fend off illness or to recover from injuries as quickly as before. Sometimes we may even develop a more serious or chronic condition. More often than not, these imbalances affect our mental health as well. While the importance of beneficial diet and lifestyle changes cannot be stressed enough, sometimes we all could use a little extra help getting our bodies back in sync. CBD (and THC) work by interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout the endocannabinoid system, essentially boosting our own internal mechanisms for healing.
For a more thorough explanation of human physiology and the importance of maintaining homeostasis, check out this video. In it, Asher Milgrom, Ph.D. gives an easy-to-understand explanation of how CBD works throughout the entire body on a cellular level, emphasizing the importance of taking a holistic approach to your personal pursuit of wellness.
The (many) Specific Benefits of CBD
Due to the fact that CBD interacts with so many receptors throughout the body, it is difficult to compile a list of all of the specific ways in which CBD may be beneficial to one’s health. In many ways, the benefits of CBD will depend upon the individual. In addition to which particular systems in their body are being negatively impacted by stress, and how that impact is manifesting in undesirable symptoms. Two people with the exact same medical diagnosis rarely share all of the same symptoms. This is because each of our bodies is a unique, holistic organism. CBD simply helps our bodies’ internal management systems perform more efficiently, helping us to achieve balance as naturally as possible.
A good portion of the examples of CBD benefiting an individual’s health would be considered anecdotal evidence – valuable for certain, but lacking in demonstrative data. That said, there are some specific symptoms or conditions for which CBD therapy has been investigated as a treatment option. For those specific symptoms, we can refer to clinical documentation of the efficacy of the CBD treatment.
One of the most well-known uses of cannabis is as an analgesic, or pain reliever. Thousands of people every year use either the full flower or select cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (or CBD), to treat both acute and chronic pain. As previously mentioned, our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids which may help to regulate pain and decrease inflammation. Products containing phytocannabinoids such as CBD help to alleviate pain because they bind to the body’s existing cannabinoid receptors. This is especially true for those located within the nervous system.
Cannabinoids can be especially helpful for chronic pain because so many different types of chronic pain are related to inflammation. Sometimes this inflammation can be difficult to treat with pharmaceuticals, leaving patients with few options for relief. For years, people have been turning to cannabis as a “last resort” in their quest for lasting pain management. However, much of the medical community ignored or denied the possibility of cannabinoids as medicine. Thankfully, recently we have seen a growing body of research that not only agrees that cannabis is effective at treating pain, but also provides us with a potential explanation for its specific mechanisms of action.
“In 2017, the Health and Medicine Division of the US National Academies concluded that there is substantial evidence to support the claim that cannabis is effective for the treatment of chronic pain (cannabis), especially neuropathic pain in adults, for use as antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (oral cannabinoids), and as a means to improve patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids).” – Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment.
Anxiety & Depression
Using cannabis or cannabinoids to help treat anxiety and depression is likely the second-most familiar benefit of the plant. We already know that phytocannabinoids attach to receptors in the nervous system which control pain and inflammation, but they also work in a similar way to help modulate the absorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, stress, and anxiety.
Many people who struggle with anxiety and depression can at least partially attribute these issues to a lack of available serotonin within the body. Many popular pharmaceuticals prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and depression work by targeting either the production of serotonin, or its “reuptake”, or re-absorption. CBD works somewhat similarly to these medications in that it also helps to prevent this reabsorption of serotonin. Plus, it enhances the effectiveness of the receptors onto which serotonin binds to.
One study investigating the impact of cannabidiol on 24 people suffering from Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder, found that subjects receiving CBD (600mg) had “significantly less anxiety, less cognitive impairment, and less discomfort” compared to the placebo group.
Insomnia – or the chronic inability to sleep – is extremely common, reportedly affecting more than three million Americans every year. While this condition is considered “incurable” and can stem from a number of causes, it is often the result of increased stress and anxiety. When this is the cause, some patients find relief from CBD due to its anxiolytic – or anxiety-reducing – effects. This study shows that CBD helped to temporarily improve sleep for a portion of the sample population. However, it should be noted that the effectiveness of the CBD varied over time.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the feeling of reward that you get when you do enjoyable or thrilling activities. It is released naturally by the brain when you eat a delicious meal, hug a loved one, or get away with something dangerous. Additionally, it is a major component of addictive behaviors, including substance abuse. Recent research suggests that CBD has a modulating effect on dopamine that is potentially beneficial when treating addiction. Also, according to this review CBD prevents the relapse phase of opioid addiction by “decreasing cue-induced, drug-seeking behaviors”. Some researchers believe these factors may raise CBD’s potential for understanding and treating addiction, but more research is needed.
This study from 2017 shows that “CBD has beneficial effects in patients with schizophrenia. As CBD’s effects do not appear to depend on dopamine receptor antagonism, this agent may represent a new class of treatment for the disorder.”
CBD has been found to be effective in the alleviation of some cancer-related symptoms and side effects. Tehse include both nausea and vomiting. While many prescription medications are available to treat vomiting, nausea is typically reported as a more distressing symptom because it remains constant, can become anticipatory or related to environmental triggers, and is not usually well-controlled with most current medications. It’s been reported that as many as 20% of chemotherapy patients discontinue treatment due to severe nausea. However, research suggests that cannabidiol may be effective in eliminating these symptoms, especially those associated with AN, or Anticipatory Nausea.
It appears CBD oil may have oral health benefits, as well! According to Joseph R Nemeth, DDS, CBD oil was associated with decreased bone destruction and healthier gums (as compared to the control group) in rats affected with periodontitis. Additionally, when compared with a standard prescription antibacterial toothpaste, CBD-infused toothpaste may be more beneficial to the patient. This is because cannabidiol does not destroy beneficial bacteria crucial to the maintenance of oral health. This means toothpaste containing CBD allows the good bacteria to multiply. This in turn helps to minimize damage from harmful microorganisms.
Recent research has linked CBD with several cardiovascular benefits such as reducing high blood pressure. In several animal studies, CBD reduced inflammation and cell death associated with heart disease. According to this study, “CBD reduces the cardiovascular response to models of stress…and influences the survival and death of white blood cells, white blood cell migration and platelet aggregation.”
The effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of epilepsy is fairly well-documented. The United States Food and Drug Administration has actually approved one CBD-based drug called Epidiolex for the treatment of two specific forms of rare childhood epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Research into the anti-seizure benefits of CBD is ongoing. But, effectiveness has been demonstrated in a range of animal seizure and epilepsy models.
Autoimmune & Inflammatory Conditions
This study, titled Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs, investigates the use of CBD as treatment for a range of inflammatory conditions.
“Cannabinoid receptors include CB1, which is predominantly expressed in the brain, and CB2, which is primarily found on the cells of the immune system. The fact that both CB1 and CB2 receptors have been found on immune cells suggests that cannabinoids play an important role in the regulation of the immune system.”
This study concludes that CBD therapy could be an effective tool in the treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- multiple sclerosis,
- neurological dysfunction associated with liver disease,
- rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammatory components of cancer,
- and other inflammatory conditions such as atherosclerosis.
Cannabidiol may reduce acne due to its anti-inflammatory qualities. Additionally, CBD appears to have an effect on the sebaceous gland. It is helping to control production of sebum, which is the cause of some types of acne.
Cannabidiol, and cannabis in general, have been marketed for years as powerful agents in the fight against cancer. However, until recently most of these claims were disregarded as pure rubbish. Surprisingly, it has been discovered that CBD actually has properties that could prevent tumor growth in some types of cancer! This is known as “anti-proliferation”. While it requires more research, this is undoubtedly an exciting new discovery for both cannabis and cancer treatment advocates, alike.