CBD is advertised as providing relief for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also marketed to promote sleep. Part of CBD’s popularity is that it purports to be “nonpsychoactive,” and that consumers can reap health benefits from the plant without the high (or the midnight pizza munchies).
“It’s promising in a lot of different therapeutic avenues because it’s relatively safe,” said James MacKillop, co-director of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in Hamilton, Ontario.
What are the claims?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the lesser-known child of the cannabis sativa plant; its more famous sibling, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active ingredient in pot that catapults users’ “high.” With roots in Central Asia, the plant is believed to have been first used medicinally — or for rituals — around 750 B.C., though there are other estimates too.
However, a double-blind study found healthy volunteers administered CBD had little to no change in their emotional reaction to unpleasant images or words, compared to the placebo group. “If it’s a calming drug, it should change their responses to the stimuli,” said Harriet de Wit, co-author of the study and a professor in the University of Chicago’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. “But it didn’t.”
Sleep can be disrupted for many reasons, including depression. Rodents seemed to adapt better to stressful conditions and exhibited less depressive-like behavior after taking CBD, according to a review in Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. “Surprisingly, CBD seems to act faster than conventional antidepressants,” wrote one of the authors of a new review, Sâmia Joca, a fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark and an associate professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, in an email interview. Of course, it’s difficult to detect depression in animals, but the studies that Ms. Joca and her colleagues reviewed suggested that in models of chronic stress exposure, the mice and rats treated with CBD were more resilient.
Although CBD does not produce the same adverse side effects as THC, should you be concerned about encountering any other side effects from the cannabinoid?
On the other hand, marijuana-derived CBD products are extracted from marijuana plants that typically have higher levels of THC than CBD, although there are several CBD-rich cultivars on the market. Marijuana-derived CBD oil contains much higher levels of THC than hemp-derived products, so consumers may want to brace for the corresponding effects. These products are legally available on the adult-use market and in certain medical marijuana states, but they remain illegal on the federal level. For this reason, if you want to purchase CBD products that also contain THC, check your state marijuana laws first.
Finally, there are also some human studies that suggest that CBD may have a negative effect on your immune system. As one study concluded, “the data overwhelmingly support the notion that CBD is immunosuppressive.”
Even though cannabidiol (CBD) is said to have a relaxing and soothing effect, don’t expect to get high from taking CBD.
In addition, CBD is known for its anti-epileptic properties and the only marijuana-derived drug approved by the FDA is a CBD medication for two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Researchers are also looking into CBD’s neuroprotective properties that could be helpful for folks with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, data from human studies suggests that CBD can help lower high blood pressure, with one study showing that a single dose helped lower blood pressure in study participants.
Here are some of the various health conditions for which people often use CBD:
When a CBD oil product is labeled full-spectrum, that means the plant’s original terpenes and other types of cannabinoids, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), and importantly, THC, have not been filtered out during the extraction process. This oil will give you the full benefit of any entourage effect.
A aron Horn first came across cannabidiol, or CBD, about three years ago in Glastonbury – the town, not the festival. “I found it at this amazing hemp shop, Hemp in Avalon,” recalls Horn, a musician who is now 35. “It’s run by a guy called Free. His last name is Cannabis. He changed his name by deed poll to Free Cannabis.” Horn bought a tube of high-concentration CBD paste – “it comes out like a brown toothpaste, almost” – and it was recommended he put a tiny dot on his finger and pop it in his mouth.
“CBD will change culture,” he predicts. “People are less interested in drinking in bars, getting really drunk, feeling shit the next day, letting their body down, having issues with their body because of that. The shift is happening: more people are interested in eating healthier, living healthier, and this is part of that. It changes it a lot more than the new iPhone or another pair of trainers, or everything we’ve had since the 90s that’s just different versions.
One suspicion about cannabidiol is that it is an impossible panacea: some, for example, claim CBD makes them more relaxed; others that it sharpens their mind to focus on complex work problems. Can it really do both? But, for McGuire, this is less a contradiction and more an indication that we don’t yet know what CBD is capable of and how best to use it. “One of the interesting things about the endocannabinoid system in the body is that it’s not just in the brain but also all over the body,” he explains. “And cannabidiol also appears to have beneficial effects on metabolism, on the immune system and liver function, in addition to its mental health effects.”
CBD is now readily available in many forms in high-street shops. Photograph: MediaWorldImages/Alamy
It can be tempting to see CBD as a triumph of hype or marketing, and Fayed advises caution: for starters, it needs to be really high quality. Farmacy’s CBD comes from Spirit of Hemp in Forest Row, on the edge of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex. It uses organic hemp, hand-harvested in Switzerland and Austria, and after the extraction process, it reintroduces steam-distilled terpenes (what Spirit of Hemp calls “the life force, the quintessential fifth element or the spirit of the plant”). “It’s a real shift in understanding of what Mother Nature has given to us,” she says. “The veil has lifted finally on its benefits, and it’s definitely the beginning of something really big in the natural medicine world. So I don’t think it’s a trend, it’s here to stay.”