Since the rise of chemical engineering and pharmaceutical companies, herbal medicines used for thousands of years have been sidelined in favor of potent synthetic alternatives.
Prescription medication has become such a normal part of life that more than half (55%) of the U.S. population takes prescription medication. 75% of these individuals also take at least one over-the-counter drug daily.1
Now, after almost a century of pharmaceutical solutions for health conditions, many health enthusiasts and medical experts have found some faults in these treatment systems. Pharmaceuticals are great for providing fast-acting solutions to symptoms, but not all of these solutions succeed in treating underlying conditions and may provide a range of side-effects.2
The combination of this, as well as the continual desire to find new ways of addressing chronic conditions, has led researchers and medical professionals back to some herbal solutions, one of which is cannabis. Although cannabis is well-known for the psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the newest compound of interest is cannabidiol (CBD).
Since restrictions have been lifted on research into cannabis, many CBD studies have been conducted to ascertain the therapeutic power of this fascinating molecule. While the following selection of CBD studies is in no way complete––the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s online listings provide over 2,400 results for a “cannabidiol” search query––the following selection can provide a clear perspective of the promise of CBD in medicine.3
The Discovery of Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids have been used to improve health for almost 12,000 years, but nothing was known about them until 1899 when cannabinol (CBN) was the first cannabinoid discovered. Cannabidiol was first isolated in 1940 by Dr. Roger Adams, but its true chemical composition would be revealed 23 years later, by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.4
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Dr. Mechoulam went on to identify the chemical composition of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964. It was this vital work that led Dr. Mechoulam and his fellow scientist, Yechiel Gaoni, to notice how THC acted like a naturally-occurring compound in the body.
The exogenous cannabinoids CBD and THC led to the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid system, or just endocannabinoid system (ECS), present in humans and most other vertebrates.5
Health Effects of CBD
One review demonstrated that CBD has considerably fewer side effects than other drugs used to treat similar conditions and that this alone may allow many patients to continue with their treatment plans. Some of the side effects that were mentioned in the CBD report include:
Controls Some Types of Seizures
CBD’s potential to control seizures may be one of its most promising benefits to date.
On June 25, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved EPIDOLEX, a CBD oral solution, for treatment of seizures associated with two rare types of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.8
This decision was based on evidence from lab studies, personal anecdotes, and a few clinical studies that demonstrated CBD’s potential for controlling seizures. Even after the introduction and approval of EPIDOLEX, research into the effects of CBD is being continued in hopes that more can be discovered.
Reduces Learned Fear
A 2016 study found that CBD reduces learned fear by reducing fear expression, disrupting memory reconsolidation, and enhances extinction, the process by which exposure therapy reduces learned fear. This applies to both discrete and contextual cues.9
Relieves Nociceptive and Neuropathic Pain
Cannabis contains several compounds that work together to address painful conditions.
First, there is nociceptive pain, which is the type regularly experienced when burning a finger, stubbing a toe, getting sick, or otherwise inflicting pain on the nerves. Studies performed on rats inflicted with arthritis symptoms showed that CBD can reduce nociception caused by damaged joints. The same study showed that CBD provides anti-inflammatory benefits.10
The other type of pain is called neuropathic pain. This comes from damaged nerves that are not sending signals properly. This less common type of pain is experienced in conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some studies suggest that low-dose CBD can address this type of pain by providing pain relief with TRPV1 activation, anxiety reduction with 5HT1-A receptor activation, and improves 5-HT neurotransmission if it impaired.11
One of the first facts that researchers learned about the ECS is that it plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis. CBD studies have observed that the capacity of the ECS to restore homeostasis, especially when recovering from the inflammatory response, can be greatly improved with CBD treatment.
CBD’s function as an anti-inflammatory is largely due to its capacity to affect certain receptors in the body that activate natural anti-inflammatory activity. At 1–10µM, CBD acts as an inverse agonist at CB1 and CB2 receptors.12
Studies have also shown that CBD interacts with TRPV1 and A2A receptors that also play an important role in controlling and attenuating inflammatory action. These studies were performed on rat models, but researchers mention the potential for human applications because many of these biochemical functions are similar in most vertebrates.13,14
Decreases Stress and Anxiety
One of the functions the ECS performs as it maintains homeostasis is restoring normal chemical levels after the stress response occurs. Undue stress levels are associated with many physical and mental conditions that affect society today. Combined with modern living styles, the ECS can have a hard time performing this important function.15,16
One of the major obstacles people face when considering natural or homeopathic solutions to health conditions is the tendency to assume it functions the same as conventional western medicine. This is not the case and can lead to many frustrations and confusion when it comes to boosting health and addressing conditions naturally
If you hope to benefit from an easy-to-access and very potent option like CBD, it important to do so only with the guidance of a healthcare professional. This will allow you to adopt a better understanding of how exactly it works and can help you maximize the efficacy of your treatment plan. Additionally, it allows you to formulate a treatment plan that combines known, well-studied treatment options with the up and coming ones.
Nevertheless, when taking a look at the studies, CBD shows a lot of promise, and perhaps it will be more widely used for much more than rare forms of seizures in the medical community in the near future.
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