Myths and Realities about CBD as Medicine
By Lauren DeSouza- Master of Public Health, Simon Fraser Public Research University – Canada
Staff Research and Content Writer
© Copyright – SUD RECOVERY CENTERS – A Division of Genesis Behavioral Services, Inc.,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – January 26, 2022 – All rights reserved.
The benefits and uses of CBD have become increasingly popular topics in the media and the wellness world. CBD is viewed by many as a potential medicine that can be used to treat conditions ranging from mental health disorders to chronic pain, and addiction. While CBD does show promise to benefit some health conditions, many of these claims are not proven. More research is needed to figure out which diseases CBD can safely treat.
What is CBD?
CBD, or Cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent active ingredient in the cannabis (marijuana) plant, after THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). While THC is psychoactive, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning that it does not cause a “high” and is not addictive. CBD also has several factors that give it the potential to treat a variety of neurological disorders and diseases: it is anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and has antioxidant properties.
In recent years, excitement about the potential for CBD to be used as medicine has grown. Many claims have been made, including that CBD can be used to treat mood disorders, drug use, and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, many of these claims are not supported by evidence. Below, we will explore the myths and facts about CBD’s medicinal uses.
So far, CBD has been proven effective to treat epilepsy in young children with severe or treatment-resistant epilepsy. Several large studies were completed and showed that CBD helped reduce how often the children had seizures. It also helped improve the children’s energy levels, memory, cognitive and social functioning, and general quality of life. CBD has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat two types of childhood epilepsy.
CBD is also effective in treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in adults. MS is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and movement, and CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties can help improve motility (movement) in MS patients. CBD is approved as a treatment for MS in 26 countries including Canada, but has not yet been approved in the US.
- Schizophrenia: Claims have been made that CBD can be used to treat schizophrenia. Some evidence has shown potential for CBD to help treat negative symptoms of schizophrenia such as lack of emotion and loss of social functioning. However, CBD was found to be ineffective at treating cognitive impairment, one of the main components of schizophrenia.
- Insomnia: Another common claim about CBD is that it can help with insomnia. Small studies done with only a few patients found that CBD could help those with sleep disorders in terms of both falling and staying asleep. However, since these studies only had a few patients, larger studies are needed before CBD can be recommended to the general population.
- Parkinson’s disease: CBD’s potential to treat insomnia could also benefit patients with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Patients with these diseases often have trouble falling and staying asleep. Similarly, CBD has potential to treat psychosis associated with Parkinson’s. However, much more evidence is needed to determine the safety and success of using CBD in patients with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Mental health disorders: CBD has been successfully used to treat some anxiety disorders in small-scale studies, but more research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment. CBD also has the potential to act as an antidepressant because it can help reactivate serotonin pathways that help people feel joy and happiness. For both anxiety and depression, more research is needed to determine whether CBD alone is effective, or if it is more effective in combination with THC, and to determine safe dosage. As well, although anxiety and depression are components of bipolar disorder, CBD has so far not been found to help treat bipolar disorder.
- Addiction: Claims have been made that CBD can treat addictive disorders including tobacco use disorder and opioid use disorder. However, while CBD helped patients to smoke fewer cigarettes, it did not treat any of the symptoms associated with tobacco addiction, such as cigarette craving and withdrawal symptoms. This means it is not as effective as other existing treatments. More studies are needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for quitting smoking or other drugs.
- Crohn’s and Colitis: It has also been suggested that CBD could treat gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s, colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, However, this has not been found in existing studies.
- Chronic pain: Similarly, CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties showed potential for treating chronic pain such as cancer pain or bone/joint pain from things like arthritis. However, so far experts have not recommended CBD to treat chronic pain as the harms may outweigh any potential benefits and it may interact with certain medications.
A common theme with all of the conditions listed above is that we do not have enough evidence to recommend CBD as a treatment. More evidence may show that it is effective, but we need larger trials with more participants in order to determine this. Since CBD is not officially recommended or approved to treat these conditions, it is only available as a supplement and not a medication. The FDA does not regulate supplements for safety, and you will not know for sure what is in the product you buy. We also do not know the most effective dose of CBD for any of these conditions, and we do not know if it might interact with other medications.
The Bottom Line
CBD can only safely and effectively treat a rare and severe form of epilepsy in young children, and in combination with THC, treat MS-related neuropathic pain. More evidence is needed before CBD can be recommended to treat any other health condition, and it needs to be approved by a regulatory agency like the US FDA to ensure consistent quality and safety.
Grinspoon, P. (2021). Cannabidiol (CBD)-what we know and what we don’t. Harvard Health Blog. Published September 24, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476
Khalsa JH, Bunt GC, and Maggirwar SB. 2021. Myths and Realities about CBD as Medicine. HSOA Journal of Addictions and Addictive Disorders. Published March 31, 2021. 10.24966/AAD-7276/100060