The Health Benefits of CBD
CBD or Cannabidiol is a natural compound that has attracted an enormous amount of attention recently. However, there is a lot of confusion on the topic and there aren’t many people who really know what CBD is and what it is claimed to do. In this article we’ll take an in-depth look at the topic to help clear up the confusion.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of over 100 phytochemicals known as ‘cannabinoids’ that are naturally found in the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD, which is one of the most prominent compounds, was originally thought to have no bioactive role within the body. However, subsequent work soon realised that this initial observation was incorrect.
Does CBD Make You High?
As CBD is one of the most prevalent cannabinoids, it seems pretty logical to assume that CBD would possess psychoactive properties. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, as not only does CBD not cause a ‘high’ it has actually been shown to decrease the mind-altering effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that does stimulate a ‘high’.
So, just to be clear, CBD is the major non-psychoactive cannabinoid and THC is the psychoactive one within cannabis. THC is currently classed as a controlled substance in the UK and the government have set a legal limit of 0.2% in supplements.
As hemp is naturally high in CBD and low in THC, this is the strand of Cannabis sativa that is used to create CBD oil supplements. Although Marijuana is high in CBD, it also contains large amounts of THC, meaning that it is unsuitable for food supplements.
Although THC is a controlled substance that has a bad reputation, it actually has medicinal properties – something which has been known for thousands of years. So much so that the government has licensed the use of a drug called Sativex which contains THC and is used to help people who suffer with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
With the recent and powerful anecdotal evidence that has attracted much media attention, the government are planning to review the medicinal benefit of cannabis. But for now, we will focus solely on the topic of CBD; a compound that has always been legal.
How Does CBD Work?
All humans possess something known to scientists as the Endocannabinoid System, which is often shortened to ECS. The ECS is a highly complex and sophisticated biological system that is involved in an almost endless amount of bodily processes. Because of this, it is an exciting target for medical researchers who want to influence it in an attempt to treat various ailments.
The ECS is made up of many receptors that are found throughout the body in areas such as the brain & central nervous system, key organs, connective tissues, glands and immune cells.
Researchers have identified two different types of ECS receptors in the body: CB1 & CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily found within the brain and nervous system whilst CB2 are found in the other areas.
The body naturally produces its own cannabinoids to influence the CB1 and CB2 receptors and subsequently a range of bodily functions. However, we can also obtain cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. A major focus of clinical trials is how cannabinoids from external sources influence our endocannabinoid system, and this is something we are now going to explore…
What Does the Research Say About CBD?
Although the research into CBD is not currently exhaustive, these are areas of health that have been investigated thus far…
Pain and Inflammation
As we touched on earlier, cannabis has been used for millennia, and one of the main reasons for this has been due to its pain-easing properties.
One study published in 2015 investigated the effects of CBD on symptoms of MS. This study recruited 47 participants and randomly assigned each person to receive either a daily CBD oral spray or a placebo.
After just a month of treatment, it was found that the group receiving the CBD oral spray experienced significant improvements in pain, walking ability and muscle spasms. The reported benefits appear to be due to the muscle relaxing and anti-inflammatory effects that CBD exerts through the endocannabinoid system.
There have been numerous other studies that have provided complementary findings and just one of these was published in the Rheumatology Journal. Recruiting 58 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 5 weeks of CBD treatment led to significant improvements in pain at rest, pain when moving, quality of sleep and overall life quality when compared to the group receiving a placebo.
Furthermore, none of the participants withdrew from the study, indicating that the CBD was providing a benefit whilst being very well tolerated.
To conclude this section we thought it would be best to mention a recent systematic review on this topic, which analysed 18 high quality clinical trials. The trials that were reviewed had looked at various different ailments such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathic and mixed chronic pain.
Published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, it was found that 15 of the trials demonstrated that CBD led to a significant reduction in chronic pain compared to a placebo. Furthermore, numerous studies provided strong evidence for an improvement in quality of life and sleep. The researchers also noted that there were no serious adverse effects in any of the studies and the quality of the trials included in the review was ‘excellent’.
With mental health issues affecting 1 in 4 of us in the UK, there is significant interest in alleviating the associated symptoms. Furthermore, natural remedies are an attractive proposition, given that some prescription medications can become addictive and have some quite serious side-effects.
CBD has emerged as a potential natural compound that can provide a benefit. This is something that has been outlined in numerous research studies. One study assessed whether CBD could reduce anxiety during a public speaking test when compared to a placebo. It was found that the group receiving the CBD experienced significantly less anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance compared to the group who took a placebo.
Similarly, researchers have utilised brain scans to assess how CBD exerts its benefits. It was reported that after CBD administration there was an increased blood flow to areas of the brain that help control symptoms of anxiety and panic.
Interestingly, this data was supported by the subjective feedback of the participants, who said they felt less anxious and more relaxed. This was also a placebo controlled trial, meaning the participants didn’t know if they had consumed CBD or not.
CBD has also been shown to safely treat anxiety and insomnia in children who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, as there have not been masses of research into the effects of CBD in children, CBD isn’t recommended to those under the age of 18.
The effect of medicinal cannabis on seizures is something that has been in the news a lot recently, and the reported benefits have been nothing short of remarkable. Although fascinating, it is important to reproduce these anecdotal findings in a laboratory setting to ensure validity.
One study published by the Lancet – one of the most respected medical journals in the world - assessed the effects of CBD oil in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy. It was reported that over a twelve week period, daily administration of CBD oil reduced monthly seizures by an average of 36.5%.
A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine – another highly respected journal - assessed the effect of CBD on seizures, specifically in children with Dravet Syndrome. In 120 children, it was found that those who received the CBD reduced their seizures by over half on average. Furthermore, 5% of the children even became completely seizure-free. Although there were more side effects in the CBD group compared to placebo, these were typically mild (diarrhoea, fatigue, raised body temperature and sleepiness).
The same research group has very recently published similar findings, but in those with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. 225 patients were randomly assigned to receive a placebo or CBD oil for a period of 14 weeks. It was found that the CBD oil resulted in a significant reduction in the frequency of seizures, as they decreased by over 40%. Certain side effects such as diarrhoea and lack of appetite were reported, but again, CBD seemed to be well tolerated.
Quality of Life
Quality of life can be severely affected when dealing with chronic illness. Cancer treatment is renowned for stimulating some pretty unpleasant side effects such as fatigue, hair loss, nausea & vomiting and loss of appetite. Due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, CBD has been assessed to see if it can help to alleviate symptoms.
One study assessed the effects of CBD in 177 patients with advanced cancer who were suffering with chronic pain. The patients were randomly assigned to receive CBD or a placebo for a period of two weeks.
It was reported that there was a 30% improvement in quality of life due to improvements in pain scores, nausea and vomiting. Unlike previous studies, which have reported a benefit to sleep quality, this present study actually found no difference from CBD use.
A further study providing complementary findings discovered that CBD helps to reduce episodes of nausea and vomiting and also to increase appetite in those undergoing chemotherapy. As this should result in more food being consumed, it should subsequently help maintain strength and energy levels to a greater degree.
CBD has also been rumoured to possess anti-cancer properties, and many people have claimed to have improved their prognosis by taking it. This is likely to stem from in vitro (test-tube) investigations that have shown its ability to cause cancer cell death. As CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, it is plausible that it could have a positive effect in vivo (in living humans). However, it is far too premature to make such claims without the completion of high quality clinical trials – something which we await with interest.
Besides having the ability to improve the quality of life in those with cancer, CBD has also shown to exert a benefit in those with Parkinson’s disease. One study published in 2014 recruited 119 men and women who suffered from the disease. Although CBD was shown not to positively impact symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it was found that CBD administration significantly improved perceived wellbeing and quality of life.
How Much CBD Should I Take?
Like many supplements, the correct dose of CBD is likely to depend on the person and the reason why they are taking it.
That being said, the current body of research allows us to confidently provide a recommended dose that is both effective and safe. For those taking CBD to reduce pain, inflammation and anxiety, it appears that doses as low as 10mg per day can be effective, but slightly higher amounts (20-50mg per day) would be good to aim for.
For treating conditions that have seizures as a main symptom, significantly higher doses have been used. Specifically, a dose in the range of 300-750mg per day has been most frequently administrated in clinical trials.
What Are the Side Effects of CBD?
You will be pleased to hear that a dose of up to 1500mg per day for an extended period has been shown to be safe and effective in humans. Because of this, and the amount of studies that have reported no serious side effects, CBD is widely regarded as safe. CBD is also not addictive and does not stimulate withdrawal symptoms upon its discontinuation. Furthermore, humans do not build up a tolerance to its effects.
That being said, there are reports of fairly mild side effects in a small proportion of people who have taken CBD in scientific investigations. The most common side effects are tiredness, diarrhoea, changes in appetite and sleep habits. However it is important to reiterate that such side effects are only experienced by a small amount of people.
As our knowledge of CBD’s interactions with prescription medication is not extensive, it is advisable that you speak with your doctor about CBD supplementation if you are currently using any medication.
Hopefully this article has provided a strong overview of the topic of CBD, outlining what it is, what benefits it can provide and how it works. In summary, this intriguing natural compound has numerous potential benefits to health and wellbeing, thus showing that the hype around CBD is justified. As CBD has a commendable safety profile, there should be little concern about using it as a food supplement.
As this article has covered quite a lot of information, we thought it would be best to conclude by summarising the key take home messages:
• Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 cannabinoids naturally found within the Cannabis sativa plant. It is the most prominent non-psychoactive cannabinoid and unlike THC, does not cause a ‘high’.
• Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system within the body and this is the mechanism by which they influence bodily functions.
• Research has consistently shown that 10-50mg of CBD per day is effective for decreasing chronic pain and inflammation whilst helping to decrease symptoms of anxiety.
• Higher doses (300-750mg) have also shown to be effective for decreasing the frequency and severity of seizures and improve quality of life in people with illnesses such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
• CBD is widely regarded as safe, with chronic exposure to 1500mg per day causing no harm. However, a small proportion of people may suffer from mild side-effects such as tiredness, diarrhoea, changes in appetite and sleep habits.
• As a precaution, those using prescription medication are advised to speak with their doctor before supplementing with CBD.