Cannabis has had a wide range of applications throughout the last 12,000 years – such as making textiles and treating pain. In recent years, global interest in the plant and its possible uses has increased, partly due to the potential health benefits of one of its primary cannabinoids: cannabidiol (CBD).
Some companies and individuals claim that CBD is a “miracle cure” for a range of diseases and conditions – unfortunately, it’s not. However, although research into the cannabinoid is still in its relative infancy, studies have shown positive results in various treatments, with only very mild side-effects. Even so, it can be hard to differentiate the facts from the unsupported claims.
In this article, we explain what CBD is currently used for around the world and outline the supporting evidence.
The ECS – Bridge Between the Body and the Mind
To understand how CBD works and why it’s used to treat certain conditions, it’s critical to understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex biological system found in the human body tasked with maintaining physical and emotional homeostasis (balance). It does this by sending endocannabinoids between cannabinoid (CB) receptors located throughout the body to regulate various biological and cognitive processes.
The ECS is also responsive to plant-based cannabinoids such as CBD, which acts as an antagonist to the body’s CB receptors that are found throughout the entire body. It makes it harder for them to be over- or under-stimulated, which helps the body to achieve homeostasis quickly and efficiently.
CBD Can Improve General Well-being
Not everyone turns to CBD to help alleviate a specific disease or condition – some people use it to enhance their general well-being. We know it increases endocannabinoid production, which helps the ECS to perform optimally and maintain homeostasis (balance) consistently throughout the entire body. Plus, activating CB receptors in the immune system improves general immunity and promotes overall health.
CBD also increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is effectively a neurotransmitter responsible for relaxation. When we are overstimulated mentally, GABA activity increases to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, and vice versa. It also plays a vital role in sleep hygiene by preparing the mind to fall asleep at night. Consistently low GABA levels can result in insomnia, anxiety, and depression, as well as compromised immunity and digestive problems if it persists for a long period of time.
Using CBD for Anxiety and Stress
There are many potential causes of anxiety and stress, such as poor gut health, metabolic problems, sleep deprivation, traumatic events, and nutritional deficiencies. CBD is thought to be able to relieve symptoms through its ability to reduce inflammation, encourage a healthy sleep pattern, promote the production of serotonin, and reduce muscle tension, among others. Although research is still in relatively early stages and much more is required in this area, some studies have been conducted that have returned promising results.
For example, in 2011, 24 people with a social anxiety disorder were asked to deliver a speech in front of a camera. Anxiety levels were measured before the participants were given either CBD or a placebo, then after the speech had been given. The results showed that the participants who consumed CBD experienced a quick and significant reduction in anxiety compared with those who consumed the placebo.
A phase 3 clinical trial has been proposed by McMaster University involving people with various anxiety-related disorders being treated with CBD oil capsules. This trial, which will focus on adults aged from 21 to 65, is likely to provide vital evidence as to whether CBD really is effective in treating anxiety- and stress-related disorders.
Using CBD for Inflammation
Inflammation plays a key role in various diseases and conditions and is often the underlying cause of chronic pain. Although there are multiple treatments available that involve conventional medicine, CBD has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that work in multiple ways.
Firstly, it stops the breakdown of anandamide, which regulates inflammation throughout the body. Secondly, it slows the activation of certain immune cells that maintain autoimmune-related inflammation. Thirdly, it triggers programmed cell death (referred to as “apoptosis”) in the cells that contribute to chronic inflammation.
This makes CBD useful to not only tackle inflammation directly but also to treat inflammatory-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney disease, among others. Its ability to block pain receptors also means it can be effective in relieving the pain experienced alongside these conditions.
Using CBD for Pain
Whether due to lifestyle, illness, or injury, chronic pain affects millions of people around the world on a daily basis – and traditionally, the most effective treatment involves strong prescription medications, many of which come with unwanted side-effects as well as the risk of addiction. However, CBD has been shown to be effective in managing chronic pain without any of the adverse effects.
We have already discussed how CBD can treat pain that is caused either directly or indirectly by inflammation, but there are other types of chronic pain that could potentially be relieved using the cannabinoid.
For example, the results from one study suggest that CBD can reduce overall muscle spasticity in people with severe conditions such as multiple sclerosis. By blocking pain receptors and relaxing muscle fibers, CBD can provide a significant reduction in neuropathic pain in general — which has traditionally been difficult to treat with conventional medicine.
Using CBD for Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain and causes bursts of electrical activity that result in seizures – it’s estimated that 65 million people globally have it. In recent years, studies have shown CBD to be an effective treatment – even for specific types of epilepsy that have traditionally been difficult to treat with conventional medicine. It is perhaps one of the most researched areas of potential CBD use, with several large clinical studies have already been conducted around the world.
A recent analysis of 670 people with various types of epilepsy found that 71% of those taking CBD experienced a reduction in the frequency of seizures. Remarkably, approximately 40% of participants had their seizure frequency reduced by 50%, a quarter experienced a 70% reduction, and 10% reported to be completely seizure-free by the time the study was concluded.
In another study in 2016, 74 patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy were given a CBD-enriched hemp oil for approximately six months. A huge 89% reported a reduction in the number of seizures they experienced.
There is, therefore, no doubt that CBD can be effective in treating epilepsy, but more research is required to verify exactly how. It is thought that CBD is a natural anticonvulsant that has neuroprotective qualities – i.e., supporting overall brain health. It is also thought to modulate receptors in the brain that control various neuroactivity, as well as improving GABA activity, which in turn reduces electrical activity in the brain.
Using CBD for Skin Conditions
Applied topically as well as consumed, CBD can be a potential solution for localized, targeted treatment of minor cuts, muscle and joint aches and pains, inflammation, irritated or dry skin, and sunburn. Due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties (as discussed earlier in this article), it works best on conditions for which inflammation is the primary cause, such as eczema.
Acne: this is an inflammatory reaction to a mild bacterial infection – therefore, CBD’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties work to counteract it. However, overproduction of sebum in the skin is also an underlying cause – and CBD is able to lower the body’s production of this oily secretion. For mild cases of acne, it’s advised to apply the CBD topically, but more severe cases may require both internal consumption and topical application to yield the best results.
Eczema: again, this condition occurs primarily as a result of inflammation, so CBD provides effective relief when used as a treatment. Similar to the treatment of acne, mild cases are likely to only require a topical application, while internal consumption may also be required for severe cases.
Psoriasis: a condition that causes patches of red, flaky, crusty skin to appear on the body, psoriasis is primarily caused by excessive production of keratinocyte. CBD may be an effective topical treatment, evidenced by one study that showed it to inhibit the proliferation of keratinocytes, thereby reducing the overall progression and severity of the condition.
Allergic dermatitis: this condition causes irritation – sometimes even eczema – on the skin when it comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. For the same reasons as those discussed in relation to eczema, CBD could potentially provide an effective treatment.
Additionally, recent research shows that endocannabinoid activity increases during an allergic reaction, suggesting that the ECS is involved in its regulation. Other studies showed that symptoms of allergic dermatitis are exacerbated when the ECS is not working optimally. CBD offers an effective solution by stimulating endocannabinoid production and inhibiting its breakdown.
Using CBD for Cancer and Cancer Treatment
Although CBD is no cure for cancer, it’s a potential role in relation to cancer treatment and palliative care has been the focus of research in recent years. One study suggests that endocannabinoids may be able to slow tumor growth, which points to the ECS as having a potentially key role in the body’s response to such diseases. As a result, due to its ability to boost endocannabinoid production, CBD has possible use in slowing tumor growth with little to no side-effects. Additionally, CBD has been shown to regulate key immune cells tasked with detecting and eliminating cancer cells from the body.
In terms of palliative care, CBD has been shown to reduce effects such as severe nausea, vomiting, and pain. It can also improve sleep patterns and may be effective in treating anxiety and depression that is often associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Currently, there are two approved pharmaceutical medicines for cancer patients in the US that are based on cannabinoids – including CBD. These are Dronabinol (Marinol®) and Nabilone (Cesamet®).
Sativex (Nabiximil®) has also been approved throughout the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and is also sold under different names in many other countries across the globe — such as Mevatyl® in Brazil.
Using CBD for Obesity
Unfortunately, perhaps due to the modern lifestyles that most of us lead, obesity is becoming somewhat of an epidemic in many parts of the world. According to some experts, the ECS influences appetite regulation and consequently plays a pivotal role in obesity. Studies suggest that in animals with few or no CB2 receptors, there is a high chance of fat tissue developing, while those lacking CB1 receptors had less fat tissue. This implies that antagonizing CB2 receptors and blocking CB1 receptors may be a potential treatment for obesity.
Another study explained another way in which CBD could be used to treat obesity directly through its effects on adipocytes (fat cells). It suggested that CBD may be able to turn white adipocytes (which store fat as a source of energy) into brown adipocytes (which are used for energy production and heat distribution). The same study also implied that CBD improves thermogenesis (heat production), encourages lipolysis (the process by which fat is broken down by the body), and reduces lipogenesis (creation of fat stores). All these processes are considered to be beneficial to those trying to tackle obesity.
The Future Is Promising
As is the case with most cannabis-related topics, there is limited research into the precise use of CBD, so there are therefore limited applications that have results to support them. There are even studies (although small) that suggest it could be beneficial to combat infertility and drug addiction.
Unfortunately, most are still in their infancy, and much more research is required before we have concrete evidence to support the claims being made by several experts around the world. However, results seem promising so far, so hopefully, CBD’s role in the treatment of numerous diseases and conditions will expand in the near future.