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Cannabidiol (CBD) Benefits

By Sherry Christiansen

Medically reviewed by Dr. George Gavrilos, Dr. Steven Salzman

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Key Takeaways

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD) is touted to have many benefits including alleviating symptoms from chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, mood and neurologic disorders, improvement in athletic performance and more. 
  2. CBD is thought to have neuroprotective properties, a cannabidiol medication called Epidiolex is FDA approved for its safety and efficacy in treating certain types of seizures. 
  3. CBD is thought to work with the body’s endocannabinoid system to help relieve pain.
  4. Medical research is getting closer to supporting the use of natural, non-addictive pain relievers, such as CBD and other cannabinoids, for chronic pain.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Benefits

People who suffer from chronic (long-term) pain, inflammation, severe anxiety, or certain types of cancer are increasingly looking to cannabidiol (CBD) for relief. 1 But what does the research say about the health benefits of CBD, does it really work? 

Preliminary research study findings testify to the anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), neuroprotective and sleep promoting effects of CBD. 2

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What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

CBD is one of over 100 compounds found in the Cannabis sativa L. plant. There are different sources of CBD, including the hemp-sourced plant species with less than 0.3% Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive component of CBD.  Products that are derived from hemp have very low concentrations of THC, thus, they do not cause a person to get high. These various compounds found in the cannabis plant, such as CBD and THC, are commonly referred to as phytocannabinoids. Learn more about the difference types of phytocannabinoids here

CBD and The Endocannabinoid System

CBD’s benefits may have wide-reaching effects. To fully understand the benefits of CBD, it’s important to learn about the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex system of enzymes, neurotransmitters, and receptors, which plays an essential role in the central nervous system (CNS). The ECS functions to maintain a variety of bodily functions, including managing pain, regulating memory, inflammation, motor control, and more. Learn more about the ECS here

The Benefits of Cannabidiol (CBD)

There is a growing body of research that shows evidence of the many benefits of CBD. A 2021 Canadian observational study found that “CBD-rich treatment has a beneficial impact on pain, anxiety, and depression symptoms as well as overall wellbeing, only for patients with moderate to severe symptoms.” 3 The study authors emphasized that CBD was ineffective for mild symptoms.3

It is thought that CBD’s neuroprotective properties may help reduce symptoms caused by some neurological disorders.1

Because of its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, some studies suggest CBD could be successful in the management of multiple sclerosis symptoms,5 Parkinson’s disease, 6 and Alzheimer’s disease.7

The FDA has approved a medication called “Epidiolex” for the treatment of two rare seizure disorders known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Duvet syndrome. 4 Epilepsy causes the brain threshold to reach its excitation state, which results in a seizure; CBD is thought to increase that threshold level.1

Pain Relief

How Does CBD Work to Relieve Pain?

CBD exerts a wide range of effects on the body’s nervous and immune systems, as well as on its central nervous system (CNS). As a pain reliever, CBD functions in combination with the body’s endocannabinoid system to act as an antioxidant, reducing inflammation and producing analgesic effects. 1 

CBD is thought to interact with the neurotransmitters in the CNS, relieving pain related to various conditions such as:8

  • Inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Peripheral neuropathy (i.e., pain caused by damage to the peripheral [the outer nerves beyond the spinal cord and brain])

A four-week, human, clinical research trial, published in 2020, involved study participants with nerve damage causing intense, sharp pain in the lower body. Topical use of CBD oil resulted in a significant reduction of pain.9

Many medications for chronic pain, such as opioids, are highly addictive. A non-addictive pain reliever, such as a cannabinoid (like CBD) that can work well for long-term pain would be considered the gold standard of pain relief. 

Arthritis Treatment

The cannabis plant is known to have healing properties that are thought to alleviate some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis, these properties include: 10

  • Potent analgesic (pain relieving) properties
  • Powerful anti-inflammatory effects

CBD is also thought to have other properties that could help with arthritis-related symptoms, including: 10

  • Possible anti-insomnia effects
  • Possible anti-anxiety effects

According to the Arthritis Foundation, “We are intrigued by the potential of CBD to help people find pain relief and are on record urging the FDA to expedite the study and regulation of these products. While currently there is limited scientific evidence about CBD’s ability to help ease arthritis symptoms, and no universal quality standards or regulations exist, we have listened to our constituents and consulted with leading experts to develop general recommendations for adults who are interested in trying CBD.”10 Learn about the Arthritis Foundation’s general recommendations for taking CBD here10

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

Anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression, are very common; these conditions are often linked with physical and emotional stress and can lead to other health conditions, including:

  • Cardiovascular disorders (e.g., high blood pressure or heart disease)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders (e.g., overeating or anorexia)
  • Chronic pain

Preliminary studies indicate CBD may have a therapeutic effect on mood and anxiety disorders. One study, involving 57 study participants who received either a placebo (sugar pill) or 300 mg of oral (by mouth) CBD discovered that CBD significantly reduced social anxiety when taken 90 minutes before a public speaking performance. 11

Psychosis Treatment

A double-blind landmark study, involving patients with schizophrenia, compared the effects of those who were given 800 mg of an antipsychotic medication, called amisulpride, with study participants who took 800 mg/day of CBD over a four-week time span. The study concluded that CBD was safe, well-tolerated and may have antipsychotic effects, particularly when given in the early stages of psychosis (i.e., those at high risk or experiencing their first episode of psychosis). 12

Cancer Treatment

There are several ways that CBD is thought to help treat cancer. The FDA has approved several cannabis products to alleviate nausea, vomiting, and weight loss associated with chemotherapy (i.e., medication to treat cancer). But often, cancer treatments include more than one type of cannabinoid, such as THC, in combination with CBD. 13

Tumor Reduction and Breast Cancer Treatment

Although more research is needed to fully understand the effect CBD has on cancer, preliminary studies suggest CBD may be effective in shrinking certain types of tumors13 and stopping the spread of cancer cells in breast cancer, 14 as well as other types of cancer.

Additional Benefits 

Learn more about the many benefits of CBD such as its use in improving athletic performance here and what clinical studies show about taking CBD to improve sleep pattern disturbances here

Resources

  1. Cleveland Clinic. CBD Oil — Are the Benefits Claimed Too Good To Be True? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/cbd-oil-benefits/ Updated December 29, 2021.  
  2. Crippa, J.A.; Guimarães, F.S.; Campos, A.C.; Zuardi, A.W. Translational investigation of the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a new age. Front. Immunol. September 21, 2018.   https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009
  3. Rapin L, Gamaoun R, El Hage C, Arboleda MF, Prosk E. Cannabidiol use and effectiveness: real-world evidence from a Canadian medical cannabis clinic. J Cannabis Res. 2021;3(1):19. doi: 10.1186/s42238-021-00078-w  https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-021-00078-w
  4. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Approves New Indication for Drug Containing an Active Ingredient Derived from Cannabis to Treat Seizures in Rare Genetic Disease. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-indication-drug-containing-active-ingredient-derived-cannabis-treat-seizures-rare 
  5. Furgiuele A, Cosentino M, Ferrari M, Marino F. Immunomodulatory Potential of Cannabidiol in Multiple Sclerosis: a Systematic Review. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2021;16(2):251-269. doi:10.1007/s11481-021-09982-7  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11481-021-09982-7  
  6. 6Patricio F, Morales-Andrade AA, Patricio-Martínez A, Limón ID. Cannabidiol as a therapeutic target: evidence of its neuroprotective and neuromodulatory function in parkinson’s disease. Front Pharmacol. 2020;11:595635 doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.595635 https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2020.595635
  7. Watt G, Karl T. In vivo Evidence for Therapeutic Properties of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer’s Disease. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:20. Published 2017 Feb 3. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00020  https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2017.00020  
  8. Mlost J, Bryk M, Starowicz K. Cannabidiol for Pain Treatment: Focus on Pharmacology and Mechanism of Action. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(22):8870. Published 2020  Nov 23. doi:10.3390/ijms21228870 https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21228870
  9. Xu DH, Cullen BD, Tang M, Fang Y. The effectiveness of topical cannabidiol oil in symptomatic relief of peripheral neuropathy of the lower extremities. CPB. 2020;21(5):390-402. doi: 10.2174/1389201020666191202111534  https://doi.org/10.2174/1389201020666191202111534
  10. The Arthritis Foundation. CBD for Arthritis Pain: What You Should Know.https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/chronic-pain/arthritis-foundation-cbd-guidance-for-adults.php
  11. Linares IM, Zuardi AW, Pereira LC, et al. Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Braz J Psychiatry. 2019;41(1):9-14. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015 https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015
  12. Davies C, Bhattacharyya S. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for psychosis. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2019;9:2045125319881916. Published 2019 Nov 8. doi:10.1177/2045125319881916  https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125319881916  
  13. Kis B, Ifrim FC, Buda V, et al. Cannabidiol-from Plant to Human Body: A Promising Bioactive Molecule with Multi-Target Effects in Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(23):5905. Published 2019 Nov 25. doi:10.3390/ijms20235905 https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20235905 
  14. Sultan AS, Marie MA, Sheweita SA. Novel mechanism of cannabidiol-induced apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines. The Breast. 2018;41:34-41. doi: 10.1016/j.breast.2018.06.009  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.breast.2018.06.009 
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