If there’s one thing introducing medical advances has taught scientists, it’s that scrutiny into them never really ends. Even when a new drug or medical procedure sees widespread use, research still carries on to see if it has missed anything.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is no exception. Research into its medicinal potential began in the 1970s when Israeli researchers found that CBD and most cannabinoids didn’t produce any psychoactive effects. It meant that CBD couldn’t get a person as ‘high’ as direct marijuana. Despite this, given that it’s a derivative of marijuana, some states are still fickle about legalizing it on a broader scale.
Nevertheless, this didn’t stop science from looking deeper into CBD and the benefits it may offer. For example, further research has discovered its potential for treating different types of chronic pain when applied topically. But why is CBD such an effective alternative for pain management? And, how can it be used safely and legally?
Marijuana isn’t the only living thing that contains cannabinoids; your body makes them to a degree. The nervous system communicates through what researchers call the endogenous cannabinoid or endocannabinoid system (ECS). It creates compounds that regulate certain functions such as sleep, immune response, and pain.
Marijuana-based cannabinoids influence the ECS in several ways. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a more familiar cannabinoid, induces the ECS by signaling the brain to release feel-good chemicals like dopamine, resulting in euphoria.
While THC is also a common ingredient for marijuana-based pain relief, its side effect of getting ‘high’ sometimes leaves much to be desired. Your senses are left impaired for the duration of the body’s euphoric state, which is why you should never get behind the wheel while under its effects.
On the other hand, while it shares the same chemical makeup as THC, CBD doesn’t influence the ECS in the same way. It doesn’t bind to the ECS receptors as strongly as THC, which lessens the chance of triggering euphoria. But it encourages the production of anandamide, a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing pain perception.
As mentioned earlier, CBD may be effective in pain management when applied topically or on the skin. While CBD on the skin can’t enter the bloodstream, it can reach nearby receptors via your pores, especially inflamed points. As a result, topical CBD tends to take a faster effect.
Of course, like any other drug, CBD has its fair share of side effects. According to Peter Grinspoon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, CBD might increase the level of the thinning compound–coumadin–in the blood. Whether from a recent surgery or a medical condition, anyone prone to bleeding shouldn’t have high levels of coumadin since it prevents blood clots. CBD might also cause nausea, fatigue, and irritability.
Although aware of its medicinal potential, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently has no mechanism for approving CBD products. Only one CBD-based product, Epidolex, has received FDA approval to date (the rest are THC-based drugs).
Until current legislation catches up to the growing research, you must use CBD with extreme care. Below are a few steps you can take before getting into the cannabinoid bandwagon.
No matter the drug, asking your doctor first is generally good advice. You might be suffering from a condition where CBD might do more harm than good, even if studies show its lethality to be less likely.
If possible, consider getting a second opinion to validate what the first doctor has told you.
If the doctor concludes that CBD is okay for you, follow the recommended dosage. The dosage can vary depending on the severity of the pain and your weight, among other factors.
Keep in mind that CBD, like any other drug, can be harmful when taking too little or too much of it. Research is still looking into that magic number.
Experts recommend starting with a low dosage and frequency to allow your body to adjust. As you get used to its effects, slowly increase the intake until you hit the dosage recommended by your doctor.
Even if CBD is less likely to get you high, a high dosage can add up quickly.
Any side effect that persists after using CBD-based products should be a sign to stop and return to your doctor right away. It’s a different case if you’ve been using them for extended periods, as suddenly stopping can result in a nasty withdrawal.
Gradually decrease the use of the product as per your doctor’s instructions until you can safely stop.
Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa are two of the most prevalent varieties of the marijuana plant. You can easily tell by their leaves, but it becomes harder to discern as finished products.
Check the product labels to determine the CBD’s parent strain. Indica may induce sleepiness, while Sativa may trigger high activity.
While a 2019 study has shown that CBD is unlikely to appear in a drug test, it used pure CBD for the experiment. Before using CBD, best inform your boss at work about the CBD treatment. That way, any test result that returns a positive for marijuana can have a different interpretation. Topical CBD is even less likely to affect your test, but it pays to play it safe.
Creating a medication that’s a universal sieve is impossible. Diseases and human bodies differ so much that any remedy won’t be as effective to some. CBD may help with pain management, but don’t be too quick to rule out other more scientifically-proven treatments.
As more research into CBD sheds light on its properties, its popularity increases. Eventually, laws and regulations will have to change to account for the growing demand for alternative treatments. In the meantime, careful and responsible use of CBD is still the name of the game.