5 Science-Backed Uses for CBD
It won't cure everything, but it could help you sleep a little better.
Cannabidiol, otherwise known by its more popular abbreviated name, CBD, seems to be the cure-all for everything that ails you. At least, according to the internet. But before diving head first into a pool of CBD like it’s the fountain of youth, it’s important to do a bit of research into what’s real and what’s CBD fake news.
“There is strong criticism that there is a lack of data for cannabis, CBD, and other cannabinoids,” says Junella Chin, DO, an integrative cannabis physician and medical advisor for cannabisMD. “Looking at California alone, we have 20-plus years of anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of medical cannabis. This is data we've been sitting on since 1985.”
However, as Dr. Chin notes, researchers need to start rethinking exactly how they study the cannabis plant, now that CBD has become so prominent in the American health and wellness consciousness. “The question researchers should be asking is, ‘How do we explore individual data points more deeply?’ The cannabis plant is unique. There is no precedent, no other drug in the world that we're using recreationally and medicinally for therapeutic uses,” she says. “The historical record of safe use is unparalleled.”
Though Dr. Chin says we’ve got a long way to go in understanding how CBD interacts with the human body, she also says there are a number of well-researched uses for CBD that people can employ right now. But what she does warn is that most of them require people to take large amounts of CBD (between 600 to 1,200 milligrams per day) making it an expensive proposition. Still, if you want to give it a try, here are five uses for CBD that have research to back up the health claims.
1. CBD Could Help Calm Your Nerves
According to a 2019 case study of 103 adults, CBD appears to have some benefit when it comes to calming self-reported anxiety. As the authors of the study noted, the anxiety scores of 79 percent of study participants decreased in the first month of observation and remained decreased during the study’s three-month duration. For the study, participants ingested 25 milligrams to 175 milligrams a day.
“CBD reduces anxiety by mediating the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid),” Dr. Chin explains. “GABA, a naturally occurring brain chemical, directs neurons to slow down or stop firing. It calms the nervous system, induces sleep, relaxes muscles and reduces anxiety, in essence, directing the body to power down.”
2. CBD May Help Promote a Better Night’s Sleep
While CBD does not produce a high like THC does, it's often regarded as “non-psychoactive.” However, that’s not technically correct. Jordan Tishler, MD, president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the medical advisor at cannabisMD, previously shared with Real Simple, “CBD does seem to exert some effect on mood, at least in some research, so technically it is psychoactive.” And part of that mood effect is feeling a bit drowsy, which can be good news for those suffering from sleep disorders or restlessness.
“CBD is a GABA uptake inhibitor, meaning it creates surplus GABA in the brain,” Dr. Chin adds. “Correct CBD supplementation can help free patients from the racing thoughts that cause them to lie awake in bed at night.”
And, if you need further proof, a 2018 study published in the journal Medicines involving 490 people with insomnia found that a combination of CBD and THC (CBD’s psychoactive cousin) helped greatly improve their symptoms. At the onset, participants rated their symptoms of insomnia on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. On average, participants rated their symptoms at a 6.6 on average. After using cannabis, participants rated symptoms on average to be 2.2, marking a 4.5 decrease on the scale.
3. CBD Works to Fight Inflammation
CBD has the potential to do wonders for your exercise program as it appears to help reduce inflammation in the body, helping you recover even faster. In 2018, researchers published their findings in Frontiers in Neurology, concluding CBD can reduce inflammation in the body and help improve pain and mobility in patients with multiple sclerosis.
In the study’s conclusion, the authors shared, “[CBD] is anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective.”
Furthermore, Dr. Chin points out that The National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine published a report after studying more than 24,000 medical journal articles and 10,000 research abstracts regarding cannabinoids. The team concluded there is indeed strong evidence from randomized controlled trials to support the conclusion that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in treating underlying chronic pain, which was most often related to nerve pain.
“Cannabinoids appear to modulate and interact at many pathways inherent to acute and chronic pain via opiate pathways, suggesting potential synergistic or similar benefits,” she says. “Cannabinoids also play a role in many regulatory physiological processes including inflammation.”
4. Topical CBD Could Help Improve Localized Skin Conditions
Speaking of all those anti-inflammatory properties, it appears that CBD may also help relieve painful skin conditions like eczema. Henry Granger Piffard, MD, a founding member of American dermatology and founding editor of the Journal of Cutaneous and Venereal Diseases, writes in his first textbook way back at the turn of the 20th century, “A pill of cannabis indica at bedtime has at my hands sometimes afforded relief to the intolerable itching of eczema.”
The National Eczema Association also points to one human trial for patients with atopic dermatitis. In the trial, participants used an endocannabinoid cream, which appeared to improve the severity of itch and loss of sleep by an average of 60 percent among the subjects. It adds, “Twenty percent of subjects were able to stop their topical immunomodulators, 38 percent ceased using their oral antihistamines, and 33.6 percent no longer felt the need to maintain their topical steroid regimen by the end of the study.”
5. CBD May Help Mitigate the Symptoms of Severe Epilepsy Disorders
CBD has a lot of purported uses fueled by mostly anecdotal evidence. However, some of its most promising advantages occur for those suffering from epilepsy disorders, specifically, in children living with Dravet Syndrom. In fact, the only FDA-approved CBD is Epidiolex, an oral solution for treating seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
A Final Word of CBD Caution
Despite these previously proven benefits, Dr. Tishler's thoughts on CBD remain cautious and encourage consumers to exercise caution too. There simply haven't been enough studies to know everything about all of its benefits and side effects to say for certain it's a miracle substance for the general consumption.
“I think CBD is useful for children with Dravet’s and Lenox-Gastault syndromes, but beyond that, I don’t think it’s useful at present,” Dr. Tishler says. "The data aren’t there for humans, there are too many safety concerns about the manufacturing process and drug interactions, and the amount needed to be beneficial (based on data) is too expensive."
"As we get more human studies, better regulation of manufacturing, and higher volume/less expensive sources, CBD may well be useful,” he concludes. “At present, not so much.”
If you do want to move forward with trying CBD for yourself, make sure to ask these five key questions about where your CBD comes from. Who knows, it could help ease your aches and pains and get to sleep more easily—but do your research and make sure you're buying from a safe supplier first.