According to cannabis industry analysts the Brightfield group, the hemp-CBD market is estimated to reach $22 billion by 2022. Such astounding growth is due in large part to the growth in popularity of CBD oil, which consumers can easily purchase online, at brick and mortar stores, dispensaries, natural herbalists, and neighborhood co-ops to help treat a wide variety of ailments, from chronic pain to anxiety to acne. But what is CBD oil, and is there any scientific basis to its purported benefits? Let’s find out.
What Is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is 1 of over 100 identified cannabinoid compounds in the Cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the most well-known cannabinoid that produces the mind-altering high marijuana users chase—CBD is non-psychoactive. While CBD is certain to produce physiological changes and, according to some research and an abundance of anecdotal evidence, help you relax, it does not alter your mind or cause you to feel “high” like THC does.
CBD oil is a concentrated extract of the CBD compound from the flowers and buds of hemp or marijuana plants and sold as CBD isolate or full spectrum CBD respectively.
- Full spectrum CBD: This type of CBD oil contains other cannabinoids from the marijuana plant, including a minimal amount of THC (up to 0.3%) that produces very low, if any, psychoactive stimulation.
- CBD isolate: A purified CBD oil made with only CBD, CBD isolate contains no other cannabinoids.
CBD isolate was generally thought to be the most potent pain regulator, but a 2015 study from the Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology pitted full spectrum CBD oil against CBD isolate. Using an animal model, researchers showed that full spectrum CBD oil provided greater relief from inflammatory conditions, which increased according to the potency of the dose, than did CBD isolate, which showed no greater effect when dosage increased.
Is CBD Oil Legal?
Well, that depends on the state and the source of the CBD.
Hemp and marijuana aren’t the same plant, but they do originate from the same plant family—Cannabis sativa. Their most marked difference is in the amount of THC they contain. Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive-stimulating effects of the plant. The hemp plant, on the other hand, contains 0.3% of THC or less, an amount too low to produce a “high.”
Hemp-derived CBD oil has a bit more legal leeway, but the legislation is still a bit murky, especially at the statewide level.
Hemp-derived and marijuana-derived CBD oil are legal in the eight states where recreational and medicinal marijuana are legal. CBD oil with a prescription is legal in 46 of the 50 states, with 17 of these states providing specifics as to allowable THC levels and treatable health conditions.
What Does CBD Oil Do?
The human body isn’t a stranger to cannabinoids, as it produces many on its own. These endocannabinoids play a role in regulating sleep and immune and pain responses. They attach to cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain.
When THC is exposed to heat, through baking or smoking, it attaches to CB1 receptors in the brain that are responsible for movement, coordination, mood, pain, emotions, appetite, memories, and cognitive processing. THC gives users a high feeling by turning on the brain’s reward system and elevating levels of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine.
It was previously believed that CBD attached to CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the immune system, imparting a palliative effect on pain and inflammation, but more recent research has clarified that CBD doesn’t attach to receptors but rather stimulates the body to use more of its internally produced cannabinoids.
While research on humans is limited, anecdotal evidence and studies made up of mostly experimental models have shown that CBD oil may help treat or fight:
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Antipsychotic behaviors
- Neurological disorders such as epilepsy
What Is CBD Oil Good For?
No discussion of what is CBD oil would be complete without a rundown of potential health benefits.
Pain and Inflammation
CBD oil is touted by natural health practitioners and doctors alike as a potential alternative treatment for pain and inflammation.
A 2015 study in Neurotherapeutics investigating the effect of cannabinoids on epilepsy showed that CBD oil inhibits the body’s absorption of a pain-regulating compound called anandamide. By keeping levels of anandamide elevated, CBD oil may help combat pain and possibly lower inflammation in the brain and nervous system. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine validated these findings by showing that CBD oil helped decrease chronic pain and inflammation in rodents.
An examination of various systematic reviews revealed that CBD oil is an effective pain remedy for adults. CBD oil may be particularly effective for reducing pain associated with autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.
The European Journal of Pain published a study that showed how CBD oil applied topically to arthritic rats for four days dramatically lowered inflammation and reduced pain without producing any noticeable side effects.
A report on the therapeutic effects of cannabis highlighted two systematic reviews that found CBD oil could help reduce muscle spasms in patients with MS or paraplegia as a result of spinal cord injury.
A 2016 study published in Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation showed that CBD oil might help reduce inflammation in the pancreas that incites type 1 diabetes. A 2016 report seconded those findings by revealing that CBD oil may help lower inflammation and delay the progression of type 1 diabetes.
There is strong evidence that CBD oil can help alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy, including seizures, for both children and adults. In June of 2018, the FDA approved the use of the CBD oil pharmaceutical Epidiolex to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy that tend to be unresponsive to other drugs: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome (DS).
A 2014 report from the American Epilepsy Society suggests that CBD is equipped with anti-seizure properties and may be able to subdue the effects of epilepsy, including neuronal injury, neurodegeneration, and psychiatric disorders.
According to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, CBD oil my help promote cancer cell death and inhibit the growth of cancer cells, particularly cancers of the breast, colon, and lungs.
Researchers concluded, “On the basis of these results, evidence is emerging to suggest that CBD is a potent inhibitor of both cancer growth and spread. In the light of its safety record and considering that CBD is already currently used in patients with multiple sclerosis, the findings here summarized suggest that CBD might be worthy of clinical consideration for cancer therapy.”
The National Cancer Institute discovered that CBD helps reduce the nausea and vomiting patients often suffer after chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
While THC has been shown to amplify anxiety, CBD oil has been shown to help reduce anxiety in those suffering from PTSD, general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A 2011 study investigated the effects of CBD oil on patients with social anxiety disorder. Twenty-four patients with social anxiety disorder where given either CBD oil or a placebo 1.5 hours before giving a speech. Those who took the CBD were significantly less anxious and uncomfortable compared to those who took the placebo.
CBD oil has also shown promise as a treatment for nicotine and drug addiction. Addiction Behaviors published a study that showed that smokers who smoked CBD had fewer cigarettes and no additional nicotine cravings. And a study published in Neurotherapeutics suggests that CBD oil might help treat opioid addiction and reduce the symptoms of substance abuse, including insomnia, mood-related behaviors, and anxiety.
Other Potential Benefits
The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that CBD oil helped to prevent the development of social recognition deficient in Alzheimer’s patients. And a 2014 study showed that CBD oil could help reduce the production of overactive sebum that contributes to acne.
For all its potential benefits, CBD oil has scant scientific backing, as only a handful of studies have been conducted on humans. For each of these conditions, the use of CBD oil warrants further clinical investigation.
CBD Oil Side Effects
It’s important to stress that CBD oil is not marijuana and does not produce the same mind-altering effects as the marijuana plant. CBD oil is generally well tolerated in adults. The most frequently reported side effects include fatigue, diarrhea, and appetite and weight changes.
Users have also reported irritability, lethargy, changes in urination, breathing difficulty, rashes, GI distress, and increased mental disturbance.
CBD oil has also been shown to raise liver enzymes in some users, which can lead to liver problems down the road. CBD oil interacts with liver enzymes and can alter the efficacy of prescription drugs such as blood thinners and seizure medications.
It’s imperative to consult a doctor before adding CBD oil to your treatment plan for any health condition.
What Does CBD Oil Feel Like?
Users generally report that CBD oil helps them to feel relaxed and calm. It helps to reduce anxiety without producing any psychoactive effects. It can help ease pain without un-sobering side effects. As an overall palliative, it can help you sleep deeper and more soundly, so you wake feeling refreshed. It can also help build your appetite and settle your stomach, particularly if you are battling nausea.
What Is CBD Vape Oil?
CBD oil comes in many forms. There are capsules, tinctures, sprays, and even creams for topical application. But perhaps the most popular form of CBD is CBD vape oil.
CBD vape oil is smoked through a vaporizer. The vaporizer heats the CBD oil and turns it into vapor for inhaling. Vaping with CBD oil, however, comes with significant risks.
In early 2018, the United States Army issued a warning against CBD vape oil when two North Carolina army bases reported 60 people had been admitted with side effects from CBD oil vaping, including nausea, vomiting, agitation, disorientation, headaches, and seizures. North Carolina health officials followed suit when 30 people entered the ER with hallucinations, loss of consciousness, and heart irregularities from CBD oil vaping.
The dangers, however, are in large part due to the lack of regulations in CBD oil, which is often not smoked in its unadulterated form.
Poor Regulation of CBD Oil
Not only is there poor regulation of the vaping market and no control over the quality of the oils used, but there is also no regulation of the CBD oil industry overall.
A 2017 study revealed alarming statistics: nearly 7 out of 10 CBD oils didn’t contain the levels indicated on their labels—43% had less than the promised amount and 26% had too much. One in five of the products examined contained THC, which can make anxiety worse in those who already suffer from mental disturbances.
For this reason, even if CBD oil is legal in your state, it’s a good idea to seek a doctor’s guidance both for your treatable condition and the type of CBD oil to take.