What is CBD oil, and will it help me?
Alex Straiker, PhD, and Anaelle Zimmowitch respond
CBD—short for cannabidiol, a component of cannabis (marijuana)—has gotten a lot of attention lately. With shifts in the legal status of cannabis, CBD has gone from being a pariah to being touted as a miracle drug. You can find CBD oil supplements, as well as foods, drinks, and lotions all infused with the ingredient. None have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to limited research about CBD’s effects on the body.
What to Know
Along with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is the major component of cannabis. But CBD does not cause the “high” reported by cannabis users. For decades, CBD was considered inactive, but last year the FDA approved it under the brand name Epidiolex for a rare form of childhood epilepsy (at a much higher dose than is available in supplements). Researchers are in the very early stages of exploring other potential uses for CBD, including anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and inflammation.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding CBD oil and diabetes. Yet only one study, published in 2016 in Diabetes Care, has directly looked at the link between diabetes and CBD. It found no detectable effect on blood glucose or insulin levels in people with type 2. Animal studies of the effects of CBD on certain aspects of diabetes are ongoing.
Although CBD is well tolerated by most people, there are side effects. It can suppress immune responses, raise eye pressure (which may worsen glaucoma), and increase blood levels of certain medications, such as the blood thinner Coumadin, which can lead to serious bleeding. Consult your physician if you’re thinking of trying CBD.
Find Out More
CBD sits in a gray area: While used as a drug, it’s also a natural compound. Many effective medications are derived from compounds found in nature, but considerable work goes into identifying the specific active compound and determining what dose is safe and effective. Researchers aren’t close to that yet with CBD oil.
Its status as a supplement makes things tricky, too. Because CBD is not regulated by the FDA, vendors often make claims based on slender—or no—evidence. Further, it can be hard to know what you’re getting. A study of CBD oils published in 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports found that the amount of CBD in a given product varies widely. The FDA has warned that in some products, lab tests have shown no CBD at all. Under the FDA’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, manufacturers of dietary supplements and dietary ingredients are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or misbranded.
Although many claims continue to be made about CBD oil, there is scant evidence of any benefit. It’s certainly not an alternative to traditional diabetes management. The safety of CBD is also an unknown; it may have dangerous side effects that we won’t know about unless proper studies are done. But there is a great deal of interest in CBD research, so we should learn a lot more in the coming years about what exactly CBD can and can’t do. In the meantime, save your money for tried-and-true (and science-tested) treatments.
Alex Straiker, PhD, is a neuroscientist at Indiana University who studies the neuropharmacology and physiology of cannabinoids. Anaelle Zimmowitch, a research assistant in Straiker’s lab, is a student at Indiana University School of Medicine.