exhaustion and pain that kept her on the couch much of the day. The 58-year-old Seattle speech coach didn’t want to take opioid pain-killers, but Tylenol wasn’t helping enough. Roth was intrigued when women in her online chat group enthused about a cannabis-derived oil called cannabidiol (CBD) that they said relieved pain without making them high. So Roth, who hadn’t smoked weed since college but lived in a state where cannabis was legal, walked into a dispensary and bought a CBD tincture. “Within a few hours of placing the drops in my mouth, the malaise and achiness that had plagued me for weeks lifted and became much more manageable,” she says. She took the drops several times a day and in a few weeks was back to her regular life.
CBD has proven neuroprotective effects and its anti-cancer properties are being investigated at several academic research centers in the United States and elsewhere. A 2010 brain cancer study by California scientists found that CBD “enhances the inhibitory effects of THC on human glioblastoma cell proliferation and survival.” This means that CBD makes THC even more potent as an anticancer substance. Also in 2010, German researchers reported that CBD stimulates neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, in adult mammals.
At least one benefit of CBD is well-supported by science: It can be effective in treating children with rare, genetic seizure disorders. Adults, children and even animals with epilepsy have been shown to benefit from the chemical too, the World Health Organization reports. There's also some evidence that CBD can help with anxiety, says Dr. Robert Carson, an assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University who focuses on children with epilepsy. "In children, especially those with autism spectrum disorders, this may manifest as improved interactions with others," he says. Other preliminary research shows CBD holds promise for conditions including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, psychosis and Parkinson's disease – and is pretty much impossible to abuse or become addicted to, WHO says.
Most human studies of CBD have been done on people who have seizures, and the FDA recently approved the first CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, for rare forms of epilepsy. Clinical trials for other conditions are promising, but tiny. In one Brazilian study published in 2011 of people with generalized social anxiety disorder, for example, taking a 600-mg dose of CBD (higher than a typical dose from a tincture) lessened discomfort more than a placebo, but only a dozen people were given the pill.
Success stories like Oliver’s are everywhere, but there’s not a lot of data to back up those results. That’s because CBD comes from cannabis and, like nearly all other parts of the plant, is categorized by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule 1 drug—the most restrictive classification. (Others on that list: heroin, Ecstasy, and peyote.) This classification, which cannabis advocates have tried for years to change, keeps cannabis-derived products, including CBD, from being properly studied in the U.S.
“What is CBD oil” may be your first question, but the real question we have to answer is, “What does CBD oil do?” CBD interacts with the body through the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) or endocannabinoid system. First discovered in the late 1980’s, the endocannabinoid system regulates the body’s homeostasis, or general state of balance, impacting such functions as mood, sleep, appetite, hormone regulation, and pain and immune response. Like an acrobat on a highwire, as the environment around us impacts our normal balance, the endocannabinoid system “corrects” by mediating our body’s reaction to keep us level.