CBD Oil: Medical Use, Benefits and Side Effects

Jessica Lewis
February 3, 2018
CBD is one of the major constituents found in the cannabis plant, belonging to a class of compounds known as cannabinoids. The substance, which occurs naturally in marijuana plants, did not enjoy much interest until recently. Needless to say, the one it received was far from being positive.

Generally speaking, it is enough only to mention the term of cannabis, and people will raise an eyebrow at you. Chances are, they will immediately think of drug addicts and rehab centers. However, the bad reputation is but a matter of misconception. New pieces of information show us that cannabis can alter one’s state of mind indeed if taken unconsciously and for the wrong purpose. Still, upon a closer look, cannabis is so much more than this.


What is CBD Oil?

Specialists claim that a few of cannabis’ constituents, CBD included, have alleged health benefits. Some of them state that the CBD extract might even help cancer patients cope better with their medical condition.  Others believe it can alleviate symptoms of specific mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

Often times, CBD gets mistaken for THC, another important ingredient and also the most popular between the two. It is tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive substance, the one responsible for cannabis’ bad renown. Banned by the U.S. FDA, THC acts on different nervous pathways than CBD. While the former affects the central nervous system, linking with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, the latter does a different job. The constituent is a non-psychotropic one, with no effect whatsoever on the two receptors( it interacts with them indirectly, by connecting first to the THC molecule). Its chemical structure shows important relations with pathways related to the use of energy and protein transportation.

Later clinical studies indicate a rather opposite effect to that of THC. One trial[1] which the UK Psychiatry Research Trust has made public showed the different manners of action of the two. During the study, specialists from multiple countries have administrated a minimal dose of cannabis to a series of fifteen healthy men.

The research consisted of four tasks as followed:

  • One that involves verbal memory skills
  • A response inhibition one
  • A sensory processing assignment
  • A visually disturbing task

Each of the subjects has participated in every stage three consecutive times, every time being administrated a different substance beforehand: THC, CBD, and placebo. The results showed opposite effects concerning cannabis’ main constituents. THC induced a feeling of anxiety and impaired memory as well as a delayed physical response in some subjects. On the other hand, the CBD oil prevented the fight-or-flight response and even hindered THC’s action. This happened due to an interaction with pathways responsible for balance. It remains unknown why CBD has this specific mechanism of action, one which seems to contradict cannabis’ entire structure. Recent data pinpoints the extract’s sedative effect on neurotransmitters upon administration.

Study Results

Evidence[2] highlights its action on MOP and delta-opioid receptors, found in the periaqueductal gray region and the neocortical area, both related to an array of conditions that range from the common itching to miosis to constipation and depression.
From a chemical point of view, CBD is an oily substance, thus hydrophobic. However, it is compatible with liquid masses such as pentane. Synthesized, it can be dissolved in water or water-like fluids. In this state, it loses much of its initial properties, along with an essential number of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, its low bioavailability poses serious questions, given the human body is made of mostly water (which means not much of its beneficial properties are available anymore).

How does CBD Oil Work?

The human body is capable of producing its own kind of cannabinoids, the so-called endocannabinoids. They constitute the endocannabinoid system. The term was coined in the late 1980s’ after a study[3] of THC receptor’s way of interacting with certain human proteins led to its discovery. The system is responsible for the body’s state of balance, also known as homeostasis. This includes not only the everyday walking process but also the well-functioning of our immune systems, appetite, sleep and even general mood. It contains the main cannabinoid receptors CB1 (in the central nervous system) and CB2 (the immune system), as well as the proteins necessary for their synthesis and certain fatty acids (such as Anandamide), compulsory for cell communication and nervous pathway modulation.

Any kind of molecule which works in the direction of endocannabinoid activation can sustain its well-functioning. However, following a number of studies[4] conducted on the psychological response of the human nervous system upon endocannabinoid-like molecule interaction, specialists drew the following conclusion: the plant-based cannabinoids are by far those that interact the best with the ones the human body produces. Their similar mechanisms of action positively influence the function of intracellular pathways.

Medical trials suggest that CBD and CBD-like compounds can:

  • Inhibit the stimulus-induced cyclic AMP (a derivate of adenosine triphosphate, responsible for the regulation of various biochemical processes)
  • Stimulate the Mtor signaling pathway (that regulates cellular processes such as growth, multiplication, and survival)
  • Sustain the process involving phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, a family of enzymes linked to an array of cellular processes such as growth and proliferation, this time connected to cancer and possibly its inhibition.

New discoveries associate the consumption of CBD oil with the improvement of the endocannabinoid system. Related to it is an abundance of operations performed by the nervous system like learning, memorizing new things, eating and the way we respond to external stimuli that could cause distress and anxiety. The extract’s action, coupled with the body’s own endocannabinoids, might have the ability to influence the way our brains function. Newly discovered evidence[5] shows a higher degree of interaction with the endocannabinoid system in in vitro environments, using high extract concentrations. More research is needed to obtain a well-rounded and veridical conclusion.

What is CBD Used for?

Once with the exposure of plant-based substances to the general public, a natural feeling of curiosity has resurfaced. How much can the human consciousness expand? To what extent a disease we once thought of as incurable can be healed? and if a plant we regarded as dangerous can be used as medicine are but a few of the questions asking for genuine answers.

Cannabis has a long history of medical and chemical use, most of which remain unknown, mainly because of the bad renown surrounding it. Nonetheless, this does not signify that the plant is dangerous unless, of course, used in an improper manner.

Most of the information surrounding its status is strongly related to the study of THC, the infamous psychoactive substance found in its composition. However, cannabis has no less than 483 active constituents known to this date, some of which are totally harmless. Others, such as CBD, have presumed beneficial properties.

When it comes to general use, the extract is oftentimes employed in the composition of pills, concentrates, tinctures, topical creams or sprays, but only as a synthesized substance (never in its natural form). With regard to potency, each product has a clear field of activity, with some targeting the inner organs, and others dealing with the body’s general state. Medical evidence describes CBD’s effect as strongly antioxidant, with a chemical structure less compatible with the NMDA receptors than THC.

New reports[6] involve the NMDA receptors’ hyperactivity in the alcohol withdrawal process, making them responsible for most of the seizures and feelings of anxiety that take place during it. Low compatibleness might mean a better response of the biological tissues upon CBD oil administration in patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal, or in any other patient showing signs of either depression or nervousness.

A number of preclinical studies[7] performed on rodents pointed towards a positive interaction between the extract and cells involved in the oxidation process. Some specialists regard it as a potential neuroprotectant after noticing a protective effect on the nervous system of subjects showing symptoms of either Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. But the oil’s beneficial properties seem to aim at so much more than only enzyme inhibition in neurodegenerative disorders. Although more evidence is needed, new pieces of information indicate that CBD can activate specific pathways linked to the oxidative stress’ inhibition, a chemical operation held accountable for many of today’s deadly diseases, cancer included.

CBD Oil as Medication

Both in vivo and in vitro studies suggest the human endocannabinoid system might have a stronger connection with the inhibition of damaged cells than we were aware of.

CBD Oil as Medication

Both in vivo and in vitro studies suggest the human endocannabinoid system might have a stronger connection with the inhibition of damaged cells than we were aware of.

Whereas THC enjoyed a higher number of clinical trials conducted on its composition and manner of action, the attention swiftly shifted to another of cannabis’ components, namely the CBD. Not only it possessed the same anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but also lacked the infamous psychoactive ones.

CBD Oil in Cancer Patients

Experimental studies indicate towards CBD’s efficacy in the modulation of cancerous cells in different types of cancer. Over the past years, the disease has become one of the major causes of death across the globe, with no less than 22 million cases expected around the year 2040. Only around half of those diagnosed survive for more than five years. The starting point of cancer resides on a cellular level, the cancerous cells distinguishing from the healthy ones only by their bewildered growth. Usually, a cell follows a regular process of development, multiplication, and death. However, disturbances can occur, which means the organism produces new formations in spite of the older ones still existing.

The human body enters a state of imbalance when one of its smallest units ‘separates’ from the rest and starts existing on its own, creating anarchy. In a normal cell, the nucleus is rather small. A sick cell, however, has no purpose other than proliferation. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that it depends on no one but itself (unlike a healthy cell, whose need for oxygen is compulsory to exist). Many believe that behind this terrifying disease stands the phenomenon of mutation which occurs after one particular molecule is physically bombarded by external stimuli, sometimes for years in a row before becoming a cancerous element. This practically means every single person on the planet has a chance, even one in a billion, to suffer from the disease at some point in their life, although they are perfectly healthy at the present moment.

Contrary to conventional beliefs, today’s medicine has started identifying possible treatments to help patients survive the disease or at least to have a higher life expectancy after receiving a positive diagnose. The immune system, containing the cannabinoid receptor CB2, is the one responsible for the health of the cellular masses. Given this observation, it is easily understandable why today’s scientists put so much accent on the entire range of cannabinoids, especially the CBD oil. Investigations[8] on the extract’s effect on tumors suggest it has not only antioxidant properties but antitumor ones as well.

In one clinical trial[9] that wanted to showcase THC’s anticancer effects, the experts reached for the conclusion that the compound has certain anti-proliferative properties. Still, this aspect quickly lost its importance due to THC’s psychoactive manner of action.

It was shown that while it was able to interact with the cancer cells and impede their multiplication (using a certain dose and only to a small extent), the constituent also linked with specific nerve pathways which brought about serious side effects. In this sense, the specialists headed for another of cannabis’ main ingredients, namely the cannabidiol. CBD’s efficacy was strongly appreciated, mainly due to its relation to cancer cells without acting on the nervous system the way THC did.

In a 1975 study, the use of THC and others cannabinoids positively impacted the subject in cause (a group of mice diagnosed with Lewis lung adenocarcinoma) by targeting and killing cancer cells. Shortly after that, by conducting more in vitro and in vivo examinations, the specialists have noticed how the human endocannabinoid system reacts to the plant-based antitumorigenic mechanism specific to cannabinoids, CBD included. Physical and psychological elements influenced the release of endocannabinoids, stimulating the CB2 receptor of the immune system and improving its function.

In another study[10] showcasing CBD’s anti-proliferative effects in patients suffering from breast cancer, doctors have noticed how the compound inhibits cancer cell multiplication and survival upon administration. The oil blocks the action of EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) on cancer cells by modulating its signaling pathways and preventing the actin stress fiber formation, involved in the cancer cell protrusion process. In rodents used in an in vitro trial, it reduced the tumor volume at the breasts’ level by suppressing the activation of AKT, ERK and EGFR proteins (all part of the cell formation, division, and migration processes).

Experimental treatments suggest that CBD extract might be efficient not only in treating cancer patients but also in alleviating their pain, be it caused by the disease itself or chemotherapy. After using a high CBD dose in healthy subjects, doctors have concluded that not only it decreases anxiety but also has a sedative effect. In vitro models point towards potential anti-seizure and anti-epileptiform properties, but only when taken in large amounts.

CBD was used as part of a treatment in research[11] involving an animal model infected with the Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpes virus. The Kaposi sarcoma, generally harmless if the host has a good immune system, is held accountable for the production of specific dermal proteins related to cancer. Under control conditions, cannabidiol modified the vascular permeability and induced cell death in KSHV genes through the VEGFR-3 signaling pathway (which regulates the development and well-functioning of blood and lymphatic vessels).

Two research projects have shown the interdependence of CBD oil and specific receptors linked to the proliferation of lung cancer cell, which suggests that CBD might be useful in most if not all types of cancer. However, it is essential to acknowledge the fact that the majority of the performed studies has been conducted on mice or rats and only a few of them included the use of human cells. Additional research is needed to conclude.

Cannabidiol and Its Effect on Diabetes Patients

Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by raised glucose levels. Triggered by a larger amount of sugar than the pancreas can produce insulin for, the illness can lead to a variety of other severe medical conditions such as kidney failure or stroke. It can even lead to death in some cases. In spite of a high incidence rate and connection to chronic pain, we know little information on how the patient can be cured if not from the disease, at least from the neuropathic pain that follows it. Existing data shows the relation between oxidative stress and tissue inflammation.

Newer pieces of information bring the endocannabinoid system into public attention. Experts state that modulation of this system, coupled with a better understanding of the molecules that activate it, be they produced by the human body or plant-based, might be a key component in helping patients, those who have diabetes included.

A study[12] extended on a period of over eight months that was conducted on diabetic mice aimed to show the effect of cannabinoids, CBD oil included, on neural cells that were part of neuropathic pathways responsible for the feeling of pain. The subjects have been administrated via nasal injection with cannabinoid agents during the entire process.

Microglial activation and subsequent inhibition upon administration were noticed in diabetic-induced mice. Moreover, specialists have observed activity involving the CB1 and CB2 receptors as well as a lower microglial density and less chronic pain in the models with higher glycemic levels after being treated with CBD oil and other cannabinoids.

Many of the diabetic complications patients face nowadays are related to an alteration of the vascular tissues. Inflammation appears to be one of the leading causes of the disease; moreover, oxidative stress, aside from worsening the condition, determines the appearance of other illnesses. Most of the cannabinoids found in cannabis such as THC and, more importantly, CBD, due to their antioxidant properties, might be used as part of the treatment in patients who have diabetes.

CBD and Diabetes

Specialists have demonstrated that the cannabidiol extract plays a vital role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis (one of diabetes’ consequences), by acting on the CB2 receptor and reducing the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque. Moreover, cannabinoid receptors have been found in the insulin-producing pancreatic tissue, which suggests that interaction with the two receptors might improve the pancreas’ overall function.

Skin Problems

Cannabidiol has shown a wide range of therapeutic properties, from pain alleviation in cancer patients to a lower anxiety degree in people exposed to stress factors. The chemistry of CBD links it to critical anti-inflammatory processes in the human body. Its pharmacology allows specialists to integrate it in all sorts of medical treatments ranging from capsules to sprays and topical creams. Most people with skin problems have started employing the latter in their everyday routine. Oily plants, hemp included, contain many ingredients with hydrating properties. Cannabidiols such as CBD can help the skin heal from some conditions, from the everyday dry skin to more severe conditions such as acne and even skin cancer.

In one study published in the Journal of Investigate Dermatology, the experts showed the importance of CBD and CBD-like molecules in maintaining our skin’s health, due to the presence of the basal cells in its tissues. Also, they pointed towards the vitality of a healthy endocannabinoid system and its connection to a well-hydrated epidermis (ECS is believed to modulate a series of basic cellular processes).

Another project involving mice as main subjects suggested that the models lacking the CB1 receptor (which binds to CBD, further activating the endocannabinoid system) had a skin with a higher degree of aging, less elasticity in its tissues and an overall more rigid aspect.

CBD Oil’s Action on Pain

An increasing number of people seem to be more interested in plant-based painkillers in our days. Thanks to the vitamins and minerals it contains, CBD oil is one of the many alternatives on the market for persons looking for relief, especially for those suffering from chronic pain, fibromyalgia included. Studies on pain management, its causes, and interaction with natural compounds such as cannabinoids suggest CBD might be effective when dealing with pain, no matter what triggered it. The compound could be useful in the case of migraines as well, due to its mild sedative properties. Still, as tiredness is on the list of its popular side effects, more studies are welcomed in this regard.

The Extract Might Improve Memory

Cannabis is a plant with an abundance of psychoactive substances of which THC might be the more popular. Nonetheless, the other main ingredient in its composition, cannabidiol, has proven to be more beneficial to our health while having little to no effect on altering the mind.

It interacts with a multitude of receptors in our brains, some of which are responsible for the way we feel, others for how fast we learn and others for how fine our memory works, all this while keeping us fully conscious.

Possible Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

One in vivo study[13] involving the use of CBD oil on people who have Alzheimer’s disease showed a possible regression of the medical condition. Having fewer side effects than other known plant-based substances, the extract promoted new brain cell growth in mice affected by brain damage by impeding the proliferation of amyloid beta plaques[14].


The Oil Can Help With Sleep Issues

Sleep disorders affect tens of millions of people all around the world, most of them experiencing migraines and a state of constant nervousness alongside with insomnia. Understanding how CBD works and how it helps our body has been a long and instructive process.

Aside from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities which stand out more due to their importance for cancer and diabetes patients, the oil also has a calming effect on the human brain. Although part of the same plant as the infamous THC that the world has little to praise for, CBD acts like its total opposite. Evidence indicates how, upon administration, the extract diminishes THC’s properties, the anxiety-inducing one included.

People suffering from sleep disorders have confessed to enjoying a better sleep after orally ingesting CBD oil. Their statements somehow contradict the clinical trials conducted on the compound’s composition. In one of them, CBD acted on the same nerve receptors as caffeine, a popular stimulant; in another, mice that were fed a small dose showed increased alertness, which led to the conclusion that the oil might be effective in treating sleep disorders, however not the ones related to insomnia but those connected to excessive states of somnolence.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Evidence suggests that CBD might be effective in people suffering from social anxiety disorder, due to its capacity to counteract THC’s mechanism of action and interacting with different nervous pathways. Some of them are responsible for the feeling of calmness – more evidence is needed in this regard.

CBD in People With ADHD

Recent research projects aim to showcase CBD’s effect on people with ADHD. The main assumption is that the oil activates the anti-anxiety and anti-depressive receptors in our brain, thus providing us with a state of calmness and more mental awareness, be it even for short periods of time. What could make it even more interesting is the lack of major side effects, like in the case of more popular medication. Still, this does not mean that the oil is either safe or effective in patients diagnosed with ADHD. As mentioned earlier, it seems that cannabinoid rather promotes alertness which opposes its purpose of lowering hyperactivity.

CBD Might Help You Smoke Less

In one clinical trial involving smokers[15], it was shown that cannabidiol extract inhalation for a certain period of time on a daily basis helped participants smoke up to 40% fewer cigarettes once the project ended.

The research project included two groups of twelve men each. Researchers have offered the subjects two types of inhalers, on containing cannabidiol, the other a placebo. At the end of the study, the results showed a higher success rate in the group using CBD oil, with less cigarettes smoked by the end of the second week, and with majorly diminished cravings.

It May Be Effective in Helping People With Substance Addiction

One study[16] involved a number of 155 male rats exposed to self-administrated heroin for approximately two weeks. Simultaneously to the heroin intake, the models have been given CBD in regular doses. At the end of the study, the specialists noticed a decreased craving in more than 90% of the rats. While no tests have been run on human models in this regard, evidence suggests the oil might be effective as part of the treatment of drug addiction.

Other Benefits

CBD oil might be useful when dealing with menstrual cramps, nausea or vomiting. A study[17]conducted on rats showed diminished nausea in rodents being administrated a low CBD dose; however, most animal subjects experienced a more intense state of sickness once the dosage increased. It can also act as a digestive aid and might help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Side Effects of CBD Oil

CBD is not currently on the list of FDA’s approved substances due to an insufficient number of studies conducted on its chemical structure. In spite of this aspect, enough information is available in regards to its pharmaceutical purpose. Cannabidiol is used in the form of capsules, as a tincture or topical creams, with the first having the lowest bioavailability.

No severe side effects are known, although there are a few minor ones in people sensitive to the extract. They include:

Dry Mouth

The sensation is most probably produced by an inhibition of the salivary production due to the interaction of salivary glands with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system.

Low Blood Pressure

A High CBD oil dosage can result in a small drop in blood pressure and it is often associated with a feeling of lightheadedness.


Increased exhaustion has been observed when using high CBD strains with a score of 7 out of 10 when using a visual analog scale[3]


This is caused by the sudden blood pressure drop and can be remedied by drinking a cup of coffee or green tea.


CBD is usually a wake-inducing agent[4] but in higher doses, it can cause drowsiness. 

Mild Stomach Pain

Only two out of thousands of our people have observed this side effect and will generally go away after 2-3 days.


CBD might be responsible for loose stools and for causing diarrhea but this is either dose-dependent or due to one’s tolerance capability.

Changes in Weight and Appetite

Some studies[5] showed reduced food consumption, sucrose preference and body weight while others[6] revealed the exact opposite.

Preclinical studies conducted on animals[18] show a higher predisposition to adverse effects such as reduced fertility, physical weakness or inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism[19]. In vivo studies, however, do not show any major changes in food intake, body weight or the well-functioning of inner processes like heart rate or blood pressure.

The oil might interact with some medical treatments, positively or negatively. Lately, it has been employed as an adjunct therapy. Therefore, it is for the best to always consult with a doctor before using it.

Should I Take CBD?

Most of the products containing CBD are dietary supplements. Customers that want to try it usually do so without talking to a specialist beforehand, and without being 100% sure they even need it.

As in the case of any other supplement, the oil might work better in some individuals while in others could have no effect whatsoever. Numerous studies have shown that the extract is beneficial when it comes to numerous physical disorders, more or less severe. People can use it either orally (as pills, tinctures or even gummies) for a higher effectiveness, as a spray or cream (in people with skin problems such as acne). In accordance with the administration method, CBD derivatives can be utilized for longer or shorter time periods (that can range from a few days to whole months).

Regarding dosage, it is always the best to ask a specialist. Research provides us only with the necessary dosage for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, that is  2.5 milligrams of cannabidiol under the tongue per dose. There are pieces of information on dosage in patients suffering from chronic pain or epilepsy. However, as every individual is unique, it is unsafe to assume that the existing reports are truthful unless stated so by a practitioner.

The effect of the dosage is influenced by factors such as one’s age, weight, and lifestyle. Therefore, CBD might work well in some people, while others have little chance to see an actual change. In any case, specialists advise us to start with a low dosage and then increase the quantity as needed.


Cannabinoil is one of the most important constituents found in hemp and cannabis. Whereas less popular than THC, which the medical world praises and blames for its mind-altering properties at the same time, the CBD extract is a star of its own.

Slowly but surely, it has started gaining popularity in a domain that presents much interest to specialists and regular people all alike nowadays: the impact of psychoactive substances on the human brain. However, the increasing popularity does not make it less controversial. Legal in some states, forbidden in others, the oil’s current status remains strongly affected by the bad reputation cannabis holds, in spite of potential benefits, some of which could be life-savers.