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CBD Oil — Are the Benefits Claimed Too Good To Be True?

Studies suggest CBD has wide-ranging benefits, but there’s a catch or two

A person drops CBD oil into a clear glass of liquid.

These days, many of us could certainly go for a miracle cure-all, especially those of us who struggle with chronic pain, overwhelming anxiety, cancer-related symptoms and/or hard-to-treat neurological disorders. So, it’s no wonder that CBD oil is popping up in our search results. But can we really count on CBD oil to positively impact our symptoms in the ways we hope? Internal medicine specialist Paul Terpeluk, DO, explains why CBD oil may not be as effective as we’d like.

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What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is just one of more than 100 chemical compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant. But it’s THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), not CBD, that’s the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that gives you a euphoric high.

CBD is pulled from hemp, a type of cannabis plant that contains very low levels of THC, so it doesn’t get you high. CBD oil is simply a product that contains CBD extract and an oil, like coconut oil, typically for topical use.

It’s important to know that since the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, the production and sale of CBD products in the U.S. has been legalized on the federal level as long as they contain less than .3% of THC. However, it’s still illegal under some state laws.

Plus, Dr. Terpeluk explains the market has been oversaturated with CBD products — from bath bombs to gummies, lotions, creams, tinctures and oil — none of which are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and may not be 100% pure CBD. As of mid-December 2021, the FDA has only approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related products, all of which you can safely get with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

“There’s no oversight of the majority of CBD products from a regulatory authority,” says Dr. Terpeluk. “Most of the CBD that you’re buying, unless they have a rigorous marketing campaign and quality control that says it’s 100% CBD oil, more than likely, it’s contaminated with other cannabinoids, including THC.”

What are some of the benefits of CBD?

Several studies show the benefits of pure CBD may have wide-ranging positive effects, though. To understand those benefits, it’s important to consider our body’s endocannabinoid system, a complex system of enzymes, neurotransmitters and receptors that plays an important role in the development of our central nervous system. This system helps regulate a variety of functions, including pain, motor control, memory, appetite, inflammation and more. By further studying CBD’s effects in these specific areas, we may better understand how CBD impacts a variety of conditions and disorders.

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Helps with neurological-related disorders

The FDA has approved Epidiolex as a treatment for several seizure disorders, including two rare disorders known as Duvet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Several case studies suggest CBD may also be beneficial to patients who are resistant to anti-epileptic drugs. “With epilepsy, there’s a threshold in your brain that gets excitatory, and you go into a seizure,” says Dr. Terpeluk. “CBD increases that threshold.”

Other studies suggest CBD may also be useful in managing symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as it has neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory properties. More studies are needed, however, as many suggest that it’s not just CBD alone, but a combination of CBD and other cannabinoids, that may help reduce many of these symptoms.

It may assist with pain relief

By interacting with neurotransmitters in your central nervous system, CBD could potentially relieve pain related to inflammation, arthritis and nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy). In one four-week trial, people who had nerve damage in the lower half of their body reported a significant reduction of intense, sharp pain after using a topical CBD oil.

“All of our different anti-pain drugs affect some section of our pain system, whether it’s Tylenol®, Aspirin®, morphine or opioids,” explains Dr. Terpeluk. “No one wants to be addicted to opioids, so if there’s a cannabinoid you can take that’s not addictive but can repress the pain, that would be the Holy Grail with chronic pain.”

Still, he cautions, there’s a lot left to be studied, including whether there are significant adverse long-term effects of CBD when used for pain relief.

“If you’re taking it in an unregulated fashion, you don’t know how much is in there, and you’re not quite sure how it affects you outside of your particular pain,” says Dr. Terpeluk.

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It may help with anxiety and mood disorders

Anxiety and mood disorders like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder can have a severe effect on your daily life and may often cause both physical and emotional stress that could lead to other underlying conditions like sleep disorders, high blood pressure, chronic pain and heart disease. It’s too early to understand the full gamut of effects that CBD may have on anxiety and mood disorders, but individual studies seem to suggest varying positive results. In one study of 57 men who received either oral CBD or a placebo 90 minutes before participating in a simulated public speaking test, researchers learned that a 300-mg dose of CBD significantly reduced social anxiety during the test.

And while there are a wide variety of treatments available for anxiety and mood disorders — ranging from talk therapy and counseling to prescribed medications — Dr. Terpeluk suggests the most important thing is to get at the root of the underlying causes of the anxiety you’re experiencing.

“Anxiety is better approached by looking at what’s causing it in your life rather than trying to figure out which drugs can reduce it,” says Dr. Terpeluk.

It might help with cancer-related symptoms

CBD may help with nausea, vomiting and weight loss caused by chemotherapy treatments. The FDA has approved three cannabis-related products to help alleviate these symptoms, as well as help increase the appetite for those who have AIDS. These drugs all contain some level of THC or synthetic THC and are not purely CBD alone.

But some studies seem to suggest that CBD can help decrease the size of tumors and help stop the spread of cancerous cells in skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and more. As with other areas of study, further human clinical trials are needed to understand the full effect CBD has on various kinds of cancer.

What are the side effects or risks of CBD?

If you’re purchasing CBD oil and other products online or from a local vendor, Dr. Terpeluk says there’s no real way of knowing the purity of the CBD you’re using, as it could be mixed with other cannabinoids, such as the dangerous delta-8, or THC.

“It’s a little bit mysterious. It’s not as harmless as you think,” says Dr. Terpeluk. “If you take CBD oil because you buy it on the market, you have a very high likelihood that you could turn a drug test positive for THC because it could actually contain THC.”

CBD can also affect a variety of medications, including pain medications, antidepressants, antipsychotics and more. It could also cause several side effects that may include:

The best advice? Before considering CBD oil or other CBD products, make sure you talk to your healthcare provider to decide whether it’s safe for you and to ensure it doesn’t have harmful interactions with any medications you’re currently taking.

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