27 May CBD potential benefits: A research overview
- CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main active compounds in cannabis and hemp.
- CBD can interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system and increase cannabinoid levels in the body.
- While research is still limited, some scientific studies have shown that CBD also has an anti-inflammatory effect and may also help reduce anxiety and pain responses.
- Please find our infographic at the end of this article.
There’s a lot of hype about CBD and its potential effects. Everyone’s sharing their CBD experience these days, from social media influencers to grandparents.
With all the buzz, it can be tough to discern what has a basis in fact and what’s just a rumour. But what does the science say? Are there scientific studies on CBD, and what are the results?
Here’s an overview of some of the current CBD research available and what it means for you.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the main active cannabinoids in hemp and marijuana.
Unlike the other well-known cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not have an intoxicating effect. Users won’t experience a “high”, and there’s no danger of addiction.
How does CBD work?
The ECS is a vast cell-signaling system with receptors and enzymes located throughout the body. Its main function is to maintain homeostasis, a stable internal balance.
Essentially, this means that when something in your body is unbalanced, due to factors like stress or illness, the ECS tries to bring things back to normal functioning.
The ECS regulates several important bodily functions, including:
- Immune response
Sometimes, our body’s endocannabinoid levels can become too low. If that happens, the ECS can struggle to maintain balance in the body. CBD may help increase cannabinoid levels so the ECS can function normally.
The ECS is incredibly complex and was only discovered in the early ’90s. We’ve learned the majority of what we know about the ECS within the last 30 years. Researchers are still learning more about the ECS every day, along with how CBD interacts with it.
What kind of research exists on CBD so far?
Research on CBD is still in its infancy. However, there are numerous scientific studies that explore the effects of CBD in a clinical context. In addition to basic research, the clinical studies that exist so far have examined CBD in the following areas:
- Anxiety and panic
- Sleep problems
- Neurodegenerative complaints
- Substance withdrawals
Here’s an overview of some of the research we have on CBD so far.
1. CBD and inflammation
Inflammation is our immune system’s natural response to threats like bacteria and viruses. Once the body solves the problem, inflammation usually resolves. But sometimes, the immune system gets confused and attacks healthy cells instead. This can cause chronic inflammation, which is a driving factor behind autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Irritable Bowel Disease.
Studies suggest that CBD possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which could prove useful for managing chronic inflammation.
Many people take CBD to cope with inflammation and pain caused by arthritis. But anecdotal evidence isn’t all we have. One study found that topical CBD reduced inflammation and joint swelling in animals with arthritis. A 2020 study suggests that CBD was able to target cells that play a key role in rheumatoid arthritis.
Several studies have looked at CBD and inflammation in the gut. One study found that CBD reduced intestinal inflammation in mice when applied topically. While we need more human trials, it’s a sign that CBD could offer a way to manage symptoms of chronic inflammation without harmful side effects.
2. CBD and pain
Chronic pain is a type of pain that lasts more than 3 months and has no apparent cause. Chronic pain can concentrate anywhere in the body and often goes hand in hand with autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.
Since the ECS helps regulate pain response, it’s possible that CBD could help support pain relief. Animal studies have shown that CBD can interact with the body’s nociceptive system, which can influence how we experience pain.
A 2020 review found that using CBD oil for a week could reduce back pain. This indicates that CBD could provide a safe way to cope with symptoms caused by chronic pain.
3. CBD and seizures
Research has proven that CBD can potentially reduce the frequency of seizures in children with pediatric epilepsy conditions. This medication is available on prescription only and has helped many children with uncontrolled epilepsy.
Four randomized double-blind trials found that CBD significantly reduced the frequency of seizures in patients with childhood epilepsy conditions. The trials also found CBD was able to help with other symptoms the patients experienced, like anxiety. The research eventually led to the approval of a seizure medication made from CBD in the UK.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly how CBD affects seizures. One theory is that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties could play a role since neural inflammation can contribute to epilepsy.
4. CBD and anxiety
Many people use CBD to manage anxiety and stress. The research could back this up. One clinical trial found that CBD significantly reduced anxiety related to public speaking. People who took CBD reported reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort during their speeches.
This isn’t the only study that’s looked at CBD and anxiety. A 2019 large case study on CBD and sleep found that CBD reduced anxiety in nearly 80% of the 72-person sample group. Anxiety levels decreased readily decreased within the first month and remained low throughout the three-month study period, and so did scores for sleeping issues.
Another study found that CBD not only had an anti-anxiety effect but anti-depressant qualities as well. It’s an encouraging sign that CBD can reduce short-term symptoms of negative effects such as anxiety, stress or depression as a complementary therapy approach.
5. CBD and sleep
Stress and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. As we’ve already learned, CBD could have calming effects. This means that CBD could help you relax and de-stress, which might make it easier to fall asleep.
Lowered anxiety isn’t the only way CBD could help sleep. The ECS helps regulate circadian rhythms, and according to the Sleep Association, CBD could potentially affect the sleep/wake cycle.
One study found that using CBD for a month improved sleep scores in some adults. But sleep scores fluctuated more over time.
One case study of a 10-year-old girl with PTSD and insomnia found that CBD was able to help improve sleep quality and quantity over a period of 5 months.
While the research is still limited, this indicates that CBD could make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
6. CBD and skin
CBD is becoming a common ingredient in beauty and skincare products. Plenty of people swear by using CBD in their skincare routines. Scientific research could back up these claims.
A 2020 review found that CBD could potentially help with skin problems, like itchiness, acne, and eczema. Another study found that a CBD-enriched ointment was able to improve skin quality in people with conditions like psoriasis, dermatitis, and scarring.
It’s a sign that CBD could help provide a way to manage skin conditions naturally.
7. CBD and addiction
Not only is CBD non-addictive, some research suggests that CBD could help people manage addictions.
A 2018 study found that CBD could be useful for people with tobacco use disorder. The study suggests that CBD made cigarettes less pleasant to smokers, which could make it easier to quit.
Tobacco use disorder isn’t the only condition that researchers have investigated. In a randomized double-blind placebo study, researchers found that CBD helped people with heroin use disorder. The study found that CBD was able to reduce cravings and withdrawal anxiety without adverse side effects.
8. CBD and psychosis
Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia can be debilitating without medication. However, antipsychotic medications can come with negative side effects. It’s why some researchers are looking at the potential benefits of CBD for psychotic disorders.
A 2019 review found that CBD could have antipsychotic effects. The research suggests that CBD was most useful during the early stages of the disease and for those who had a higher clinical risk of developing psychosis.
We still need more research. But the initial findings are an encouraging sign that CBD could play a useful role for patients struggling with the early stages of psychosis.
9. CBD and Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that includes memory loss. We still don’t know why some people develop Alzheimer’s and some don’t. But some researchers are exploring CBD as a potential way to cope with Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2019 study found that components in CBD could suppress the factors that may cause Alzheimer’s disease in mice. The study also found that a combination of CBD and THC was more effective than CBD alone. However, it’s just an initial study. We still need human trials to explore CBD’s potential role in managing the disease.
10. CBD and weight management
Cannabis has long been associated with an increased appetite. This is because THC stimulates the CB1 receptors in the brain, which release a hormone that causes hunger. But CBD doesn’t increase appetite the same way that THC does, since CBD doesn’t interact with the CB1 receptor in the same way.
Research suggests that CBD may actually have the opposite effect and reduce appetite. Some studies have reported a decreased appetite as a side effect of CBD, although the results were inconsistent. Some people believe that this lowered appetite could indirectly lead to weight loss. Other researchers believe that CBD could play another role in weight management.
A 2016 study found that CBD could influence how the body interacts with fat. The research suggests that CBD played a role in converting white fat cells into brown fat cells. Brown fat cells are more metabolically active than white fat cells, meaning that they burn more calories.
While CBD is not a weight loss supplement, this suggests that it could play a useful role for those managing their weight through healthy lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise.
Is more research on CBD needed?
While there is an abundance of CBD research currently available, most of it is still in the preliminary stage. Several small, clinical studies have shown the efficacy of CBD in some areas. But there’s a lack of placebo-controlled long-term studies that close the chain of evidence. We still need more placebo studies, double-blind research, and human trials to learn the full effects of CBD.
Many studies also deal with medical cannabis, where THC and other phytocannabinoids are present. This can make it difficult to determine how much CBD alone is responsible for a certain effect.
Since research on CBD is relatively new, there aren’t many studies on the long-term effects of CBD. We also need more large-scale studies to determine how CBD will affect broad groups of people instead of a handful of patients in a lab. But according to the World Health Organization, pure CBD poses no public health risk.
Apart from the research, there are many unfounded claims about CBD. Some people claim that CBD could help with cancer, but there isn’t enough research to support this. CBD is not a cure or treatment for the COVID-19 virus, either.
Where can I find more CBD studies?
If you’re interested in diving into the research on CBD for yourself, there are several great places to start. You can find and read scientific studies on CBD from reputable publications like Pubmed and BioMedCentral.
Google Scholar is also an excellent resource. Google Scholar works just like a regular Google search, but all the results are from scientific sources. You can also set up search alerts and get updates on new research sent to your email address.
If a study isn’t available to read in its entirety, you can contact the authors directly and ask for a copy of the research. The fee to read a study goes to the publication itself, not to the researchers. Researchers will usually be happy to provide a copy of their research to anyone who wants to read it.
Of course, you can always read the Naturecan blog for more information on the latest research surrounding CBD and how to use it.
CBD research: Conclusion
While there’s still a lot we have to learn, the CBD research we have so far is promising. Time will tell if scientists will eventually discover more potential uses for CBD. In the meantime, CBD could be a safe, legal and natural way for many people to manage symptoms of some health conditions.
Disclaimer: There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of CBD in the condition(s) mentioned above and this text by no means reflects recommended uses. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication or are thinking of using CBD for your condition.
Written by Brooke Helton and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU