Cannabidiol is a popular natural remedy used for many common ailments.
Better known as CBD, it is one of more than 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa (1).
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, which means it causes the sensation of getting high that’s often associated with cannabis. However, unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive.
This quality makes CBD an appealing option for those who are looking for relief from pain and other symptoms without the mind-altering effects of cannabis or other side effects related to some pharmaceutical drugs.
CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant and then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut oil or hemp seed oil. CBD can be found in a variety of products online and in stores, including dietary supplements, bath soaks, drinks, and food.
It continues to gain momentum in the health and wellness world, with some scientific studies finding that it may ease symptoms of conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety. But is it the right choice for you?
This article covers 6 evidence-backed health benefits of CBD, as well as potential side effects and safety concerns related to CBD products.
Cannabis has been used to treat pain since as far back as 2900 B.C. (2).
More recently, scientists have discovered that certain components of cannabis, including CBD, are responsible for its pain-relieving effects.
The human body contains a specialized system called the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in regulating a variety of functions, including sleep, appetite, pain sensation, and immune system response (3).
The body produces endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in your nervous system.
Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by affecting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation, and interacting with neurotransmitters (4).
Some research suggests that CBD may be effective for certain types of pain, including nerve pain and back pain, when used on its own. However, it seems to be most effective when combined with THC (5, 6).
Several human studies have found that a combination of CBD and THC is effective in treating pain related to multiple sclerosis (MS) and arthritis.
An oral spray called Sativex (nabiximols), which is a 1:1 combination of THC and CBD, is approved in several countries to treat pain related to MS.
A study that included 47 people with MS examined the effects of taking Sativex for a month. The participants experienced improvements in pain, walking ability, and muscle spasms (7).
Still, the study didn’t include a control group, so placebo effects cannot be ruled out (7).
In one review, researchers noted that Sativex may benefit those with MS-associated neuropathic pain and chronic severe neuropathic pain. The review also found that Sativex may help relieve anxiety and stress, which are major drivers of chronic pain (8).
Additionally, some research suggests that CBD may relieve symptoms of rheumatic diseases such as fibromyalgia.
A study that included survey data from 2,701 people with fibromyalgia found that those who used CBD for pain relief generally reported slight to significant improvement in symptoms (9).
And according to preclinical evidence from rodent studies, CBD may have beneficial effects on pain and inflammation related to arthritis, but human studies are lacking (10).
Although researchers are cautiously optimistic that CBD may be helpful in the treatment of some types of pain, especially when combined with THC, more high quality studies are needed to determine its effectiveness in pain management.
CBD, especially in combination with THC, may be effective for reducing certain types of pain associated with conditions such as MS and fibromyalgia. Still, more research is needed to investigate its potential use in pain management
Anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders can have devastating impacts on overall health and well-being.
Mental health disorders are often treated with pharmaceutical drugs, which can cause a number of side effects, including drowsiness, agitation, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and headaches (11).
What’s more, medications like benzodiazepines have the potential for dependence and may lead to substance use disorder.
CBD oil has shown promise as a treatment for some mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, leading many people who live with these conditions to become interested in this natural approach.
In a Brazilian study, 57 men received either oral CBD or a placebo 90 minutes before they underwent a simulated public speaking test. The researchers found that a 300-mg dose of CBD was the most effective at significantly reducing anxiety during the test (12).
Little to no effect was reported in those who took the placebo, a 150-mg dose of CBD, or a 600-mg dose of CBD (12).
CBD oil has been used to safely treat insomnia and anxiety in children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder (13).
A small 2019 study also found that CBD was effective for reducing PTSD-related symptoms, including nightmares, in adults (14).
Several other studies have found that CBD may be effective for those with social anxiety and other anxiety-related disorders (15).
Even though some people find that CBD improves symptoms related to depression, human evidence of CBD’s potential antidepressant abilities is currently limited (15).
However, results from several studies suggest that it may help reduce depressive symptoms in those with cannabis use disorders (15).
Research investigating the effects of CBD on symptoms of anxiety and depression is ongoing.
In fact, a study evaluating the possible effectiveness of 150–300 mg of CBD per day for 12 weeks on anxiety and depression symptoms in people with bipolar disorder is expected to be completed in April 2022 (15).
CBD use has been shown to improve some symptoms related to anxiety disorders. Researchers are currently investigating how CBD may be used in the treatment of other mental health disorders.
CBD may help reduce some cancer-related symptoms and side effects related to cancer treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, and pain.
An older study looked at the effects of CBD and THC in 177 people with cancer-related pain who did not experience relief from pain medication.
Those treated with an extract containing both compounds experienced a significant reduction in pain compared with those who received only THC extract (16).
A review of five studies found some evidence that Sativex may help reduce cancer-related pain in some people (17).
However, findings from studies investigating the effects of cannabis and cannabinoids like CBD on cancer-related nausea, pain, and decreased appetite have been mixed (18).
Even though CBD may be helpful for some people with cancer, more research is needed to determine whether CBD should be used more regularly in cancer symptom management.
If you have cancer and are interested in using CBD or other cannabis-derived products, it’s important to consult your healthcare team. These products may not be safe, appropriate, or effective for all people with cancer.
Though CBD may improve certain cancer-related symptoms in some people, research findings are currently mixed and more studies are needed to assess its effectiveness and safety.
Researchers believe that CBD’s ability to act on the endocannabinoid system and other brain-signaling systems may provide benefits for those with neurological disorders.
In fact, one of the most studied uses for CBD is in treating neurological disorders such as epilepsy and MS. Though research in this area is still relatively new, several studies have shown promising results.
Sativex has been shown to be a safe and effective way to reduce muscle spasticity in people with MS.
It reduced spasms in 75% of 276 people with MS who were experiencing muscle spasticity that was resistant to medications (19).
In another study, researchers gave 214 people with severe epilepsy 0.9–2.3 grams of CBD oil per pound (2–5 grams per kg) of body weight. Their seizures reduced by a median of 36.5% (20).
One more study found that CBD oil significantly reduced seizure activity in children with Dravet syndrome, a complex childhood epilepsy disorder, compared with a placebo (21).
However, some people in both of these studies experienced adverse reactions associated with CBD treatment, such as convulsions, fever, and fatigue.
CBD has also been researched for its potential effectiveness in treating several other neurological diseases.
For example, several studies have shown that treatment with CBD may improve quality of life and sleep quality in people with Parkinson’s disease (22).
However, researchers note that there’s currently a lack of high quality data. That means there’s not enough evidence available to support the use of CBD in the clinical treatment of Parkinson’s disease (22).
But one CBD product has actually been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of several seizure disorders.
Epidiolex, a prescription cannabidiol product, was approved for use by the FDA in 2018 for the treatment of seizures associated with two severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
In 2020, Epidiolex received FDA approval for the treatment of seizures caused by tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other areas of the body (23).
CBD may be effective for treating seizures related to several health conditions. The prescription CBD product Epidiolex has received FDA approval to treat seizures related to rare, seizure-causing conditions such as Dravet syndrome.
Some research has linked CBD with several benefits for the heart and circulatory system, including the ability to lower high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is linked to higher risks of a number of health conditions, including stroke, heart attack, and metabolic syndrome (24).
Studies indicate that CBD may be beneficial for people with high blood pressure.
In a small study, 9 healthy men were treated with 600 mg of CBD oil. The CBD treatment reduced resting blood pressure compared with a placebo (25).
In the same study, the men also took part in stress tests that normally increase blood pressure. Interestingly, the single dose of CBD led the men to experience a smaller blood pressure increase than normal in response to these tests (25).
Another study that included 26 healthy men found that treatment with 600 mg of CBD for 7 days led to significant reductions in blood pressure in the short term compared with a placebo group. However, the effect was lost after 7 days (26).
The CBD group maintained lower blood pressure levels in response to stress compared with the placebo group after repeated doses over time.
The researchers also found that the CBD group had reduced arterial stiffness and improved blood flow through their arteries after repeated CBD dosing compared to the placebo group (26).
Overall, these findings are encouraging, but we need more studies of the potential benefits of CBD treatment on heart health.
Though more human studies are needed, CBD may benefit heart health in several ways, including by reducing blood pressure and improving artery function.
CBD has been studied for its role in treating a number of health issues other than those outlined above.
Though more studies are needed, CBD is thought to provide the following health benefits:
- Antipsychotic effects. Studies suggest that CBD may help people with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions by reducing symptoms of psychosis (27).
- Substance abuse treatment. CBD may be helpful for relieving anxiety and depression in people who have a dependence on certain drugs, including heroin (28, 29).
- Possible extension of life in those with glioblastoma. Recent studies suggest that treatment with a combination of CBD and THC may help extend the life of some people with an aggressive form of cancer called glioblastoma, yet research is limited (30).
- Possible improvement in sleep. Some studies suggest that CBD might help improve sleep in people with certain sleep disorders, though more research is needed (31, 32).
Some studies suggest that CBD may help with substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, and certain types of cancers. However, we need more research in humans to find out more about these potential effects.
Though CBD is generally well-tolerated and is considered safe, it may cause adverse reactions in some people.
Side effects noted in studies include (33, 34):
- changes in appetite and weight
Other side effects, including abnormal liver function test results, drowsiness, sedation, and pneumonia, have been reported in childhood epilepsy studies. But these effects could stem from CBD interacting with other medications, such as clobazam (34).
In fact, CBD interacts with several medications, including pain medications, antidepressants, seizure medications, and diabetes medications. Before you try CBD oil, discuss it with a healthcare professional to assess safety and avoid potentially harmful interactions (35, 36).
Additionally, it’s important to note that the market is currently saturated with CBD products, many of which are low quality.
CBD is added to foods, beverages, dietary supplements, and body care products, and these items are often marketed as a way to improve stress, pain, and sleep issues.
However, this does not mean you should include any of these items in your diet or wellness routine.
Although some evidence suggests that CBD may be helpful for certain aspects of health, dosing varies widely in research studies. It’s difficult to determine what dose is most appropriate for treating specific health needs.
What’s more, many products contain a blend of ingredients, not just CBD. For example, dietary supplements that contain CBD plus a blend of herbal ingredients may not be safe for everyone, as many herbs have the potential to interact with commonly prescribed medications.
Before you use a CBD product, talk with a healthcare professional to discuss appropriate dosing and any other questions you may have.
If you do decide to use a CBD product, choose one that has been third-party tested for quality and purity.
NuLeaf Naturals and Bluebird Botanicals sell CBD products that undergo testing by accredited third-party laboratories and offer batch reports on their websites.
Although CBD is generally considered safe, it can cause adverse effects such as diarrhea and fatigue in some people. It may also interact with certain medications, causing side effects that may be harmful.
CBD oil has been studied for its potential role in easing the symptoms of many common health conditions, including anxiety and neurological disorders. Plus, it may benefit heart health and help relieve certain types of pain.
Keep in mind that some of these health benefits are related to the use of CBD combined with THC, not CBD alone.
Research investigating the effects of CBD on certain conditions is ongoing, and there is still much to be learned about the potential uses of CBD.
If you’re interested in trying CBD to manage a health condition or to support overall health, check with a healthcare professional first. They can help you decide whether adding a CBD product to your routine is appropriate and help you choose the best product.