CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a trending ingredient the natural products industry and is the focus of a new area of cannabis research. CBD is one of many cannabinoids, or molecules produced uniquely by the cannabis family. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary psychoactive element in marijuana), CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn't have a strong effect on cognitive brain activity and doesn't cause the "high" associated with marijuana.
Every variety of the cannabis family produces cannabinoids, including hemp. While CBD and THC are the most well-known cannabinoids, there are many different types, and only recently have significant resources been poured into their study. Our brains have specific receptors designed to accept cannabinoids, known as CB1 and CB2. These receptors are responsible for the assimilation of cannabinoid molecules into your system, resulting in the psychoactive and immune responses correlated with cannabis consumption.
In the last few years, there have been many advances in cannabis processing and consumption methods. Concentrated products such as oil and rosin (a sap-like product extracted via heat and pressure) have allowed for cleaner ingestion methods, such as vaporization, to become more widespread. These new technologies have brought more consistent, identifiable dosages to patients and enthusiasts alike, while potentially enabling safer methods of consumption. Finally, more accurate and detailed studies of cannabis effects and usage are underway, as prohibition continues to be challenged.
According to nonscientific anecdotal evidence, CBD is good for treating discomfort and illness of all kinds. Sufferers of everything from anxiety and aches to epilepsy and cancer are evangelizing for the CBD molecule. But the largely prohibited status of cannabis has prevented many long-term, academically rigorous studies on most cannabinoids in isolation, leaving these anecdotal claims mostly uninvestigated until recently.
Research on CBD
"There is a great deal of interest in the possible therapeutic effects of CBD, but there is very little evidence of efficacy," said Dr. J Hampton Atkinson, co-director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego. CBD may have health benefits, but the lack of research in this area means there just aren't enough data points to support most of the anecdotal claims. Along that same line, the lack of research also means the potential health risks of consuming CBD are unclear.
However, now that cannabis is enjoying a research renaissance by way of legalization efforts, medical science is gaining a much more detailed perspective on this popular and fascinating plant. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, a federal database of accredited clinical trials worldwide, there are about 150 trials in progress that are testing CBD as a treatment for a wide variety of health conditions, including autism, alcoholism, skin conditions and schizophrenia. For their part, the CMCR is conducting rigorous studies of CBD for its potential to treat schizophrenia and autism.
Some research suggests that CBD may reduce anxiety and self-deprecating thoughts, and there's evidence that CBD has antipsychotic effects in people with schizophrenia. But other studies show no significant benefit of CBD over a placebo.
A 2017 clinical trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that CBD was highly effective in reducing seizures in people with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. The FDA subsequently approved an oral CBD solution, called Epidiolex, for treating the rare disease.
Within the CMCR, there is also "much interest in the possible anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, for use in arthritis of various types, including knees and hands," Atkinson said. Recent in vitro research with human cell lines afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis has suggested that CBD treatment may help reduce inflammation.
Atkinson emphasized that "CBD, like many other substances, probably should be avoided in pregnancy." Additionally, since the commercial cannabis market is mostly unregulated, there is no good way to know that what you buy is actually what you get in terms of dosage or content of product. "In studies done by the state of California it appears that a good deal of product labeling is incorrect — the dose or percentage of CBD or THC is usually overstated," he said.
Scientific observation takes time, and the research community has only just begun to pursue scientific inquiry into the discrete effects of various cannabinoids. That said, many researchers believe the potential carried by CBD is promising.
- Read more about CBD, what we know and what we don't, from Harvard Medical School.
- Learn how to identify reputable CBD brands, according to CBDOilUsers.com.
- Find out what Raphael Mechoulam, a chemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has to say about advances in cannabinoid research (opens in new tab).