Does CBD Oil work?
That’s a fair question. The answer depends on what, exactly, you want CBD oil to do. It’s not a miracle cure for anything – including cancer, as some particularly enthusiastic supporters have claimed. It’s not even magical or without its own minor side effects and a few unknowns. Like anything you put in your body or on your skin, different people will experience varying degrees of relief.
That said, CBD oil isn’t new, and it’s not untested. It’s been used in different forms and in different ways for centuries to treat many of the same sorts of discomforts and ailments it’s used for today. While western medicine seems to have only recently rediscovered CBD as a subject worth studying, history and thousands of contemporary personal stories tell us what they find – that CBD oil is one of nature’s more impressive tools for treating a range of discomforts, reducing anxiety and depression, and promoting healthy sleeping habits.
And if it makes you feel any better, early results from those scientific studies we’re suddenly doing (again) are quite promising as well.
What’s In A Name?
One problem with our national inability to have a rational conversation about anything even remotely connected to recreational drug use is the resulting lack of a common knowledge base, or even a common vocabulary. Let’s start, then, with some working definitions – each of which is subject to debate depending on the context of the discussion.
In other words, we’re going to keep things simple and practical here. Hopefully, we can break down the science without leaving anyone feeling too overwhelmed. If, on the other hand, you want a full botanical analysis or detailed lecture on chemistry, I suggest signing up at your local community college. I’m sure it will be time well spent.
Let’s start by talking terminology.
Cannabis is a genus of plant, in the same way canine is a genus of mammal. There are several primary species of cannabis with impressive Latin names, but none of those names are “hemp,” “marijuana,” or even “tetrahydrocannabinol” (THC). Instead, “hemp” and “marijuana” are terms of convenience having more to do with the intended use of the plant than the scientific breakdown of its makeup.
“Marijuana” generally refers to varieties of cannabis with enough THC to produce the “high” most folks associate with the term. This is the stuff used for medical applications and recreational enjoyment across the centuries, and about which politicians, parents, and patients now debate endlessly. Those are no doubt valid discussions to have, but they’re conversations for another time and place.
“Hemp,” then, refers to cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC. These are used to make a range of oils (both the cooking and the lubricating sort) and ointments, but are better known for their fibrous qualities. Rope, clothing, carpet, insulation, construction materials – hemp is not only legal but undeniably useful. Mother Nature chose to be particularly kind when she gave us this one.
All cannabis plants, whether labeled “marijuana” or “hemp,” contain CBD. From wherever it’s derived, however, CBD isn’t “marijuana.” It’s not “hemp” or “hemp oil.” It’s definitely not THC. It doesn’t make you high. It doesn’t even stimulate the same parts of your nervous system as things that do. What it does instead is perhaps somewhat less exciting, but far more useful.
What Does CBD Actually Do?
Your body, as you probably know, has all sorts of interwoven and interacting systems – many of which we only understand on the most general levels, despite the wonders of modern medical technology. One such system is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which sends and receives signals throughout your nervous system via cannabinoids. (It seems that medical types are rarely concerned with ease of pronunciation or recall when naming such things.) Some of these it produces itself (endocannabinoids), but it will send signals based on the outside introduction of cannabinoids as well.
The ECS plays an important role in our sleep habits, immune systems, appetite, memory, reactions to stress – even a woman’s ability to get pregnant. The details can be tricky to nail down, but it’s definitely a major player. At the risk of oversimplifying, when all is well with the ECS, many other parts of your innards feel better and work better.
You may have noticed an interesting similarity in the scientific classification of those plants we were talking about (the cannabis genus) and these internal chemicals (the cannabinoids). As it turns out, that’s not a coincidence. Chemicals derived from cannabis plants easily interact with our ECS – often for good, sometimes not. That “high” people get from smoking “marijuana” comes from the interaction of THC with ECS receptors. THC activates the brain’s “reward system,” releasing pleasure sensations.
CBD doesn’t take those sorts of shortcuts. Instead, it interacts with other compounds bouncing around your nervous system in ways that increase the natural efficiency and effectiveness of your ECS. In other words, whatever your ECS was already sending out or receiving, CBD tweaks in ways that seem to make things better. It’s like your own internal ECS consultant; only this one doesn’t take your parking place and ask you to fill out endless surveys on your job satisfaction.
OK, let’s talk about anandamide (remember – medical types and their impossible names for things, right?). Anandamide is a neurotransmitter (an endocannabinoid) your body creates to send messages to different parts of your nervous system. This one seems partial to messages involving appetite, fertility, and the immune system, but its specialty is moderating “pain” messages. When anandamide shows up and starts connecting to your ECS, you have less pain. It lowers anxiety and sometimes combats depression. Sometimes it even brings intense happiness.
So that can be nice.
But it’s just a neurotransmitter – it breaks down quickly and is absorbed back into the body. That’s where CBD comes in. CBD tends to act as a “reinforcement” for anandamide. It shouts encouragement and holds its horse while anandamide fights the good fight. The CBD doesn’t interfere in anything the body would normally do or create sensations or perceptions which wouldn’t otherwise occur; it assists with something naturally happening anyway. In this case, that just happens to be something very, very good.
I’m not suggesting, of course, that we should never experience pain. Pain tells us something is wrong. Sometimes it’s kind enough to point us towards exactly what the problem might be. But once we know we have a problem, all that extra pain is superfluous. After that, it’s just, well… pain.
CBD has a similar impact with other endocannabinoids. As you might imagine, it’s rather difficult to pin down the precise chemical workings of our nervous system, but early evidence suggests CBD assists with limiting inflammation in the nervous system, reduces insomnia, and may strengthen the body’s natural immune system. We’re still learning just how much it can do, and why it works the way it does, but so far the results are impressive. The personal stories are even more so.
Why Would I Try CBD Oil?
First and foremost, like with any treatment or health aid, talk to your doctor first. The legal status of some forms of CBD is still uncertain at the federal level. Most states have approved of the sale and use of CBD oils, but what that looks like in practice varies from place to place. In short, you should take a moment to educate yourself about local statutes relating to CBD.
Of greater practical concern is the lack of regulation and consistency regarding commercially available CBD. That means the onus is on you to find reputable dealers willing to educate and inform and answer any questions you may have – even if you have a lot of them. It means that many different people are out there selling many different things with “CBD” on the label. The “caveat emptor” is implied!
In other words, if you’re going to try CBD for whatever reason, use a reputable dealer. Write down your questions, and do a little research ahead of time to see how their answers line up with what you already know. Quality control matters, and while I’m sure Skeeter down at the skate shop or Lucinda who runs the local video store are very nice people; they may not be the best source for medical supplements.
That said, CBD has been used for millennia to treat a range of issues. It’s only been in recent years that western science has rediscovered its possibilities and begun studies in earnest. The eventual reports will no doubt be fascinating, but in the meantime, here are a few previews of what you’ll most likely hear:
- CBD has repeatedly been demonstrated to be effective treating pain and discomfort from arthritis. European studies with rats showed significant decreases in inflammation and indications of pain after the application of CBD in gel form. More human studies will be necessary to fully understand why this happens.
- CBD is often cited as dramatically reducing chronic or recurring pain in people. Dozens of studies have been done on this one, and the results are consistent across the board. As with arthritis, it seems to reduce inflammation and irritation as well, thus magnifying the degree of relief. Even better, there’s no indication that users build up a “tolerance” to CBD the way we sometimes do with other pain management. The same amount produces the same results even after repeated use over an extended time.
- CBD reduces the severity and discomfort of spasms associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). Obviously, it’s not a cure, but managing symptoms is a major part of adjusting to life with MS.
What Else Is CBD Oil Being Used For?
Less-established uses of CBD currently under review include…
- Helping recovering addicts deal with withdrawal
- Treating debilitating anxiety or stress. One study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychology showed that CBD use helped reduce anxiety during public speaking, although there are many other sorts of stress and anxiety deserving of attention as well.
- Slowing or reducing the progress of Type 1 Diabetes
- Providing antipsychotic benefits for individuals with schizophrenia
- Reducing or eliminating epileptic seizures
Medical application of CBD took a huge leap forward in 2018 when the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved a specific type of CBD to treat two particularly challenging types of epilepsy. While obviously, we’re all happy for folks suffering from these specific forms of epilepsy to receive whatever relief they can, one hopes this is merely the first step towards more general appreciation and approval of CBD-based treatments.
Oh, and it helps you sleep as well – which is no small thing for some of us.
Are There Any Side-Effects?
Some users report nausea, irritability, loss of appetite, or increased fatigue. CBD can also react to other medications in your system. Since most medications don’t come with specific warnings about their interactions with CBD, look for anything in the small print warning against grapefruit or grapefruit juice. That probably sounds like strange advice, but the trigger in CBD which doesn’t always play nice with some medications is the same as the one in grapefruit – and grapefruit will be mentioned in the instructions somewhere if it’s a potential problem.
Nothing in this life comes with an absolute guarantee. “Does CBD oil work?” may be a fair question, but it might not be the best question. Of course it “works” – for many people in many situations doing many things. That’s interesting, but probably not what you really want to know.
“Does CBD oil work for me?”
Now that’s a question worth exploring, and one we can help you with whenever you’re ready.