What is CBD Oil (and How Do I Use It?)
CBD (cannabidiol) oil has recently exploded into the mainstream. According to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of consumers has drastically increased, shooting up from 125,000 users in 2017 to 250,000 in 2018. Gaining the attention of numerous industries from medicine to cosmetic, why has there been a sudden rise in CBD oil and products?
One of the primary reasons for the rise of CBD oil is thought to be thanks to recent studies and research highlighting its benefits, including stress and anxiety relief, as well as promoting better sleep. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CBD may have beneficial effects on treating symptoms relating to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, cancer and diabetic complications, as well as pain, anxiety, and depression. It has become increasingly popular amongst people looking for products to help with inflammation and joint pain, amongst other conditions and symptoms.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids that are found within cannabis and hemp plants. A naturally occurring substance, it can be extracted and mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut or hemp seed to create CBD oil.
Having no narcotic effect (none of the euphoric highs associated with Cannabis and THC – also known as tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is believed to have a range of health benefits. Legal to purchase and use in the UK as long as it doesn’t contain any THC, CBD has begun to be more readily available as an oil, within beauty products, chocolate, and as a topical ointment.
Used as a form of alternative or complementary therapy for thousands of years, medical studies have only recently begun identifying the potential benefits and side-effects using CBD oil can have. Although it is thought to have significant therapeutic properties, researchers are still looking to prove or disprove many of the claims surrounding the use of CBD oil.
What can CBD oil help with?
Early studies have suggested skincare products containing CBD oil may be able to help combat some skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Facial moisturisers containing CBD have also had success combatting oily skin and acne. Experts do warn that the concentration of CBD oil may affect how much of an impact these products can have, with many emphasising that further studies are needed to fully understand the extent to which CBD may affect skin related ailments.
Stress, anxiety, PTSD and insomnia
According to one YouGov study, 74% of UK adults feel overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress. With symptoms ranging from general feelings of anxiety to trouble sleeping and muscle tension, some experts attribute recent spikes in the sales of CBD products to our increasing desire to find alternative or complementary methods of relaxing and unwinding. With long hours of staring at screens, around 30% of us are thought to experience insomnia.
CBD oil is thought to help users achieve a more restful night sleep, increasing the overall amount of sleep and reducing insomnia. Research has indicated that CBD may interact with our serotonin (which plays an important role in our mood and anxiety) and GABA (calming excess activity and promoting relaxation) receptors, though further studies are still needed. Thought to be due to its anti-anxiety properties, CBD promotes relaxation, allowing for a more restful nights sleep.
So far, most evidence around CBD’s effects on anxiety has come from animal studies. While more human trials are still needed overall, some early trials have suggested CBD may have positive effects on helping to alleviate social anxiety. Further studies have examined the antidepressant-like effects CBD can have on individuals, with trials showing an improvement in symptoms of those experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Many individuals report the positive impact CBD oil has on combatting chronic pain, as well as workout related aches and discomfort. As a whole, the scientific community have expressed that there needs to be further, comprehensive research to fully understand the safety around this. Before using CBD oil to help with pain management, it is recommended that you seek advice from a medical professional.
Studies have suggested CBD may be able to have a positive impact for those affected by arthritis to help effectively manage their pain. According to research, participants showed a significant drop in both inflammation and signs of pain without any additional side effects. A limited number of studies have also suggested that there is evidence that CBD may be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation.
Further research has suggested CBD may have anti-inflammatory benefits. Numerous studies have shown that CBD engages with the endocannabinoid system in many organs throughout the body, helping to systemically reduce inflammation.
According to one 2013 study, CBD may be an effective aid in reducing or stopping smoking. Research revealed that when CBD was used as part of an inhaler, participants reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked each day by 40%.
How do I use CBD?
CBD can be used in a number of different ways. Available in a wide variety of products, some of the most common ways people use CBD products include:
Cosmetics and beauty products – A whole range of beauty and body products centred around the benefits of CBD are now available. From online to on the high street in stores such as Holland & Barrett, these products include refreshing body washes that claim to help energise and hydrate; body oils to both relax and stimulate; intensive moisturisers to help with dry skin; as well as muscle balms for relaxation.
Oils – Available to purchase over the counter as well as online, CBD oils ranging from as low as 3% cannabidiol oil concentration up to 11% are readily available on the high street. Typically taken orally by holding the CBD beneath your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing, topical oils and ointments are also available. It can also be added to water, purchased as capsules, sprayed directly beneath your tongue, or purchased in liquid form for vape devices.
While many forms of CBD are available to purchase from health stores, it is worth noting that the majority of clinical trials hailing the benefits of CBD focused on using CBD oil rather than as part of a beauty product.
Does CBD have any side effects?
Potentially. Some research has indicated CBD oil use may cause changes in appetite and mood. Other potential side-effects can include dizziness, feeling drowsy, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, and low blood pressure. While not all users report experiencing negative side-effects, experts have highlighted that there is a need for the long-term effects of CBD to be studied as some areas (such as effects on hormones) have yet to be looked into.
While the media has widely publicised the use of CBD oil for children experiencing seizures as well as a number of other conditions, experts do not currently recommend CBD oil for use in children. This is widely due to limited existing research on CBD oil, with the majority of studies focusing on the effects it can have on adults rather than the developing brains of children. For similar reasons, it is generally not recommended to combine with breastfeeding or to use whilst pregnant.
While CBD appears to be helpful and show benefits for users across many areas, more research is still needed to fully understand the effects it can have both short and long-term. If you are experiencing any medical issues or concerns, it is always recommended that you consult a medical expert or doctor prior to starting alternative therapies. Complementary therapies should be used in addition to (rather than instead of) other forms of treatment recommended by professionals.
For more information on complementary and holistic therapeutic options for anxiety, stress, insomnia and more, visit Therapy Directory.
CBD Oil: 9 Science-Backed Benefits
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an integrative medicine physician with expertise in functional and holistic medicine based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis sativa plant. When applied topically or consumed through smoke inhalation or edible consumption, CBD interacts with neuroreceptors in your endocannabinoid system, which sends signals between your cells to help regulate your movement, mood, homeostasis and immune system.
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CBD is often extracted from the cannabis sativa plant in oil form and mixed with an inert carrier oil like hemp seed oil for consumption. In fact, of the 60% of U.S. adults who report having used CBD before, 55% of them use CBD oils and tinctures specifically, according to a recent Forbes Health survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by OnePoll.
CBD research is growing, too. Here are nine ways studies suggest CBD oil could benefit your health.
1. Offset Anxiety and Depression
CBD’s ability to calm is perhaps its most popular effect and the reason its use is so widespread. A 2017 study in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry tested the anxiety levels of 57 men in a simulated public speaking test. Some received a placebo while others received either 150 milligrams, 300 milligrams or 600 milligrams of CBD before their speeches. Those who received 300 milligrams of CBD experienced significantly reduced anxiety during the test compared to those who received the placebo. Interestingly, participants who received either 150 or 600 milligrams of CBD experienced more anxiety during the test than the 300 milligrams group.
Meanwhile, at least one study in mice revealed CBD had effects similar to the antidepressant imipramine. Human trials are needed, though, to confirm whether CBD can induce this same antidepressant reaction in our bodies.
2. Treat Select Epilepsy Syndromes
In some instances, CBD can be used to treat epileptic seizures.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of CBD under the brand name Epidiolex to treat seizures resulting from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome—two rare forms of epilepsy—in patients at least 2 years old.
Three well-vetted studies provide the basis of support for the FDA’s decision. In these trials, 516 patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome received either Epidiolex or a placebo. Epidiolex, when taken along with other prescribed medications, decreased the frequency of participants’ seizures compared to the placebo.
3. Reduce PTSD Symptoms
In a small 2018 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11 people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) received CBD along with routine psychiatric care for eight weeks in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. Ten of the 11 experienced a decrease in their PTSD symptoms. CBD was generally well tolerated, the researchers write.
Margaret Rajnic, a doctor of nursing practice experienced in medical cannabis and CBD, emphasizes the importance of using therapy in tandem with any type of cannabis or CBD for PTSD. “There is an amount of therapy that is needed for PTSD,” she says. “But CBD will give you that little bit of decreased anxiety.”
Four other human trials from 2012 to 2016 suggest CBD reduces PTSD symptoms, although some include THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main mind-altering element in cannabis. When THC and CBD work together, they create what’s called an “entourage effect,” complementing each other’s benefits and potency. For example, taking the same dose of THC and CBD together tempers the “high” from THC, while just a little THC paired with more CBD enhances the effects of the CBD.
4. Treat Opioid Addiction
Some studies—both preclinical animal and human clinical trials—suggest CBD could be used to help treat people who are dependent on opioids.
In one such study, researchers administered CBD to people with heroin use disorder. Over the course of a week, CBD significantly reduced heroin users’ cue-induced cravings, withdrawal anxiety, resting heart rate and salivary cortisol levels. No serious adverse effects were found.
Other studies find CBD helpful in reducing various psychiatric and medical symptoms like anxiety, insomnia and pain in patients with substance use disorders, indicating that CBD may be an effective treatment for opioid addiction. However, further studies are necessary.
5. Alleviate ALS Symptoms
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to deteriorate, resulting in loss of muscle control that worsens over time. It’s not yet understood exactly why ALS occurs, although it can be hereditary in some cases. There’s no known cure, and there are only two FDA-approved medications to help treat ALS symptoms.
Research suggests people with ALS can benefit from the entourage effect created by the combination of THC and CBD, similar to people with PTSD. In a 2019 study, patients received a combination of THC and CBD in varying doses depending on their needs and preferences. Those with mild, moderate or severe spasticity (muscle tightness and stiffness) due to ALS reported high levels of satisfaction with the treatment, and those with moderate to severe spasticity reported higher satisfaction rates than those with mild spasticity.
6. Relieve Unmanageable Pain
In 2005, Canada approved the use of Sativex, an oromucosal (absorbed in the lining of the mouth) spray with equal proportions of THC and CBD, for the treatment of multiple sclerosis-related central neuropathic pain. In 2007, Canada approved the medicine’s use again for cancer pain that proved unresponsive to other medications.
Meanwhile, continued studies in the U.S. indicate CBD is effective in treating chronic, non-cancer pain. In one 2020 study, researchers administered CBD topically to a group of patients with symptomatic peripheral neuropathy (a result of brain nerve and spinal cord nerve damage) while another group with the same condition received a placebo. Results showed a significant reduction in intense, sharp pains and cold, itchy sensations in those who used the topical CBD compared to those who used the placebo. No participants reported adverse side effects.
When introduced topically, CBD oil doesn’t affect the systemic issue as it might if it were introduced directly into the bloodstream. Instead, topical CBD is more localized and treats pain in a certain area. Since it’s more direct, it may have a more pronounced effect.
7. Ease Diabetic Complications
For starters, tests on human cells found that CBD helps reduce the effects of high glucose levels on other cells in the body, which typically precedes the development of diabetes and various complications. Researchers concluded that with further studies, CBD could have significant benefits when used in patients with diabetes, diabetic complications and plaque buildup in artery walls.
In another small study, 13 patients with type 2 diabetes who weren’t on insulin treatment were given both CBD and a placebo (in lieu of insulin). Researchers found CBD decreased their levels of resistin (which causes resistance to insulin, the protein that regulates sugar levels) and increased their levels of glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (a hormone that ensures a sufficient release of insulin from digested food) compared to their baselines before they started the test. These results suggest CBD could be a natural treatment for diabetes by helping the body regulate insulin-related hormone levels.
8. Protect Against Neurological Disease
Preclinical and clinical studies show that CBD has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers deduce these characteristics can provide significant neuroprotection, or protection against numerous pathological disorders.
Several preclinical studies suggest CBD can produce beneficial effects against Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Huntington’s disease and cerebral ischemia were also tested, although significant positive results were not recorded. Further clinical studies are needed to confirm CBD’s benefits when used as a treatment for these disorders.
9. Inhibit Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis involves the deterioration of the tissues in and around your joints. There are several types of arthritis, and symptoms include pain, stiffness and loss of motion. Arthritis treatment usually targets pain relief and improved joint function.
A 2006 study found that Sativex—a CBD-based botanical drug approved in the United Kingdom in 2010—promoted statistically significant improvements in quality of sleep, pain during movement and pain at rest in patients with rheumatoid arthritis when compared to a placebo. It was the first controlled trial of Sativex as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, involving 58 patients. CBD was found to have a pain-relieving effect, as well as an ability to suppress disease activity.
In 2018, in a study of more localized treatment, researchers administered a synthetic CBD gel in either 250-milligram or 500-milligram doses daily or a placebo to patients with knee pain due to osteoarthritis. Patients also stopped taking any other anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers, with the exception of acetaminophen, before and during the study period.
The results were interesting, although not entirely conclusive. On one hand, those treated with CBD did not experience much change in pain when compared with placebo patients. On the other hand, there were statistically significant differences between the group receiving the 250-milligram dose and the placebo group when measuring the average weekly improvement of their worst pain levels and their WOMAC (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index) physical function rating. Additionally, men seemed to benefit from CBD more significantly than women in this test.
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