By Chris Kresser
Though the research on humans is ongoing, with much more to be done, CBD has already demonstrated a broad range of potential health benefits for people with conditions ranging from autism to inflammatory bowel disease.
In many of these instances, CBD alters the course of disease, without the harmful side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Here are eight instances where study results are very encouraging.
Recent research indicates that the ECS regulates neurobehavior and immunity, two aspects of physiology that are significantly impaired in autism. (5) This finding has led to a growing interest in the use of cannabinoids for modulating the ECS of autistic children and, hopefully, reducing the symptoms of this disorder.
Several small studies indicate that CBD reduces symptoms of autism as well as related conditions, such as anxiety. A trial conducted in Israel provided 53 autistic children with CBD oil at a dosage of 16 mg/kg per day; the CBD oil also contained THC, but in a very low amount. After a median treatment duration of 66 days, the children who received CBD demonstrated significant reductions in self-injury, rage, hyperactivity, and sleep problems, all common symptoms of autism. (6) Another study that used a similar CBD oil formulation found that CBD significantly improved anxiety, communication problems, and disruptive behaviors. (7) Currently, several more trials are underway to study the effects of CBD in autism. (8, 9)
Several small human trials suggest that CBD is beneficial for reducing anxiety. In a group of healthy young men, a single 400-mg dose of CBD significantly decreased self-reported anxiety compared to placebo. (10) A single 600-mg dose of CBD was found to reduce anxiety in subjects with social phobia. (11) Interestingly, the anti-anxiety effects of CBD are typically observed at moderate dosages of approximately 300 mg per day. Lower and higher doses either exert no impact or, paradoxically, increase anxiety. (12) An important note: some people with anxiety may experience a paradoxical reaction at any dose of CBD.
CBD quells anxiety by interacting with several central nervous system receptors known to regulate the fear response and anxiety-related behaviors, including CB1R (cannabinoid receptor 1) and 5-HT1A. Activation of CB1R by CBD promotes “fear extinction,” a decline in conditioned fear responses, while modulation of 5-HT1A receptors by CBD reduces anxiety. (13)
3. Cancer (And Side Effects of Treatment)
While medical marijuana has become popular for alleviating the side effects of cancer treatment such as pain and nausea, the psychoactive effects of THC are undesirable for many cancer patients. Fortunately, research indicates that CBD is a viable non-psychoactive alternative that not only alleviates side effects of conventional cancer treatment but also beneficially modulates the underlying cancer process.
In in vitro studies, CBD has been found to regulate signaling pathways involved in cell proliferation and survival, inhibiting cancer development and progression. (14) It also stimulates autophagy, the process by which the body cleans out damaged cells and regenerates new ones. CBD may be useful in the treatment of glioma, melanoma, breast cancer, and prostate cancer and appears to enhance the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy. (15, 16, 17, 18, 19) While we await clinical trials examining the potential of CBD as a cancer treatment, the excellent safety profile and beneficial effects of CBD oil for nausea and pain indicate that it may be a useful adjunct treatment to incorporate into cancer treatment protocols today.
Each year in the United States, at least two million people succumb to antibiotic-resistant infections. The dwindling number of pharmaceutical drugs effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria has led to a growing interest in the applications of natural compounds such as CBD for the treatment of such infections. CBD has potent antimicrobial activity against MRSA, a common antibiotic-resistant bacterium that infects humans.(20) This finding suggests that CBD may represent a valuable alternative to pharmaceuticals for the treatment of MRSA and, potentially, other antibiotic-resistant infections.
5. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
In research, CBD has demonstrated beneficial effects on the symptoms and pathology of IBD, reducing tissue injury, reactive oxygen species production, inducible nitric oxide synthase activity, and levels of TNF-alpha in the colon. (21, 22) CBD also supports the maintenance of the intestinal barrier, which is frequently compromised in IBD. (23)
Compared to preclinical research, clinical trials on CBD for IBD are sparse. A recent study found that low-dose CBD (10 mg per day) was safe but not effective for Crohn’s disease; however, the dose used in the trial was extremely low, and higher doses may be needed to achieve therapeutic effects. (24) Fortunately, more clinical trials examining the effects of CBD in IBD are forthcoming. (25)
6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is notoriously resistant to pharmaceutical treatment and behavioral therapy. PTSD can occur after a traumatic experience, resulting in flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme anxiety. Interestingly, emerging research suggests that CBD may improve the symptoms of PTSD by reducing hyperactivity of the amygdala, a portion of the brain involved in the processing of fear, thus suppressing traumatic memories. (26)
7. Pain and Inflammation
CBD may be a viable option for treating different types of chronic pain. In animal studies, topical CBD reduces pain and nerve damage in rat models of osteoarthritis. (27, 28) While studies on CBD for pain in humans are limited, CBD does appear to alter the perception of pain, making it more tolerable. (29, 30) Several high-quality clinical trials are underway to further elucidate the effects of CBD on chronic neuropathic and post-surgical pain. (31, 32)
Scientists have known for years that the ECS is involved in seizures; as a result, extensive research has been conducted on the therapeutic applications of cannabinoids for seizures disorders. (33) In 2018, the U.S. FDA made history when itapproved the CBD-based drug Epidiolexfor the treatment of two severe, rare pediatric seizure disorders—Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.