Image by Adam Berry/Getty Images
From gummies to body lotions to honey sticks, people are putting CBD — aka cannabidiol — in everything these days. The products are marketed as treatments for a myriad of things, including anxiety, pain, and inflammation. But while plenty of people say CBD works great for them, the science on its benefits is lagging behind.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of several chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). The “psychoactive” part of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which affects brain function and gets people high. It interferes with information processing in the brain and causes euphoria, among other things.
CBD is similar in structure to THC, but it doesn’t have the same psychoactive effects on people. Both interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, which facilitates the interplay between cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) and the nervous system.
People extract CBD from the cannabis plant, which has two well-known varieties: hemp and marijuana. Compared to hemp, marijuana has more THC and less CBD. As a result, the two plants are regulated differently. Some CBD products use CBD from hemp, while others source it from marijuana.
CBD’s science-backed medical uses
When it comes to pharmaceuticals, CBD is only approved in one drug: Epidiolex, a medication for children with epilepsy. Research shows that CBD can treat certain types of epilepsy by reducing the number of seizures a person experiences. The drug can have some side effects, like diarrhea, poor appetite, sleepiness, and vomiting, but for many, the benefits outweigh these costs.
While people are having success using CBD to treat their epilepsy, it’s still unclear how CBD is reducing the frequency of seizures. Scientists also don’t know if it remains effective after several years of continued use.
In addition to epilepsy, scientists are researching CBD’s effects on a variety of other health concerns, like schizophrenia, addiction, and inflammatory bowel disease. The cannabinoid has promise, but the science just isn’t there yet to say whether it’s an effective treatment for these other diseases or not.
On top of this, people are regularly using CBD supplements to solve other problems.
Gummies and tinctures: Can CBD treat anxiety?
If you’re looking for a CBD product to treat your anxiety, there are a lot of options. Gummies and tinctures seem to be the most popular for anxiety relief, but there are also CBD vape oils, honey sticks, chocolates, drinks, gums, and more.
For many people, marijuana is calming. But it can also incite anxiety and panic attacks. Most of the research into this dichotomy surrounds its psychoactive compound, THC. So, the question is, if you consume just CBD, what effect does it have on your anxiety?
Early scientific experiments have shown that CBD might alleviate anxiety. However, many of these studies have been done on lab animals, so the results don’t necessarily translate to people. There have been small studies on people that suggest CBD is effective in fighting anxiety. But these researchers often only looked at single doses, used a small group of people, or didn’t control for the placebo effect. As a result, scientists are still researching CBD and anxiety, with no conclusions about if it actually lessens anxious feelings.
While science is lagging behind the CBD market, there are plenty of anecdotes about how CBD oil benefits people. For instance, personal trainer Lynn Montoya has been taking CBD for the past three years.
“I started using [CBD] initially for anxiety,” Montoya said. “And it really helps with that. It’s amazing how well it helps.” She uses both CBD oil and gummies. The oil is more expensive, but she says it works faster than the gummies. While she first got CBD for her anxiety, she also uses it for headaches, muscle recovery, and sleep.
Do CBD body lotions and pills provide pain relief?
Once people got the idea that CBD was beneficial, they began putting it in everything. So, in addition to anxiety treatment, CBD is also marketed as a pain reliever. There is an assortment of cooling creams, body balms, and lotions that boast their CBD content’s ability to soothe aches and soreness. You can also get CBD patches, bath salts, and pills for pain relief. Some are marketed toward relieving menstrual cramps, while others are for post-workout muscle soreness. Many people use medical marijuana to curb their chronic pain, so do its benefits translate to CBD?
The story of science, CBD, and pain relief is much the same as the anxiety dialogue. Some studies are suggesting CBD can treat pain, but they have mostly been done on rats, and there haven’t been any robust studies done on humans.
Anecdotal evidence for CBD’s pain relief benefits is mixed. A pain clinician at Oregon Health & Science University, Kimberly Mauer, told Science News, “About half the patients say they get some benefit [from CBD], and about half say they didn’t notice anything.”
CBD is in all kinds of skincare products
While people tout the abundant benefits of CBD oil, many skincare products encourage its use specifically for fighting inflammation. There are CBD infused facial oils, eye balms, lip balms, and soaps. According to their labels, these products promote calm skin and smooth complexions by soothing inflammation.
However, it’s unclear how much CBD can even absorb through the skin. So for all the pain-treating body lotions and inflammation-reducing facial oils, it’s debatable if the CBD in the products is getting into the body at all. Neurobiologist Margaret Haney, director of the Marijuana Research Laboratory at Columbia University, said to Science News, “I’m not convinced that anything you’re rubbing on your body with CBD is even getting through.” Any benefits people get from CBD infused skincare products may just be coming from the other ingredients.
CBD oil benefits: Is it all placebo?
Alright, so if none of CBD oil’s benefits (other than reducing seizures) have been backed by science, then why are people calling it a miracle oil? Well, there are a few possibilities.
First off, scientists won’t say CBD can treat anxiety, pain, and inflammation because of the lack of research on the compound. It’s entirely possible that CBD does all these things, but they just don’t know it yet. It’s been very difficult for scientists to get ahold of CBD to use in research, as it’s regulated by the federal government. CBD extracted from marijuana is still classified as a restricted drug. However, CBD sourced from hemp recently became more available. As a result, scientists haven’t researched CBD extensively.
People using CBD may be experiencing a placebo effect. It’s well known in the medical sciences: when expecting good outcomes, you’re more likely to see them. CBD may not be providing any physiological benefits, but because people believe it is, they see the good results. This could explain why some people see results from CBD and others don’t.
Alternatively, there’s the explanation that everyone is different and that affects CBD in the body. CBD’s effect on one person doesn’t necessarily mean it will have the same effect on another. And of course, there’s the possibility that CBD oil’s benefits result from a complicated mix off all three of these options.
Be careful about which CBD products you buy
If you’re going to buy any CBD products, you should be careful about where you get them from. Rather than a prescription or over-the-counter medication, these products are regulated as supplements (which means they aren’t really regulated at all). When it comes to supplements, there’s no guarantee that the label is telling the truth. The amount of CBD in a product may be more or less than what’s listed.
In fact, scientists tested 84 different commercially available CBD products and found that less than a third were labeled with an accurate amount of CBD. And, even worse, 18 of them contained THC. So, it’s best to research for the most reliable seller before purchasing any CBD infused product.