Health Benefits of CBD: Hype or Hope?



Unless you’ve been exiled from mainstream society for a while, you’ve tuned into the conversation around CBD. One of the naturally occurring compounds in cannabis and hemp, cannabidiol — CBD for short — is ringing up big sales and getting lots of press. 

Reports about CBD’s health and wellness prowess range from miraculous to … well, pretty mundane. Even so, it’s not hard to be impressed.

But how do you sort out the hype from the hope? That’s where it gets a little tricky.

Dig into the data and you’ll find that much of the faith in CBD benefits rests on personal anecdotes, not solid research. That makes the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) a little nervous, but that doesn’t mean that CBD doesn’t work.

The research scenario’s shifting quickly now that hemp, the CBD-rich sibling to cannabis, is legal in the United States. Hemp’s legalization in late 2018 blew open the doors for legal hemp-derived CBD research and triggered an onslaught of CBD products. 

An August Gallup poll makes it clear: U.S. consumers aren’t waiting on research. One in every seven Americans is already using CBD.

So, what’s known about CBD’s proven therapeutic benefits? Not much, yet. One bright spot is CBD’s effectiveness in treating two rare forms of severe childhood epilepsy. Those findings led to the first, and so far only, FDA-approved CBD drug — a life-changer for affected families.

Research into other conditions is still too new to call, but researchers have stepped up the pace and new studies are surfacing almost daily. Here’s a rundown of some results known so far:

CBD Benefits for Pain

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gallup pollsters found 40% of U.S. CBD users use it to treat pain. Chronic pain is the No. 1 qualifying condition for U.S. medical marijuana patients, and those patients are vocal about their pain relief. But CBD is only one of the active components in marijuana.

It’s good to know that research suggests CBD’s pain-killing potential depends, in part, on having marijuana’s other components involved. So, if you’re one of the 43.5 million people in the U.S. who used pot last year, don’t lay your weed aside too quick.

With pain relief, CBD’s greatest achievements seem tied to complementary cannabis compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s primary intoxicator. Terpenes, the secretions that drive cannabis aromas and flavors, also play a role. 

Studies show this pain-relieving synergy, known to cannabis aficionados as the Entourage Effect, can outperform aspirin or ibuprofen. Full-spectrum CBD products — ones with THC and other cannabis components intact — may be better bets than products that remove THC or isolate CBD.

Entourage aside, solo CBD holds promise, especially for chronic pain caused by damaged or dysfunctional nerve fibers, what’s known as neuropathic pain

When inflammation’s behind your pain instead, CBD may help with that as well. The research is with animals, not humans, but it’s a start: Topical CBD products — think creams, salves and lotions— surpass oral products, such as capsules, in treating inflammatory joint pain.

CBD Benefits for Anxiety

If CBD FOMO has you feeling anxious, good news for you and the 20% of Gallup’s users treating anxiety with CBD. The jury’s still out on long-term use, but studies show CBD can be effective for short-term treatment of some anxiety-related disorders.

The list of conditions potentially helped by CBD includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). Early results also look good for conditions with elements of extreme anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

An interesting side note to this research: CBD may reduce or prevent cannabis-induced anxiety — that unpleasant THC side effect that’s ruined many otherwise enjoyable highs. But here’s the key: This benefit seems to surface only when you consume CBD and THC together and your product’s CBD to THC ratio favors high CBD. 

Consume CBD separately or in THC-forward ratios, and forget about this benefit.

CBD Benefits for Sleep Disorders

Despite the perception that pot users excel at snoozing, research on CBD’s role in good sleep is mixed. Eleven percent of Gallup’s CBD users self-treat insomnia or sleep-related problems with CBD, but one study says CBD has no short-term effect on sleep cycles. Meanwhile, another says high doses help you sleep, but low doses keep you awake.

A study comparing THC and CBD muddies it up even more. It says THC brings on sleep and doesn’t inhibit sound sleep through the night. But that doesn’t hold when CBD gets added in. Low, balanced doses of THC and CBD may diminish stage 3 sleep, the most restorative sleep stage. At higher doses, the same combination may increase alertness. The positive spin is that CBD might fight daytime sleepiness, if that’s the disorder you’re facing.

Identifying the core of your sleep issues is key to determining when CBD may help. If anxiety or pain is the real reason you lie awake, CBD’s calming effect may get your sleep on track. If chronic insomnia is the root of your problems, you might want to look somewhere else.

CBD Benefits for Arthritis

Arthritis may seem beyond your years or scope of possible ailments. That’s great. Keep up the workouts, but think ahead for your parents — and for you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate a 40% increase in arthritis in the next two decades. And it looks like CBD could come through.

So far, research results look positive for CBD and arthritis relief. Yes, most of the research involved animals, not humans, and most existing studies focused on combinations of CBD and THC, not CBD alone. But the real news is that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties offer several avenues of hope.

As diseases go, osteoarthritis is degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis is autoimmune, but inflammation strikes with both. 

Taken as an anti-inflammatory early in treatment, CBD may prevent osteoarthritis pain and resulting nerve damage that leads to chronic pain. It may also prevent pain caused by inflammation, including the joint inflammation that rheumatoid arthritis patients know too well.

For the arthritis-motivated 8% of Gallup CBD users, choosing the right product format may be crucial to relief: Absorbed through the skin, topical CBD applications reduce arthritis inflammation and related painin animals more effectively than oral CBD.

CBD Benefits for Migraines, Headaches and Stress

Depending on your take on cannabis culture, “roll one and relax” may be your stress relief motto. But not everyone has that option quite yet. Stress can be a hard-to-shake companion, one that complicates headaches and migraines. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

Five percent of CBD users in the Gallup poll call out stress as their reason for using CBD. Another 5% name migraines and headaches. There’s little evidence to support CBD for these conditions — but that’s mainly because the CBD-focused research hasn’t been done yet.

With migraines, as with other types of pain, it seems that full spectrum products that combine CBD and THC may provide the greatest headache relief, especially at higher doses of THC and CBD. Topical CBD may help ease soreness and neck pain that your migraines and cluster headaches bring.

You’ve heard it before, but underlying issues play a big role in CBD’s effectiveness against stress, too. When anxiety or fear fuel your emotional or physical tension, CBD’s anxiety-fighting benefits may indirectly help. Moderate doses seem more effective than low or high doses. Taking CBD before you’re stressed may help more than dosing after stress hits.

Other Conditions CBD May Help

Now that controlled CBD studies are rolling, expect to see more headlines about CBD’s pros and cons. Research and real-life experiences will help determine CBD benefits, but even the World Health Organization (WHO) sounds optimistic about what’s ahead.

According to a WHO report, early evidence shows CBD may have therapeutic benefits for many diseases. These include Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and some cardiovascular conditions, as well as some types of cancers and side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea.

Wondering about skin creams? A new study reports that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may protect against negative effects of ultraviolet rays and lead to new protective skin treatments. And, in really big news, CBD shows serious potential against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a finding guaranteed to trigger more research.

If you’re considering using CBD, keep a few caveats in mind: The FDA is still catching up to hemp-derived CBD. Product regulation is minimal, and over-the-counter CBD quality varies significantly. CBD can also interact with other medications. Plus, not all types of CBD are legal in all states.

If you have a known medical condition, check with your doctor before trying CBD, and keep your healthcare providers in the loop. Then stay connected to and stay informed on premium CBD providers and the latest results in CBD and cannabis research.


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