Does CBD Work?

Products containing the hemp derivative are available in several places, but their health benefits have not yet been proven.

Twice a day, Joe Tanko puts a drop of CBD tincture under his tongue and waits for the active ingredient to absorb. “Playing golf makes my back hurt,” says Tanko, a 62-year-old resident of Pelham, Alabama. “It’s terrible to wake me up in the middle of the night because of the pain.” But he says that since he started using CBD earlier this year, his back doesn’t bother him and he can sleep well. “It also helps me concentrate more,” he notes and says that has helped him play better golf.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a trendy hemp compound that is surrounded by a giant halo of health benefits and has a large market presence. Although some states still restrict or prohibit CBD products and their legal status remains unclear and confusing, they are increasingly available in stores and online.

Conventional CBD-containing products include oils, salves, salves, balms, and lotions. But they are also adding CBD to bottled water, pet food, breath mints, coffee, and even hair pomade. You can buy CBD at a CBD store, order it online or get it at some gas stations, supermarkets, and, in some states, CVS and Rite-Aid.

Thanks to all that hype and high prices (about $179 for a 1-ounce bottle of CBD oil), hemp industry watchers predict the CBD market could reach $22 billion by 2022.

Here’s what you need to know.

CBD alone won’t get you high.
The low THC content means CBD won’t make you feel euphoric.

It’s hard to know what’s in the bottle
CBD is highly under-regulated, warn researchers, who say the synthetic cannabinoids in CBD likely caused 52 poisonings in Utah in late 2017 and early 2018. A recent Virginia Commonwealth University study found a dangerous synthetic ingredient and dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, in one manufacturer’s e-cigarette CBD products. A 2017 study of 84 CBD oils, tinctures, and e-cigarette products found that only 31% contained the amount of CBD specified on the label. Click to read this article for more info on CBD products.

“Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate how safe dietary supplements are. And CBD is primarily marketed as a supplement or as a product to add to food and beverages,” says Peter Grinspoon, a medical hemp researcher, primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “You can’t know for sure if the product purchased has the dosage of active ingredients that the label indicates.”

CBD appears to be effective for some disorders, but not for others
Anecdotally, CBD appears to work for pain relief. Neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says his patients with joint and back pain find relief from over-the-counter CBD. “Whenever there is inflammation, CBD is likely to help,” he says. “Some data is indicating it’s helpful in peripheral neuropathy, a growing problem for people with diabetes, especially as they age. I recommend it along with other natural anti-inflammatories, such as fish oil, curcumin, and boswellia.”

But there are marked indications that “CBD products that have some THC content” are the most effective, Bryan says. For example, a 2019 German study of a drug with equal amounts of THC and CBD showed that it relieved severe chronic pain. Even a small amount can make a difference, although that presents the question of the efficacy of over-the-counter (pure) CBD, which does not contain what is considered therapeutic amounts of THC. Scientists suspect that CBD acts by attaching to receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, an internal regulatory system that plays a role in pain, sleep, mood, inflammation, and stress, among other things. Likewise, it doesn’t even come close to being a cure-all. “People think it’s good for just about everything, but that can’t be true,” observes Kent Hutchison, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It will probably be good for some things; we just have to figure out what they are. We need good human studies.”