In fact, CBD exerts a wide array of effects on the body’s central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as the immune system. It works in conjunction with our endocannabinoid system to function in an antioxidant capacity, to decrease inflammation, and to act as an analgesic or pain reliever. CBD may even slow the progression of osteoarthritis and prevent nerve damage, according to early model studies. 4
A CBD isolate refers to a product that is composed of the CBD compound only and is extracted from the marijuana plant. CBD isolates can be extracted from both hemp and non-hemp species of marijuana. Remember, for it to be federally legal, it must come from the hemp species. In states where medicinal marijuana is legal, you can find CBD isolates in a marijuana dispensary. Additionally, certain CBD isolates are synthetic forms, such as those used in the pharmaceuticals Marinol and Syndros – both FDA approved to relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and to improve appetite in people with AIDS. 3
Your Body Chemistry Matters
Our natural endocannabinoids function on demand, meaning that when our body senses inflammation, or needs to return to homeostasis (a state of stable balance) it will release endocannabinoids that bind to cannabinoid receptors.
OK, so we know that taking it won’t get you high, but taking enough (often based on your weight), can have a calming effect. And the side effects are minimal, with some people experiencing drowsiness, nausea, or tiredness. It is unlikely to negatively impact your mood or cognitive ability, making it a seemingly safer and preferred product for many.
CBD is thought to be helpful in easing the symptoms of the following conditions
So far, pharmaceutical CBD is only approved by the FDA as adjunct therapy for the treatment of a special and rare form of epilepsy. Currently, CBD alone is not approved for treatment of pain in the United States. But a combination medication (that contains both THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio) was approved by Health Canada for prescription for certain types of pain, specifically central neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis, and the treatment of cancer pain unresponsive to optimized opioid therapy. There is currently no high-quality research study that supports the use of CBD alone for the treatment of pain.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Why is CBD presented to the public this way, when it is not without risks?
In fact, the FDA has issued several warning letters to companies and individuals that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain CBD. The FDA has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD the manufacturers had claimed they contain.
Given its promising results in animal models, along with its relative safety, non-psychoactive properties, and low potential for abuse, CBD is an attractive candidate to relieve pain. Unfortunately, there is a lack of human studies about the effectiveness of CBD. However, there is an abundance of commercial advertisements about the magical effects of CBD, and it is frequently presented as a cure-it-all potion that will treat everything including diabetes, depression, cancer, chronic pain, and even your dog’s anxiety!
Given the rapid change in the legality of cannabis coupled with the increased appetite for something new, and driven by unprecedented profit margins, the advertising for cannabinoids in general and CBD in particular has gone wild. The FDA is very clear that it is illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement. And it warns the public about its potential side effects, as it’s often advertised in a way that may lead people to mistakenly believe using CBD “can’t hurt.” CBD can cause liver injury, and can affect the male reproductive system (as demonstrated in laboratory animal studies).
What type of product should I consider? CBD-based products can be taken orally, applied to the skin or inhaled. There are pros and cons for each.
Daniel Clauw, MD, a professor of anesthesiology, rheumatology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan and director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, leads research on arthritis pain and fibromyalgia, and the effects of cannabis, particularly CBD, in pain.
How much CBD should I use? While there are no established clinical guidelines, the medical experts consulted by the Arthritis Foundation recommend the following for adults:
By mouth. CBD that is swallowed, whether in capsules, food or liquid, is absorbed through the digestive tract. Absorption is slow and dosing is tricky due to the delayed onset of effect (one to two hours), unknown effects of stomach acids, recent meals and other factors.
Capsules can work for daily use after a safe, effective capsule dose has been established. Experts discourage taking CBD via edibles, like gummies and cookies, because dosing is unreliable, and they are appealing to children but do not come in childproof containers. Like any medicine, edibles should be secured out of sight and reach of children.