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What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the lesser-known child of the Cannabis sativa L. plant.
Its more famous sibling is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is known as the active ingredient in marijuana that gets those who take it high.
The plant originated in Central Asia and is thought that it was first used as medicine or in rituals around 750 BC, but there are other ideas as well.
CBD and THC, however, are only 2 of the more than 150 cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant and, although similar, have rather different characteristics.
First of all, THC is a phytocannabinoid that, as mentioned above, generates psychotropic effects; CBD, on the other hand, represents one of the most therapeutically useful bioactive constituents of Cannabis Sativa, and does not imply any effect.
Similarly, while THC can make one feel more anxious, CBD is an active ingredient that, by regulating certain mechanisms, helps to restore homeostasis (the ability of the body to regulate itself), keeping all the body’s functions in balance.
Finally, THC can be addictive, while on the contrary, CBD is considered a useful element to help people who are trying to detoxify.
Roger Adams was the first to separate CBD from cannabis in 1940 but it wasn’t until more than two decades later, in 1963, that its structure was fully understood and after much research, it was ‘decided’ that THC was the ‘active’ part of cannabis.
Since then, most research has been conducted on THC and almost none on CBD. At the time, it was thought that ‘activity’ meant ‘psychoactivity’, an effect that, although only demonstrated in THC, was also associated with CBD.
In hindsight, this proved to be a shame because, due to this belief, many properties of CBD that could have been exploited even then to help people were ignored for many years.
Although, as we have seen, it has been discovered for over eighty years, CBD has only become an important area of research in recent years. In particular, its biological effects have been the subject of many interesting studies indicating possible therapeutic uses; in several preclinical models, for example, CBD has been shown to be able to reduce inflammation.
These and other effects still need to be tested on people in order to be used in clinical practice where CBD’s lack of psychoactive and other side effects would give it a significant advantage over other cannabinoids.
Another area that needs more research is the search for synthetic versions of CBD, which are more powerful but have a good therapeutic benefit.
Skin problems causing inflammation
Recent studies show that certain cannabinoids, in addition to reducing inflammation, block itching, slow down ageing and have an important impact in the battle against cancer. For many experts, these effects occur when CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system of the skin.
Some skin conditions that can improve when treated with CBD are:
- Acne atopic dermatitis
- Psoriasis skin cancer
- Itchy skin pain
Cell studies have shown that CBD also prevents the sebaceous glands from becoming inflamed and causing acne. Of course, before doctors can recommend its use, researchers need to test them on real people.
Alleviate pain and inflammation
Studies currently underway in the US show that CBD also works to treat chronic pain not caused by cancer.
In a 2020 study, one group of people with symptomatic peripheral neuropathy (i.e. caused by damaged nerves in the brain or spinal cord) was given CBD topically, while another group with the same condition was given a placebo.
Compared to those who used the placebo, those who used CBD had a significant decrease in acute and intense pain and cold and itching sensations. None of the participants reported experiencing significant side effects.
When CBD oil is applied to the skin, it does not have the same effect on the whole body as when it is put directly into the bloodstream; applied to the skin, however, it treats pain in a specific area and therefore may have a more immediate effect as the contact is more direct.
Researchers have also examined how CBD can help people with pain.
A 2020 randomized, placebo-controlled study observed the effect CBD oil had on people with non-cancerous peripheral leg neuropathy who used it on their skin.
In this screening some of the subjects received 250 mg CBD dissolved in 90 ml of oil while others received the placebo treatment.
After 4 weeks of treatment, those who had applied CBD oil reported less intense pain and a reduced sensation of cold and itching.
Moreover, as the data showed, none of the participants reported any side effects.
Although the results of this study are promising and bode well, the research was only done on a small sample of only 29 people, so further research is needed to confirm the results.
Help people affected by PTSD
Another hopeful piece of research regarding the potential benefits of CBD comes from a small 2018 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: 11 people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) took CBD along with their regular psychiatric care for a period of eight weeks.
10 out of 11 saw their PTSD symptoms improve, and the researchers who followed the test say that CBD was well tolerated by most of them.
Margaret Rajnic, who has a doctorate in nursing and a lot of experience with medical cannabis and CBD, says that that therapy should be used “with any type of cannabis or CBD to treat PTSD”.
And again that: “a certain amount of therapy is needed for PTSD, but CBD helps you feel a little less stressed”.
Regarding the treatment of PTSD, there are four other interesting studies conducted between 2012 and 2016 that suggest CBD can help reduce symptoms.
However, some of these, in addition to CBD, also used THC, which, as mentioned, is the cannabinoid that causes psychotropic effects.
When THC and CBD work together, they generate what is called the ‘entourage effect’, a synergistic action that amplifies their individual benefits, resulting in a total effect that exceeds the mere sum of the individual effects.
For example, taking the same amount of THC and CBD together makes the THC ‘high’ less intense, while taking a small amount of THC with a lot of CBD makes the CBD effects stronger.
Help slow the first signs of arthritis
Arthritis is a condition in which the tissues in and around the joints break down, and although there are different types, certain symptoms are common to all of them such as pain, stiffness and difficulty moving.
Most treatments for arthritis focus on relieving pain and making joints work better.
A 2006 study of 58 people with rheumatoid arthritis found that Sativex, an herbal and CBD drug, helped those who took it to sleep better and move with less difficulty, reducing their pain and preventing the disease from worsening.
Sativex – approved in the UK since 2010 – has also had significant efficacy in making those affected experience less pain in resting situations.
More recently, in 2018, in a study based on a more localized treatment conducted on people with knee pain due to osteoarthritis, a 250 or 500 mg dose of a synthetic CBD gel was administered daily.
Aside from acetaminophen, patients stopped taking other painkillers or anti-inflammatories before and during the study.
CBD oil for general wellness
CBD oil has been studied to see if it could help relieve the symptoms of many problems such as anxiety and neurological disorders (e.g. seizures). Currently, although the results are extremely promising and studies show that CBD has very few side effects, more research is needed to determine how effective it is for different medical conditions.
If you want to use CBD to treat a health problem or improve your health in general, you should first talk to a doctor or other health care professional. They can tell you if it’s a good idea to add a CBD product to your daily routine and help you choose the best one. Especially if it has to interact with other drugs.
You may find that your overall health improves, your risk of getting sick decreases, your mood improves, anxiety and depression disappear, and you will have a better overall health.