CBD is all the rage right now but is it due all the attention, or is it another overblown fad (like our overhyped friend kale)? I had long thought CBD had medicinal value but I hadn’t taken the super deep dive into the research necessary to truly come to a decision…until now.
First let’s address the elephant in the room. It sounds like cannabis can do everything from cure cancer to wash your car and if you’re like my mom, who emailed me on this very topic just the other day, you’re thinking to yourself “no one product can do ALL that, it just sound too good to be true, so it probably is just that – too good to be true”. But friends, it truly is that versatile and the reason why cannabis is so multi talented lies squarely in science.
While genetics can tweak how one’s cannabinoid receptors work (more on this later), everyone is full of not just cannabinoid receptors, but endogenous cannabinoids as well. Endogenous cannabinoids means cannabinoids (which act as important chemical messengers in your body) that are made by your own body. The list of benefits is so long because these receptors are integral to so many bodily systems. The two types of cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2 and they are found in the brain, connective tissue, skin, glands, and immune cells. The majority of them are found in the brain and immune system however which is why so many benefits lie in those two areas. This also means that cannabinoids can be used not just to treat ailments in these areas, but they can be used as preventative and anti aging medicine as well.
Before we move on we might as well address the second elephant in the room. CBD comes from the cannabis plant, as in marijuana, as in weed, as in, the plant that people smoke to get high….but stop right there, CBD alone does NOT make you high. THC is the psychoactive component of the plant (psychoactive is the fancy word scientists use to describe getting high in case you hadn’t figured that out yet) and CBD is the NON psychoactive component which causes no high of any kind. It has even been used successfully in studies on children with refractory seizures with no negative side effects including no psychotropic effects (and great success on the seizures by the way).
Now that we’ve got a solid understanding of what CBD is, let’s take a look at what it can do.
- Pain Relief
One of the most celebrated health benefits of CBD oil is it’s analgesic (aka pain relieving) effects. The main reason why goes back to the two areas of cannabinoid receptor concentration I mentioned earlier, the brain, and the immune system. A 2012 Journal of Experimental Medicine article entitled “Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors”(1) found that CBD is able to relieve pain by interacting with receptors in the brain to reduce pain sensation while also interacting with the immune system to reduce inflammation. Double whammy.
Another promising angle of CBD’s pain relieving effects is the potential to positively impact the opioid crisis in America. A number of studies have demonstrated that with CBD use patients can reduce the amount of opioids needed, lessen the buildup of tolerance, and reduce the severity of withdrawal when coming off the drugs.
Right before I hit send on this post I received a text from a friend (who had asked that I do a post on this often confusing and controversial topic, to help clear up some of the muddy waters. Her text said this: “I have ridiculous shoulder pain. We think impinged nerve. The only thing taking the edge off is a CBD patch!”. I immediately logged back on to add this anecdote in because I don’t believe in “coincidences”. Maybe someone reading this is in pain and as a result will be able to get relief from a CBD patch, who knows?
2. Metabolic Health
Several studies have shown that regular cannabis users have a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumferences, and reduced risk of diabetes and obesity. A 2006 article in the Journal of AutoImmunity(2) showed that CBD on its own lowered the incidence of diabetes in lab rats. Then in 2015 an Israeli-American biopharmaceutical collective began stage 2 trials related to using CBD to treat diabetes. Research has demonstrated that CBD benefits weight loss by helping the body convert white fat into weight-reducing brown fat, and stabilizing sugar metabolism.
A paper published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology entitled “Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug” (3) details the many mechanisms of action in which CBD fights cancer as well as the many types of cancer for which CBD has been shown effective. If you have a minute to look at the chart provided in the study it’s pretty exciting stuff. CBD has been shown to exert anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects in various cancer types (lung, glioma, thyroid, lymphoma, skin, pancreas, uterus, breast, prostate and colorectal carcinoma) both in vitro and in vivo. For those that don’t speak “Dr” what this means is this: CBD has the power to stop the spread of cancer, and to make the cancer cells die off, and it’s been found to do this in allllll those different types of cancer, both in a petri dish and in live subjects. Amazing.
Moreover, other antitumourigenic mechanisms of cannabinoids are currently emerging, showing their ability to interfere with tumour neovascularization, cancer cell migration, adhesion, invasion and metastasization. Dr speak for this means that it’s also been shown to stop tumors from feeding themselves, growing and spreading. Again, amazing.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found for the first time that CBD potently and selectively inhibited the growth of different breast tumor cell lines and exhibited significantly less potency in non-cancer cells. Awesome.
As I mentioned before, CBD can be preventative as well as curative which we see in a 2012 study which showed that animals treated with CBD were significantly less likely to develop colon cancer after being induced with carcinogens in a laboratory. I mean, come on you guys, this is amazing right?
4. Brain Health
CBD has been found to be neuroprotective, meaning that it helps to maintain and regulate brain health. It does this through various means, one being the removal of damaged cells. Think of the damaged cells as gunk in your car engine, it’s not going to work very well, you need to keep it clean to keep it running properly right? Another way CBD is important for brain health is the improved efficiency of mitochondria (think back to high school biology, these are the “power house of your cells”. They make ATP and are crucial to life). CBD also works to reduce glutamate toxicity. Too much glutamate stimulates nerve cells in the brain to fire and become over-stimulated, ultimately leading to cell damage or death. Through all these means, CBD helps protect brain cells from damage and keeps the brain healthy and functioning properly. One final brain benefit of CBD is a throwback to #1 – it has also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. And an inflamed brain is NOT a well functioning brain, that’s for sure.
CBD has also been recently implicated as a potential treatment for Alzheimers. This paper details how CBD lowers oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction and reactive oxygen species generation while supressing pro inflammatory signaling. “Effects of cannabidiol interactions with Wnt/β-catenin pathway and PPARγ on oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s disease(4).” Basically it gets rid of the damaging little guys, free radicals, that run around messing things up, and it up regulates those oh so important powerhouses, the mitochondria. All of which help kick Alzheimers butt.
5. Bone Health
I had heard of all the benefits I’ve mentioned until this one I stumbled upon in my research. Apparently, CBD helps spur the process of new bone-cell formation, which is why it has been found to speed the healing of broken bones and decrease the likelihood of re-fracturing the bone due to a stronger fracture callus. A recent study showed the bones in those given CBD were 35–50 percent stronger than those of non-treated subjects. Sign me up for that if I ever break a bone.
6. Skin Health
The skin has some of the highest amount and concentration of CB2 receptors in the body. When applied topically CBD oil (which has been found to carry higher antioxidant benefits than Vitamins A or E) has many benefits and can repair damage from free radicals like UV rays and environmental pollutants. Cannabinoid receptors found in the skin seem to be connected to the regulation of oil production in the sebaceous glands leading to the current development of many cannabis-based topical products to treat everything from acne to psoriasis and faster healing of damaged skin. Cannabis preparations have actually been used for wound healing in both animals and people in a range of cultures spanning the globe and going back thousands of years. The use of concentrated cannabis and CBD oils to treat skin cancer is also gaining popularity with a number of well-documented cases of people curing both melanoma and carcinoma-type skin cancers with the topical application of CBD and THC products. One of the more famous cases is Rick Simpson, who cured his own deadly melanoma with “Rick Simpson Oil”.
A 2017 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine (5) explored the effect of CBD medication on young adults with Dravet syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy with seizures that are often induced by fever. Those who received CBD saw their seizure frequency drop by a median of 38.9 percent.
A 2014 survey conducted by researchers at Stanford University was presented to parents dedicated to sharing information about the use of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis to treat their child’s seizures. The average number of anti-epileptic drugs tried before using CBD was 12. (Guys, they tried TWELVE other drugs first-and none of them worked). When given CBD rich cannabis, 84 percent of the parents reported a reduction in their child’s seizure frequency. (84%!!) Of these, 11 percent reported complete seizure freedom, eight reported a greater than 80 percent reduction in seizure frequency, and 32 percent reported a 25–60 percent seizure reduction.
I saved one of my favs for last. The implications of CBD use for anxiety are huge. If you type “CBD and Anxiety” into Pubmed you will get hit with more articles than you can read in a day. Trust me, I know, I did it. The reason this is one of my fav benefits of CBD is that SO MANY PEOPLE are anxious these days. We’re all frazzled, stressed, sleep deprived and that makes us ANXIOUS. CBD has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety in those with generalized anxiety, situational anxiety, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. It’s even been studied for use with anxiety from public speaking and compulsive buying disorders. So basically, all the things.
The study, “Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and prevents allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain” (6) uses a rat model to show how CBD it works on anxiety. Here they found that it affects serotonin levels through the 5HT receptors in brain.
This next study, entitled “The anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol in chronically stressed mice are mediated by the endocannabinoid system: Role of neurogenesis and dendritic remodeling” (7) was published in Neuropharmacology in June of this year and it reminds me of my description of all of US (stressed and tired and therefore anxious!). Researchers in here legit stressed out these poor mice and then gave them CBD to see what would happen. Guess what? They calmed down and exhibited far less anxious behavior than without CBD. Researchers here looked at neurogenesis and dendritic remodeling as the potential reason for CBD’s anxiolytic effect.
So What Now?
Ok so if you’re not sold on the many benefits of CBD oil by now, clearly nothing will sway you my friend and you may move along now. I shall bore you no longer.
But if you are interested in giving CBD a try, either as preventative medicine or as a treatment stick with me a bit longer and I’ll detail some do’s and don’ts when choosing a CBD supplement for yourself.
One of the single most important element is to get the “full flower” or “full spectrum” of CBD. Chemists think they’re cute when they isolate one component of nature and shove it in a pill, but let me tell you, that has been going wrong since it began (don’t get me started on Vitamin A, that’s a story for another day). While I am a fan of targeted supplements when necessary there is a reason I always tell people to try to get as much of their nutrients from food as possible. You want the WHOLE PACKAGE, the way God made it, because there are synergistic effects with the other compounds in the plant and whether that plant is an orange or cannabis, it’s the same deal. The whole package is better.
Next up, how was it processed? You don’t want to take that beautiful whole flower and heat it to a gazillion degrees and douse it with chemicals to extract the CBD out of it – you’ll destroy all the best parts!! Make sure it is gently processed or you’ll be getting an expensive bottle of nothing.
It is also important to know your source. Did it come from China where many food products were recently found to be high in toxic heavy metals? Was it sprayed to high heaven with pesticides? Has it been third party tested? Do as much digging as possible. Remember, this is a medicine, it’s supposed to make you better, not worse.
Lastly, if you want to get real fancy with it you can look into your genetics and find out exactly what type of cannabis works best for your individual body. For example, if you’re prone to anxiety you want to look for a CBD strain that has high levels of a terpene called linolool,this compound synergistically increases CBD anxiolytic effects. If you don’t want to go to the extra lengths of genetic testing, simply try out a few brands and journal the effects. Does one give you a headache? Does one make you feel amazing? Did you sleep like a rock star? You are an individual and you need to find what works for you. This paper, “Pharmacogenetics of Cannabinoids” (8), was just published in the European Journal of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics and it details some of the most current understanding of genetics and cannabis should you feel inclined to DIY it on the genetics end. There is also a nifty new tool online called EndoCanna Health where you can upload your 23andme data for $40, or do one of their genetic tests for $199, and get a print out of your genetics as they relate to cannabis.
I was recently contacted by the good folks at Danodan, to see if I wanted to try their “Flower in a Bottle” CBD product. I loved that they use the whole flower and gently process it. I also love that they’re local to me here in Oregon and they use organic vegetable glycerine for steeping so I was down for giving it a try. Another cool aspect of their product is that it is in liquid form which allows you to customize the amount to your specific bioindividuality. They encourage you to start with a small amount and work your way up until you find the dose that works best for your. Personally, I used one dropper full each night for SEVERAL nights in a row to give it a real go, and you know what? I slept like a rockstar. So I’m sold.