Cannabidiol, or CBD, seems to be all the rage lately.
Local coffee shops have iced tea laced with this natural hemp plant-derived chemical. At the People’s Market you can buy cookies or cocktails with a dose added. And local health food stores have a plethora of supplements containing the supplement.
Why is it so popular? Historical use suggests CBD has many wellness benefits. Recent studies have confirmed those uses and even found more benefits.
Known as a natural remedy, CBD is one of over 120 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the hemp or cannabis plant. Cannabis sativa is one of the oldest plants grown for medicinal purposes.
An Irish physician, William O’Shaughnessy, working at a hospital in Calcutta, India, first introduced this herb to the Western world as a treatment for convulsive diseases including tetanus.
At the same time, the mid-1800s, a French physician named Moreau de Tours was experimenting with cannabis to treat mental disorders.
There is evidence that this plant has been around much longer than just a few hundred years. Written records exist of usage many thousands of years ago, as far back as the Bronze Age.
Much of the recent press on CBD comes from the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which, with strong support from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, included a hemp cannabis policy. Specifically any of this type of plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the compound most people associate with psychoactive properties — can be grown, sold, transported across state lines and possessed.
CBD is often mentioned these days as a treatment for a chronic condition like anxiety, pain or insomnia. Even some cancers may respond positively to treatment by the simple green plant. Here is a review of the science.
One of the well-known benefits of CBD is pain relief. Whether from chronic neurological issues or arthritis pain, this supplement appears to provide relief.
One 2018 review study, from the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, assessed how well CBD helped with specific types of pain, including fibromyalgia as well as cancer and neuropathic pain. The study determined that it was effective for overall pain without causing many negative side effects.
This plant-derived compound seems to act on a human’s own cannabinoid system to produce analgesic, antispasmodic, muscle relaxant and even anti-inflammatory effects. According to the report, CBD helps with pain by affecting production of the chemicals the body releases that produce acute and chronic inflammation in the body. It also seems to inhibit nerve damage and regulate neurotransmitters in the brain related to pain perception.
In some research, the whole plant seemed to work better. As often happens in nature, a plant will have properties within it that work in orchestration to provide positive outcomes.
Although CBD is often used orally, a gel or cream applied topically may be helpful for pain like arthritis. One study, published in the European Journal of Pain, found reduced swelling and pain with a CBD-containing liquid that was used on the skin to relieve joint pain.
According to the National Cancer Institute, CBD is a possible option for chemotherapy side effects like pain, vomiting and lack of appetite. A study in 2010 revealed that a combination of an oral CBD-THC extract used with an opioid drug worked better than the opioid alone. Another study found similar results with an oral spray.
Migraine headaches also seem to respond positively to CBD. Although this compound alone has not been studied for these types of headaches, research suggests a combination CBD-THC product could reduce these devastating headaches by 40 percent. This combination, at a dose of 200 milligrams, seemed to work even better than some of the standard prescription medications.
This natural compound has other positive effects on the brain. The first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved cannabis-derived medicine, Epidiolex, contains CBD. Used for several types of childhood epilepsy syndromes, which often do not respond to regular medications, the drug was able to reduce and in some cases completely relieve seizures in children.
According to a report by Harvard University, this cannabinoid can also treat anxiety, and sleep disorders. CBD seems to help with both falling asleep and staying asleep, something many medications cannot do. Doses and types of administration vary in these studies.
Several cancers seem to respond to the therapeutic effects of CBD. Researchers at California Pacific Medical Center have shown that CBD can treat brain cancer by killing cancer cells and preventing spread of the disease.
They are also finding its use for metastatic breast cancer, especially the particularly aggressive triple negative breast cancer. Especially exciting is the use of CBD with chemotherapy to increase sensitivity to the chemo drug, allowing it to be more effective.
There are some possible side effects of CBD. Nausea, fatigue and irritability may occur. And it can interact with some medications in the same way that grapefruit juice does. Harvard recommends checking with a pharmacist before combining drugs with CBD.
Expect to find more reports about this natural compound in the near future. Like all supplements sold over the counter, CBD is not regulated, so products will vary. In fact, most clinical research is being done on much higher doses of CBD than can be obtained from purchased products. One site, ConsumerLab.com, lists specific amounts of CBD in its tested products.
According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a Harvard University physician, “Nothing about CBD is ‘gospel’ yet. … More studies need to be done.”
In the meantime, this compound might be a product that can be added to your natural therapy medicine cabinet.