The store shelves are lined with CBD products – gummies, drinks, lotion, even socks and sportswear. They promise to treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain, but does CBD actually work?

CBD is not THC.

Most often produced in a laboratory or derived from hemp plants, cannabis’s non-psychoactive cousin, CBD does not make users feel high on its own. “CBD is an important ingredient in medical cannabis, but it cannot produce a ‘high’ when taken alone,” he says. “There is also no evidence it is addicting.”

CBD may have health benefits.

The evidence for cannabidiol health benefits

CBD has been touted for a wide variety of health issues, but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to anti-seizure medications. In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and, in some cases, stop them altogether. Epidiolex, which contains CBD, is the first cannabis-derived medicine approved by the FDA for these conditions.

Animal studies, and self-reports or research in humans, suggest CBD may also help with:

  • Anxiety Studies and clinical trials are exploring the common report that CBD can reduce anxiety.
  • Insomnia. Studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • Chronic pain. Further human studies are needed to substantiate claims that CBD helps control pain. One animal study from the European Journal of Pain suggests CBD could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis when applied to skin. Other research identifies how CBD may inhibit inflammatory and neuropathic pain, which are difficult treat.
  • Addiction. CBD can help lower cravings for tobacco and heroin under certain conditions, according to some research in humans. Animal models of addiction suggest it may also help lessen cravings for alcohol, cannabis, opiates, and stimulants.

Is CBD safe?

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability. CBD can increase the level of blood thinning and other medicines in your blood by competing for the liver enzymes that break down these drugs. Grapefruit has a similar effect with certain medicines.  

People taking high doses of CBD may show abnormalities in liver related blood tests. Many non-prescription drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), have this same effect. So, you should let your doctor know if you are regularly using CBD.

Finding the right dose is important.

Many currently available over-the-counter forms of CBD contain only a few milligrams of the product. We don’t know that such low doses are necessarily helpful. Clinical trials of the drug for epilepsy and schizophrenia have used doses of 600-1000mg per day. However, higher doses can cause mild side effects – with some users reporting nausea, fatigue and irritability – and CBD can increase the effect of blood thinners and other medications. “Always let your doctor know if you’re taking CBD because it can cause abnormalities in liver-related blood tests if taken in high doses,” he notes.

CBD is unregulated.

Sold as a supplement and not a medication, CBD is not regulated by the FDA. That means you can’t be sure of the safety and purity in products. We currently do not know the best dose or form of CBD for specific medical conditions, so users may not realize any from products. Very recently, the FDA has taken steps to more closely regulate CBD.

CBD comes in many forms.

The way you take CBD should depend on your comfort level, goals and the properties of the drug. If you experience joint pain, for example, it is most commonly suggested taking CBD orally. Rubbing a CBD-infused oil or lotion on the area, might help, although absorption through the skin is rather low. Soaking in a tub full of water infused by a CBD bath bomb might feel good, but none of the drug will be absorbed into your body. For anxiety, try a mouth spray that gets CBD into the bloodstream faster.

The bottom line on cannabidiol

We need more research but CBD may prove to be a helpful, relatively non-toxic option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies, we can’t pinpoint effective doses.

If you decide to try CBD, make sure you are getting it from a reputable source.