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You may have heard things about CBD that sound far too good to be true. Can it really help people with anxiety, gut issues, and chronic pain? What about antibiotic resistance, insomnia, and psoriasis?
What about all the people who have tried CBD for certain conditions and said they didn’t feel a thing, and that it “didn’t work” for them?
And how can one substance – made from a PLANT – do all the things people claim it can do?
Has CBD earned its health halo?
It is easy to understand why CBD would get a reputation as a miracle cure, because many people DO experience dramatic improvements for a long list of health conditions, and studies on its use have yielded impressive results.
Before we explore the claims about CBD and how accurate they are, it is important to understand how it works in the body.
First, an important note: Nothing in this article should be considered medical advice. This guide is for informational purposes only. CBD is a very safe substance and is generally well tolerated. However, it can interfere with certain medications. Please consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking CBD, especially if you are taking medication or have serious health concerns.
Everyone has an endocannabinoid system.
It turns out, scientists DO have some ideas about why CBD seems to help so many health conditions, as described in the fantastic article Can CBD Really Do All That?
How could one family of molecules help so many maladies? The most obvious response is that they might not; all this research is preliminary and might not pan out. But scientists often propose a counter-explanation: Many chronic disorders, even though they seem distinct, are characterized by dysfunction in the same few pathways. Inflammation and oxidative stress, for example, occur in schizophrenia, metabolic disorders, heart disease and other ailments. The therapeutic magic of CBD and, in some cases, THC — and maybe some of the more than 100 other cannabinoids in cannabis — may come from the ways that, by tweaking the endocannabinoid system, they push the body away from disease toward the unruffled state scientists call homeostasis.
Here’s a brief summary of what the endocannabinoid system is, from our article Everything You Need to Know About the Endocannabinoid System:
It is believed that the endocannabinoid system (ECS), present in all mammals (and many other animals), evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago. Humans and animals naturally synthesize endocannabinoids, which are chemical compounds that activate the same receptors as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the best-known active component of marijuana (Cannabis sativa).
Endocannabinoids help keep internal bodily functions running smoothly.
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system which plays many important roles in the human body. It is responsible for the physical and psychological effects of cannabis.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.
Does the ECS play a role in all health conditions?
Some experts believe Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency is likely implicated in all disease conditions. We explained this theory in detail in our article Everything You Need to Know About the Endocannabinoid System:
When the ECS becomes dysregulated, this is called clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. Experts believe this dysfunction is likely implicated in nearly all disease conditions.
According to U.S. National Institutes of Health scientists Pal Pacher and George Kunos, “Modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans, including obesity/metabolic syndrome, diabetes and diabetic complications, neurodegenerative, inflammatory, cardiovascular, liver, gastrointestinal, skin diseases, pain, psychiatric disorders, cachexia, cancer, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting among many others.”
Project CBD elaborates:
“When the endocannabinoid system doesn’t function properly, our health suffers. By modulating the endocannabinoid system and improving endocannabinoid tone, CBD and THC can slow, or in some cases stop, the progression of various diseases.”
Dr. Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher, believes that many chronic diseases may be caused by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. In an interview with Project CBD, Dr. Russo explained what a deficiency of endocannabinoid function might look like:
“If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems. It occurred to me that a number of very common diseases seem to fit a pattern that would be consistent with an endocannabinoid deficiency, specially these are migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. They have some things in common. They’re all hyper-algesic syndromes, meaning that there’s seems to be pain out of proportion to what should be going on, in other words you can look at the tissues they look okay, but there’s biochemically something that’s driving the pain. (source)”
To read Dr. Russo’s 2016 paper on endocannabinoid deficiency, please click here: Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.
Does CBD treat or cure anything?
You may come across articles on CBD that claim it can “treat” or “cure” certain conditions.
While those terms might seem like they mean the same thing, they don’t – and the distinction is important to understand.
Here are several medical definitions for the word “treatment”:
- The management and care of a patient; see also care.
- The combating of a disease or disorder; called also therapy.
- The use of an agent, procedure, or regimen, such as a drug, surgery, or exercise, in an attempt to cure or mitigate a disease, condition, or injury.
- The agent, procedure, or regimen so used.
- To heal; to make well.
- Restoration of health; recovery from disease.
- Complete resolution of a disease.
- An agent, such as a drug, that restores health; a remedy.
Some diseases can be cured, and some cannot. Treatments can be a cure (in other words, they can get rid of a disease), or treatments can be used to manage and control uncurable diseases and their symptoms.
CBD is currently not known to be a cure for any disorders or diseases – and until more research is done, it shouldn’t be considered one. However, so far, studies on CBD for a wide range of health concerns have shown promise and potential for symptom management and relief. Is CBD a “treatment” for anything? I suppose one could view it as such, depending on the definition used and the health concern in question. Either way, it is important to remember that different people may experience different effects from CBD – even for the same condition. So, while some people may find CBD reduces their arthritis pain, others may not feel any relief at all, for example. Of course, the quality and dosage of the CBD product being used also can impact what a user experiences. CBD is definitely not a one-size-fits-all substance.
Research on CBD is still in the early stages.
In recent years, the scientific study of CBD has accelerated, thanks to expanding interest in the substance.
Cannabinoids including CBD are being researched as potential treatments for all kinds of health concerns, not just those involving endocannabinoid deficiency. Many studies have already revealed that CBD may be therapeutic for many conditions, including but not limited to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- addiction and alcoholism
- cardiovascular disease
- digestive issues
- epilepsy and seizure disorders
- insomnia and sleep disorders
- neurological, neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, and psychiatric illnesses
- acute and chronic kidney disease
- autoimmune diseases
- chronic inflammatory diseases
- chronic pain conditions
Project CBD is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to promoting and publicizing research into the medical uses of CBD and other components of the cannabis plant. Earlier this year, they conducted a comprehensive research survey of 3,506 people to explore who is using CBD, what kind of products they are using, for what purpose, and to what ends. Survey participants reported using CBD for over 200 medical conditions.
The survey asked about CBD’s impact on six quality of life measurements: Pain, mood, sleep, physical function, energy or motivation, and the ability to socialize. A majority of participants reported some improvement across all measures, but the most significant were in the areas of pain and mood. The survey revealed that a lot of people are experiencing truly impressive benefits!
In the Summary of Key Findings section of the report, Project CBD writes,
This observational study validated some well-established facts about CBD – namely that it has a strong safety profile and is extraordinarily effective at ameliorating pain and anxiety. Participants reported significant improvements in pain and mood regardless of the underlying medical condition.
That said, the study also showed that CBD is not a panacea – as some would claim – for all that ails us. Some symptoms were decidedly less responsive to CBD products. For example, CBD was not particularly useful in helping people with gastrointestinal diseases maintain a healthy weight. Nor did it have much of an impact on PMS– related bloating, cancer-related diarrhea and constipation, or low sex drive during menopause.
Nonetheless, it was astonishingly effective at simply making people feel better – most likely because of its impact on pain, mood, and sleep.
The survey also found that there were few adverse effects, which is consistent with studies showing that CBD is safe and well-tolerated even at high doses. (source)
To read the full report, click here: CBD Survey Results: Cultivating Wellness
So, does CBD “work”?
Some people experience dramatic effects after taking CBD, but for many, the effects are quite subtle.
Keep in mind that not feeling any obvious effects doesn’t mean that CBD is not doing anything in your body, much like some vitamins and other supplements you might take. And, it can take time for CBD to take effect.
There are many possible reasons it seems like CBD isn’t “working” for you, including:
- Dosage, type of CBD product, and method of administration
- Product quality
- The severity and/or cause of the condition or symptoms you are trying to manage
Dosing, type of product, and method of administration
CBD dosing can be tricky and often requires some personal experimentation. There is no standard dosage, and it can be effective therapeutically at a wide range of doses. A popular saying among CBD advocates is “start low, go slow” for this reason.
Because CBD binds to so many different receptors, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact dosage for every person and every wellness concern. A range of doses from 10 mg to 600 mg and higher amounts has been studied in scientific research, for sleep problems, anxiety, depression, stress, and other conditions with varying results. For more on CBD dosing, please read CBD Dosing: How Much Should You Take?
Type of product
There are many kinds of CBD products, including (but not limited to) tinctures, capsules, and topicals. There are full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolates, and they are offered in a wide range of potencies.
To further complicate matters, potencies listed on product packaging can be confusing. For example, some products say things like “1000 mg of hemp extract” and others say things like “1000 mg of CBD.” Some labels list the total amount of CBD in the entire bottle, and others list it per serving.
Let’s take a look at a product label as an example.
This full spectrum CBD from Organica Naturals says “1000 mg” on the label.
In this case, the “1000 mg” does not mean per dose or per dropper, it means the entire bottle contains 1000 mg of CBD.
This is where CBD math can get confusing. Thankfully, Organica Naturals breaks it down for us on their website:
Bottle size: 1 FL OZ (30mL)
CBD concentration/1 drop: 2.0mg CBD/drop (~17 drops/mL)
CBD concentration/1 mL: 33.333mg CBD/mL
CBD concentration/30 mL bottle: Over 1000mg CBD/30 mL bottle
Total single-drop doses per bottle: 500+ doses
If you divided this bottle into 30 doses, for example, each dose would contain 33.333 mg of CBD (for approximately 17 drops of the oil).
Let’s take a look at the 5000 mg CBD oil Organica Naturals offers:
This label indicates that this entire bottle contains 5000 mg of CBD.
Organica Naturals breaks it down for us on their website:
Bottle size: 1 FL OZ (30mL)
CBD concentration/1 drop: 10.0mg CBD/drop (~17 drops/mL)
CBD concentration/1 mL: 166.667mg CBD/mL
CBD concentration/30 mL bottle: 5000mg CBD/30 mL bottle
Total single-drop doses per bottle: 500+ doses
If you divided this bottle into 30 doses, each dose would contain approximately 166.667 mg of CBD (about 17 drops of the oil).
Every company is different, as there currently isn’t a standardized CBD labeling system. Be sure to read labels carefully – some products list the total mg of CBD per SERVING or per DROP on the label instead of the total amount of CBD in the entire bottle.
Capsules provide a more precise way to measure dosage consistently – for example, each Organica Naturals capsule contains 25 mg of CBD, and this is clearly stated on the bottle:
Topical products typically list the CBD content for the entire container.
Method of administration
There are various ways to take CBD. Three of the most popular methods are sublingually, orally, and topically. The bioavailability of each method varies (bioavailability refers to the degree and rate at which a substance that is absorbed into the bloodstream). Below you will find basic estimates for how long CBD takes to impact your body:
- Orally (swallowed): 20 to 30 minutes
- Sublingually (placed under the tongue): 15 to 25 minutes – This method has higher bioavailability than oral administration – place the drops under your tongue and hold them there for 30 to 90 seconds before swallowing
- Topically: 25 to 45 minutes
There is a lot of variation in CBD product quality, unfortunately. Sometimes, products do not contain what the label claims. Look for products that have third-party testing certificates (Certificates of Analysis, also called CoA) posted on their website or in their packaging. CoAs are laboratory reports measuring the purity and potency of any given batch of a CBD product. Reputable CBD companies will typically have an independent lab (“third-party”) test their products and generate their CoA to ensure there’s no bias.
If you aren’t experiencing relief from symptoms when you take CBD, you can try experimenting with different doses, or try a different product (or a different brand, or method of administration).
The severity and/or cause of the condition or symptoms you are trying to manage
As explained earlier in this article and elsewhere on this website, individual responses to CBD can vary a great deal – even for the same health concerns. One person with arthritis might experience significant pain relief after one day on a low dose of CBD, while another might use the same dose for a few weeks and not feel improvement at all. CBD is truly individual and it does take some experimentation to find your “sweet spot.”
Also, keep in mind that CBD is not a cure for anything, and expecting it to be can set you up for disappointment. If you have a serious acute or chronic health condition or injury, you may want to consult with your healthcare provider for guidance. The same applies if you are taking any medications, as CBD can interact with some prescription drugs.
What about all those CBD success stories?
A lot of people remain skeptical about CBD, citing the need for more research before trying it for health concerns. While it is true that those studies are needed and it is wise to be careful about anything one is going to ingest, it is important to remember that anecdotal evidence can have value.
What IS anecdotal evidence? I like the way Christopher S. Penn explains it on his site Awaken Your Superhero:
In the world of data and analytics, anecdotal evidence is often demonized. Why? People in general and marketers in specific mistake anecdotal evidence for quantitative proof, for statistically representative, reliable, and repeatable evidence. Anecdotal evidence is none of those things. It’s one person’s experience, so it’s not representative. Depending on that individual’s perspective and biases, it may not be reliable. Its very nature as an anecdote means that collecting similar information under similar circumstances is not repeatable.
Does this mean all those stories from patients and healthcare providers (and your neighbor’s cousin’s boss) about how CBD provides relief for their health condition are worthless?
Of course not.
As Project CBD states in the article Can CBD Help Your Condition?
…an abundance of anecdotal evidence that doctors and dispensaries have accumulated over the years in states where medical cannabis is available. The significance of this real-world evidence should not be discounted just because it doesn’t meet the so-called gold standard of double-blind, randomized clinical trials, which don’t always reflect real-world outcomes.
The gold standard might be right on the money when it comes to assessing Big Pharma’s single-molecule interventions aimed at single, primary outcomes. But that’s not how cannabis works. And double-blind, randomized clinical trials, while important, aren’t the only way – and might not be the best way – to illuminate the medical value of a complex plant with many components and myriad effects.
And, as Penn explains,
Anecdotal evidence (we assume it’s truthful) is a form of qualitative data. It’s not a measurement of anything, but its very existence tells us that at least one person has perceived something to be true. That’s a qualitative data point, a place to start thinking and asking questions.
Anecdotal evidence is not without value. Don’t rely on it to make decisions; certainly, don’t bet your business on it, but don’t discard it as worthless. Let it serve its role as a starting point to ask better questions.
Some parting thoughts…
As with any substance, individual experiences and results will vary. One of the best things about CBD is that it is a very safe substance and is generally well tolerated. This allows for personal experimentation with products, dosages, and methods of administration.
And, thankfully, there IS a significant and rapidly growing body of scientific research on CBD.
Some might wonder why it seems like CBD popularity is outpacing the science. Things didn’t have to be this way – unfortunately, the decades-long War on Drugs and cannabis prohibition prevented research from being conducted.
Remember: Nothing in this article should be considered medical advice. This guide is for informational purposes only. CBD is a very safe substance and is generally well tolerated. However, it can interfere with certain medications. Please consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking CBD, especially if you are taking medication or have serious health concerns.