What Is CBD Oil? A New Look at the Potential Benefits of Cannabidiol

Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is a non-psychoactive phytonutrient from the cannabis plant. Though controversial, CBD is gaining recognition in the medical community for a wide array of benefits backed by research.

cbd oil

Even though CBD oil comes from the cannabis plant, it isn't psychoactive and doesn’t create the “high" associated with marijuana.

© Olegmalyshev | Dreamstime.com

What is CBD oil? CBD is a non-intoxicating extract from the Cannabis sativa family of plants (which includes hemp and marijuana). CBD is just one of a family of chemicals known as the cannabinoids, shown to have anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic, anti-anxiety, and anticonvulsant properties as well as homeostatic properties (meaning it maintains healthy balance in cells).

Even though CBD oil is from the cannabis plant, it is not psychoactive and doesn’t create a “high”—an effect caused rather by THC (9-tetrahydrocannabinol), another cannabinoid.

What Are Cannabinoids?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “Cannabinoids are active chemicals in Cannabis that cause drug-like effects throughout the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system.” If you’ve ever experienced a “runner’s high,” you’ve experienced the effects of activation of the endocannabinoid system.

Cannabinoids are made in small amounts in the human body—in breast milk, for example. Every cell in the body has receptors for cannabinoids, and they modulate expression of the genes involved with homeostasis (healthy balance) and metabolism (turning food into energy). In turn, this impacts inflammation, immune function, appetite, pain-sensation, mood, memory, and brain function and development.

Unlike the diet of our ancestors, the modern diet is lacking in cannabinoids; the result is that most people are deficient, a condition known as “endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome.”

CBD oil has anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic, anti-anxiety, and anticonvulsant properties, but has no psychoactive or intoxicating side effects. THC has analgesic, euphoric, psychoactive properties, known as a “high.”

The Cannabis Family of Plants

There are two strains of the cannabis plant:

  • Hemp is a tall, sturdy plant grown for thousands of years for the production of seeds, food, oils, and fibers to make textiles such as rope and fabric. Hemp contains low levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which enhances its psychoactive properties. (THC is “the main mind-altering ingredient found in the Cannabis plant,” as LiveScience.com explains.)
  • Marijuana has been bred over hundreds of years to increase THC levels for use in religious, medical, and recreational settings.
cbd oil

CBD oil has anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic, anti-anxiety, and anticonvulsant properties, but no psychoactive or intoxicating side effects.

Potential Benefits of Cannabinoids and CBD Oil Products

Unlike many complementary therapies, there’s a wealth of emerging research showing the potential beneficial effects of cannabinoids in a wide range of conditions. Much of this research is early stage, but results are promising. A number of ongoing studies funded by the National Institute of Health, for example, will further evaluate the strength of the benefits.

  • Cancer: The National Cancer Institute explains that cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth, while protecting normal cells, and improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. CBD oil products containing THC can be useful in reducing nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite and improving weight gain in patients with cancer.
  • Cigarette and drug withdrawals: A promising study published in Addictive Behaviors found that smokers using a CBD inhaler smoked 40 percent fewer cigarettes than those on placebo and were better able to control their nicotine cravings. Another study found that CBD helped people with substance abuse disorders in part by reducing “symptoms such as anxiety, mood symptoms, insomnia, and pain.”
  • Epilepsy and neurological disorders: Experts at the National Academy of Sciences report that “the antioxidative properties of cannabinoids suggest a therapeutic use as neuroprotective agents, and the particular properties of cannabidiol make it a good candidate for such development.” CBD products offer new hope for patients with epilepsy. A 2017 study in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at patients with a severe form of drug-resistant epilepsy (Dravet syndrome) and found that CBD decreased the frequency of seizures, but increased the risk of sleepiness and increased liver enzymes. Other studies have found the risks to be minimal in comparison to anti-epileptic drugs.

    A synthetic pharmaceutical form of CBD was licensed by the FDA in April 2018, for use in a rare form of epilepsy Lennox Gastaux Syndrome, evidence of the mounting positive research into CBD. In addition, a 2017 literature review reported early findings that “CBD can produce beneficial effects in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and multiple sclerosis (MS).” Other research supports the role of cannabinoid supplements in “autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder [as well as] neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impairments in social functioning.”

  • Anxiety: While CBD oil products high in THC can exacerbate anxiety and trigger paranoia, one study in Neurotherapeutics showed that “preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)… with a lack of anxiogenic (anxiety-producing) effects, minimal sedative effects, and an excellent safety profile.”
  • Diabetes: A 2016 animal study found that CBD oil reduced inflammation in Type 1 diabetes. While a 2016 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (gold standard of studies) found that cannabinoid treatment which contained THC, improved glycemic control, concluding CBD “may represent a new therapeutic agent for glycemic control in subjects with type 2 diabetes.”
  • Acne: Some manufacturers produce creams and lotions containing CBD. Research shows that CBD oil products have numerous skin benefits. One laboratory study found that “due to the combined lipostatic, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects, CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
  • Pain relief: The National Institutes of Health are researching the role of cannabinoids in pain management, in a variety of conditions including: Arthritis, cancer, chronic pain syndromes, MS, muscle pain, and spinal cord injuries. A literature review in January 2018 reported “the evidence appears to support the safety and efficacy of short-term, low-dose cannabis vaporization and oral mucosal delivery for the treatment of neuropathic pain.”

Potential Side Effects of CBD Oil

Research has shown that CBD is well tolerated across a wide range of doses. Most common symptoms include tiredness, diarrhea, and a change in appetite or weight. Side effects are more common with higher THC levels.

Drug interactions may occur, so always check with your doctor or pharmacy before starting CBD along with prescribed medications.

CBD Oil: Legality

In 2017, the World Health Organization urged that CBD not be considered a drug. In the United States, cannabidiol is not listed on the United States Controlled Substances Act. THC and marijuana, however, are listed. Cannabis is legal (medicinal or recreational use) in several but not all states.

Over the past few years, several CBD companies have run into legal problems with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). When looking for a CBD company, check that it is locally and federally legal. The DEA rules that product derived from the “sterilized seeds, oil or cake made from the seeds, and mature stalks”, but not from the leaves, is federally legal.

How to Use CBD Oil

CBD is extracted from hemp or marijuana plants. It is then formulated into an oil, powder, paste, creams or capsules and taken orally, or applied to skin. It can also be taken as an inhaler or via vaping. Warning: Anyone who may be drug tested (athletes, some jobs) should opt for pure CBD products containing no THC. A recent ruling states that all active military should avoid CBD products.

CBD oil manufacture is not standardized, so look for products that have high farming and manufacturing standards. There are three classes of product:

  • CBD-Only products can be extracted from either the hemp or marijuana plants and have little or no THC.
  • CBD-Dominant products are extracted from the marijuana plant. They contain varying levels of THC and CBD.
  • THC-Dominant products have a THC-to-CBD ratio of over 2:1.

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Leonaura Rhodes, MD

Dr. Leonaura Rhodes is a physician turned author, coach, and freelance medical writer and editor. She has worked for Belvoir Media since 2017 and has authored hundreds of articles on … Read More

View all posts by Leonaura Rhodes, MD

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