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Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and similar CBD-based products have quickly risen in popularity — but when might they benefit you, and what are the potential side effects? We take a look at the currently available scientific research.

CBD oil — and all sorts of related products, from chewing gum to tea and from creams to chocolate — has truly catapulted to popularity over the last few years. Enthusiasts and clever sales people alike are quick to claim that these cannabis-derived products have the potential to help you manage a rather broad variety of health problems, but what does scientific research have to say? In other words, what are the known facts about the benefits of CBD oil and other CBD products, so far, and what do we know about the potential side effects?

What are CBD oil and other CBD products?

Cannabis sativa, which is popular as a street drug and also goes by many other names like weed, pot, ganja, buzz, and so on, is, of course, mostly sought after for the fact that it gets you high. That's because of its main active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The plant itself is home to over 100 other active components, however, and the second most numerous is cannabidiol — CBD. 

This particular component doesn't produce a high (or in medical terms, it isn't psychoactive), and so far, all available scientific evidence suggests that it is not habit-forming either — meaning that it appears you can't become addicted to pure CBD. CBD has, however, been shown to have the potential to help manage a number of physical and psychological health conditions. For this reason, more and more people are turning to products that contain only this active ingredient of Cannabis sativa, which is legally available in more jurisdictions than medical marijuana and also has a lower potential of causing unwanted side effects. 

Recently, in fact, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug derived from CBD. Called Epidiolex, this medication is now being used to treat people with rare types of epilepsy. Outside of this particular medication, CBD oil and other CBD products are legal in some US states, while not in others, and the same holds true for the rest of the world. Interested patients will, therefore, have to check the legal status of these cannabis products before they dip their feet in. 

Where CBD products are legal and easily available, it is important to note that CBD products come in different strengths. The quality of some is backed up with independent lab tests, while the quality and even authenticity of others is questionable. Consumers have to be discerning, in other words. 

Would CBD oil and other CBD products benefit your health?

As a products that have only recently risen in popularity (despite the fact that CBD was first isolated in the middle of the twentieth century), the potential benefits of CBD products are still very much being explored, both scientifically and by users on an individual basis. 

What we know so far is that CBD oil and similar products — without the addition of THC — may help people living with:

  • Chronic pain, caused, for instance, by arthritis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, or multiple sclerosis. Here, it is important to note that some studies support its use, while others have determined there is not enough evidence that CBD works.
  • Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. In one study, the symptoms of anxiety decreased quickly after the subjects started taking CBD extract. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. CBD may, based on rodent studies, even have the ability to help with processing traumatic memories.
  • Depression
  • Insomnia. While some studies report that CBD products do not have much of an effect on sleep quality and duration, others indicate that CBD products can help people who have insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep for longer. This may be true for the same reason that it appears to help calm anxiety by stopping racing thoughts and rumination.
  • Epilepsy and seizures. Many scientific teams are currently hard at work to find out exactly how CBD can prevent seizures, but cannabidiol has shown a lot of promise in this area. 

Currently, many of the studies coming out focus on cannabinoids in general, and that would generally mean CBD and THC as a combination. In the studies that look at the potential benefits for, to name a few, neurodegenerative disorders and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, it would not be possible to say whether the recorded benefits are due to THC or CBD. What is clear from research published so far is that most people who turn to CBD use it for purely medical reasons, because they have not found the relief they were looking for in conventional medicine, rather than because they are looking to improve their overall health or are simply curious. 

What are the potential side effects of CBD oil and other CBD products?

While it certainly appears that CBD is, on the whole, well-tolerated even in high doses of up to 1,500 mg a day in humans, we also have to be aware that these products are relatively new to the market. As such, we don't have the full picture yet. Some studies warn that, when used over long periods of time or in extremely high doses, CBD oils and other products like teas could potentially cause liver damage, gastrointestinal inflammation, and even be toxic. 

People using CBD products in controlled environments, as part of scientific studies, on the other hand, mostly report fatigue as a side effect, if they experience any side effects at all. Those who buy CBD products on the open market may, meanwhile, report both headache and "feeling a little high" as side effects. Research plausibly suggests that this may be the result of contamination of these products with THC, the other main active ingredient in cannabis. 

In conclusion, CBD products show promise in regard to a multitude of health conditions, mental as well as physical. The side effects are not yet entirely clear, and the product you are interested in buying may be of questionable quality. It is, therefore, best to consult a trusted physician before you try CBD products for yourself. 

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