CBD Health Benefits - Interesting and unexpected CBD Health Benefits including Side Effects
If you’ve been wondering about CBD Health Benefits here are 10 Interesting and unexpected CBD Health Benefits including side effects. So for any and every question regarding the health benefits of CBD, you’ve come to the right place: I’ve made it my mission to find out everything there is to know about this amazing cannabinoid.
Although many CBD advocates tend to claim that it’s a magic panacea, I prefer to rely on scientific evidence to back up any anecdotal reports. I’m the first to admit I’m still learning about exactly what CBD can do - research into its potential benefits is still ongoing, after all. But, after sifting through reams of research, I’ve uncovered some interesting, and unexpected, CBD health benefits.
Firstly, though, I’d like to help broaden your understanding of exactly what CBD is, so I’ll be covering the following points:
- What is CBD?
- Cannabis Use
- The Link Between Cannabis and the Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
- What is the Endocannabinoid System?
- How Can Phytocannabinoids Help?
- The Difference Between CBD and THC
- Is CBD Legal?
- CBD Quality and Extraction
Then, I’ll briefly share with you what I think are some interesting CBD health benefits, relating to gut health, fitness, skin support, healthy hair, a healthy sex life, and Giving up smoking/addiction.
What is CBD?
CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is one of over a hundred naturally occurring phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. A safe and non-addictive substance, CBD is now the focus of much research into its many potential health benefits. In fact, scientists believe that CBD and other phytocannabinoids have the potential to help treat many conditions.
Research is ongoing into CBD's ability to treat the conditions listed:
- Chronic pain
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Type-1 Diabetes
- Anxiety and Depression
- Menopause symptoms
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Respiratory Disease
- Cancer and Chemotherapy-Related Symptoms
- Neurological Disorders
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Skin Diseases and Conditions(1), (2)
It’s known that for thousands of years people around the world have been using the cannabis plant medicinally to treat a whole range of conditions and illnesses. However, because the plant has psychoactive properties, people have also used it to get high. This recreational use of cannabis has given various governments a reason to criminalise its possession and use.
International laws prohibiting cannabis came into force during the first half of the twentieth century. This led, in the latter half of the century, to the “War on Drugs,” resulting in a huge increase in prison populations, with many people being criminalised and incarcerated for drug use and addiction.
In the U.K., recreational use of cannabis was criminalised in 1928. Doctors were permitted to continue prescribing it for medical reasons but this too was eventually banned in 1971. Cannabis (oil and resin) is currently a schedule 1, class B, drug. This means that cannabis is considered to have no medicinal value and it’s against the law to either possess or prescribe it. Possession could get you up to 5 years in prison, while supply and production could land you with up to 14 years behind bars. (3)
After 45 years, CBD was finally legalised. In order to understand why it’s helpful to know about the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabis and the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
In the early 1960s, Bulgarian born Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam wanted to find out the answer to the question: “How does marijuana (cannabis) get you high?”
Mechoulam’s study of the effects of the Cannabis sativa plant on humans led to him being the first to identify the chemical structure of the two main cannabinoids of the Cannabis sativa plant, CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Fast forward two decades and in tracing where cannabinoids end up in the brain, scientist Allyn Howlett discovered CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors, which were also later found to be situated in other locations, such as the kidneys, lungs and liver. CB2 (cannabinoid) receptors were subsequently discovered in the white blood cells of the immune system, gut and spleen.
In the 1990s, after continued research into this network of cannabinoid receptors and transmitters initially identified by Mechoulam and Howlett, scientists named it the endocannabinoid system.
It’s not the first time scientists have learned about human physiology through the study of the effects of plants on humans. The body’s native opioid receptors which help regulate pain and stress were first discovered after research into effects on humans of opium (from poppy flowers). Also, study into the effects of nicotine (from cigarettes) on the body led to the discovery of nicotine receptors - which influence neuronal excitement. (4), (5)
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
A complex network of transmitters (endocannabinoids), cannabinoid receptors and enzymes, the ECS is vital for homeostatic regulation within our body. Put simply, its main function is to regulate our bodily functions in a way that keeps us healthy. The ECS is thought to be as important for our health as the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.
Research into all of the functions of the ECS is still in its infancy, but it’s thought that this elaborate cell-signalling system influences many physiological processes within our body, including those relating to:
- Appetite and metabolism
- Immune response
- Motor control
- Stress and mood
- Cardiovascular system function
- Liver function
- Skin and nerve function
- Bone remodelling and growth
- Muscle formation
- Learning and memory
- Sleep and circadian rhythm
The ECS plays a part in these processes by conveying messages to different parts of the body, prompting them into action when homeostasis has been threatened. For example, if we sustain an injury or have a fever, signals are sent out and the number of cannabinoids in our system increases to deal with any inflammation and infection, in order to minimise damage and make us feel better. (6)
Scientific studies have shown that if our ECS isn’t functioning at optimum levels, we can develop certain chronic illnesses and conditions. According to research carried out in 2016, people suffering from treatment-resistant conditions such as migraine, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome actually had lower levels of endocannabinoids within their system. Referred to as endocannabinoid deficiency, this imbalance is thought to be something that CBD could potentially help with as it’s thought to increase the levels of endocannabinoids in the body. (7)
How Can Phytocannabinoids Help?
Experts believe that phytocannabinoids, or cannabinoids as they’re also known, can interact with our ECS in many positive ways. Although we do actually produce our own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), it’s thought that phytocannabinoids can enhance their actions and improve the endocannabinoid system’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
The Difference Between CBD and THC
Similar in terms of structure, CBD and THC are the two main phytocannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Both have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the body. But they also work in very different ways, and with different outcomes. This is because of their contrasting interactions with the endocannabinoids and receptors within the ECS.
Whereas THC targets CB1 and 2 receptors, binding more to the former than to the latter, the role of CBD is less clear. CBD doesn’t actually bind to either receptor. Instead, it’s thought to play more of a supportive, balancing role in ECS function through its interactions with over 65 cellular targets. (8), (9)
CBD interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors, as well as with those that regulate serotonin (often referred to as the “feel-good” chemical), and it also stimulates GABA receptors (known to have a calming effect on the nervous system). As a reuptake inhibitor, CBD also appears to encourage a rise in endocannabinoids. Moise Velasquez-Manoff in the NY Times likens its effects to a full body massage at the molecular level. (10), (11)
Depending on the dose, THC can cause dry mouth, anxiety, paranoia, lethargy, hypothermia and memory impairment, whereas CBD causes none of these if taken alone (apart from some reports of lethargy, which may have been due to drug interactions). In fact, it’s actually been found to cancel out some of these effects when taken together with THC.(12)
Is CBD legal?
One very important difference between CBD and THC, at least in terms of UK law, is that having isolated all of the cannabis plant’s separate compounds, scientists now know that it’s the psychoactive properties of THC, not CBD, that can get the user high. This is why CBD use is now legal in the UK, whereas THC use remains a criminal activity.
In 2016, the MHRA recognised CBD as medicine and after some wrangling, it’s now legal to sell in the UK as long as the seller makes no medical claims for their product. (13)
However, in spite of its legality and recognised medicinal value, there’s still a stigma attached to CBD due to a continued association with recreational cannabis use. Attitudes are changing but many people worry that they’ll get high - or arrested - if they take CBD. Importantly, the UK government has been reluctant to endorse its use in any way (possibly for fear of offending a portion of the electorate).
As a result of this, the first CBD-based drug licensed to treat any medical conditions, Epidiolex, wasn’t made available on prescription until 2018. Furthermore, it remains incredibly difficult to obtain as its use is still highly regulated. Prescribing of Epidiolex is restricted to treating only two very severe forms of epilepsy, can only be prescribed by a specialist doctor and is only indicated if the patient’s seizures still remain impossible to control after they’ve tried at least two other (conventional) medications. (14)
CBD Quality and Extraction
Because CBD remains so difficult to obtain on prescription, many people who would rather avoid using conventional medications due to their often unpleasant or harmful side effects, are forced to buy it elsewhere.
While it is legal, the CBD market remains largely unregulated and you can’t always be guaranteed good quality CBD. A good quality CBD product should contain no more than 0.2% THC (any more than this is illegal in the UK). So, remember to always buy from a reputable seller who provides independent laboratory analysis of their product.
The method used to extract CBD from the cannabis plant will also determine the quality of the end product. There are several methods of extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, the most common of which, are:
- supercritical Co2 extraction
- Solvent extraction
Supercritical extraction is considered a superior method. This is because it is a gentler method of extraction which leaves no chemical residue in the finished product and provides a more efficient solvent for mixing with a botanical oil base. (15)
Could CBD Improve Gut Health?
Many people think that gut health simply refers to the way in which we get nutrients from the food we eat. But the function of our gut is much more complex.
The gut microbiome
Referred to as the microbiome, the gut is an enormous ecosystem full of trillions of microorganisms, which account for 90% of the living cells in our body. The many interactions occurring within our gut microbiome can affect every aspect of our overall health, so when it’s out of kilter, so too are we.
In fact, scientists often refer to the gut microbiome as our “second brain” because it affects what we weigh, immune system function, genetic expression and even our mental and emotional health. Once its balance is disturbed, barrier function is disrupted (leading to a leaky gut), and inflammation occurs. This can ultimately lead to the onset of various diseases.
Signs of an unhealthy gut are an upset stomach with symptoms such as heartburn, gas, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, sugar cravings, food intolerances, skin conditions like eczema, unintentional changes in your weight, disturbed sleep and constant tiredness, and autoimmune conditions.
Because the ECS provides a communication channel between the gut and brain, it has close links with gut health and is involved with the regulation of digestive motility, nausea, food intake, intestinal inflammation and gut permeability. In fact, studies have found a link between a poorly functioning ECS and certain digestive conditions. (16)
There are measures you can take to improve gut health, such as making changes to your diet and taking probiotics and prebiotics, eating slowly, checking whether you have food intolerances, staying hydrated, reducing stress levels and getting more sleep. And it’s possible that taking CBD could also help. (17)
According to Dr Aimee Gould Shunney, a naturopathic physician, CBD can assist the ECS in supporting gut health because of the way in which it interacts with CB1, CB2 and serotonin receptors, slowing the breakdown of endocannabinoids and regulating immune and inflammatory responses. All of this can help to alleviate the many symptoms of digestive complaints, including bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation. (18)
Scientific research has shown that CBD could be a possible treatment for serious inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). This is down to its ability to reduce inflammation and restore the intestinal barrier function.
There is evidence that CBD reduces the pro-inflammatory effects of cytokines, a type of molecule involved in the inflammation process. Also, acting in a similar way to ibuprofen and aspirin, CBD appears to inhibit COX2, another type of enzyme that plays a part in the inflammation process. CBD can also help to prevent cell death that occurs after infection by the Clostridium difficile toxin. (19)
Research has also demonstrated that when endocannabinoid levels increase, inflammation in the colon is reduced. Since CBD is thought to inhibit the breakdown of endocannabinoids, it could possibly help on this level too.
CBD has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, both of which are closely linked with digestive problems. But it can work both ways: digestive problems are thought to play a part in some mental and emotional conditions. CBD is showing promise in its potential to treat both. (20)
Because CBD works with the body’s own endocannabinoid system, it’s able to help mitigate the stresses and strains of strenuous physical activity. In fact, a growing number of athletes are speaking up about its benefits. In 2018, CBD was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances, so it’s no longer a controlled substance, although many sports competitions still have a ban on it.
To achieve peak performance levels, competing athletes must push their fitness, strength and endurance to the optimum limit. However, over-training can lead to exhaustion, injury and muscle damage - leading to longer recovery times - which has a negative impact on performance ability.
The same applies to regular, or even occasional, gym-goers (and anyone who likes to exercise). We can get carried away trying to get fit and look fit - and we end up with muscle strains and other injuries. This is prompting an increasing number of us to turn to CBD for the fitness support benefits it offers.
Cannabidiol’s analgesic properties mean it can potentially help with both acute and chronic pain management, enabling athletes (and people who are simply into working out) to tolerate high-intensity training and performance. It can also aid in the reduction of inflammation, speed up injury repair and recovery and restore muscle condition.
Since rest and recovery are a vital part of any training programme, using CBD could also be beneficial to help promote restful sleep and relation. And, because it has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, it could potentially help to alleviate performance nerves and difficulty maintaining focus for those taking part in competitive sports.
Taken in advance, the night before going to the gym, CBD could help to minimise recovery time while also tackling joint and muscle pain.
Research has also found that CBD is an anandamide uptake inhibitor, meaning it can help to slow the breakdown of the endocannabinoid, anandamide, in the body. (21) Named after the Sanskrit word for “supreme joy,” anandamide is thought to play a part in the development of emotions. (22)
The way in which CBD slows the breakdown of anandamide could contribute to the phenomenon “runner’s high,” (whereby the runner experiences a type of euphoria after energetic exercise), which is now thought by some scientists to be caused by anandamide rather than, as was previously thought, a rush of endorphins. (23)
CBD Skin Health Benefits
Right now, CBD is the rising star of the beauty industry, with demand for CBD-infused products on the increase. Beauty blogs are full of praise for CBD-infused skincare products and many dermatologists are advocating its use. But can CBD really help sort out your skin?
The largest organ of the human body, our skin provides us with a protective barrier against environmental elements such as pollutants, allergens, irritants and UV rays, while also regulating body temperature and body fluids, eliminating waste products and guarding against disease. In other words, our skin helps us to stay healthy, inside and out.
But there’s a price to pay for working on the frontline because any damage sustained in the line of duty is immediately visible on the skin’s surface - it can become dull, red, flaky, dry, rough or wrinkled in appearance. Of course, there are various lifestyle adjustments we can make to support skin health, such as following a good skincare routine, eating a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and increasing water intake, giving up smoking, getting enough sleep and limiting both stress and sun exposure.
But it does also look like CBD could lend a helping hand on the skincare front as this cannabinoid has the potential to support overall skin health in the following ways:
- Anti-inflammatory properties - helps reduce dryness, irritation and redness.
- Regulation of sebum production - could also help tackle blemish-prone skin.
- Antioxidant effects - could potentially repair free radical damage, reducing wrinkles, breakouts and blemishes.
Dermatologist Dr. Jeanette Jacknin believes that CBD could soon play a central role in anti-ageing skincare routines, but not in the same way as retinol. According to her: “CBD is just an extra thing to add to the mix as part of a skincare regimen. Unsaturated fatty acids help with moisturising and CBD helps with inflammation.” (24)
Of course, CBD has many health benefits, but be wary of claims about its essential fatty acid content. If you want to reap the rewards from pure, highly concentrated CBD distillate, you won’t find any fats in there as they’re removed during the extraction and purification process. Saying that CBD distillate is readily soluble in vegetable oils such as olive, grape seed, almond, avocado, sunflower, jojoba, coconut and palm as well as in Shea butter and mango seed butter. These make a great fatty acid-rich base for CBD-infused balms, salves and body butter. (25)
Broad-spectrum CBD oil does contain most of the original components (and nutrients) of the cannabis plant, although it can contain higher levels of THC and isn’t as potent as CBD distillate.
As we know, CBD interacts in many positive ways with our endocannabinoid system, which itself plays a large role in skin homeostasis. If our ECS isn’t functioning as it should, the skin’s balance can be disturbed, which can lead to an array of skin conditions. (26)
Many people suffer from conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne which, although they can be exacerbated by external influences, their actual cause comes from within. Following a good skincare routine and making sensible lifestyle choices can help, but there’s no cure as such.
Supplementing with CBD sublingual oil or capsules could potentially address the underlying causes since it supports healthy ECS function, but more scientific proof is needed. However, current research does suggest that topical CBD could help with the following skin conditions:
A chronic auto-immune disorder, psoriasis can cause skin redness and irritation. There are various types of this disorder, the most common of which is plaque psoriasis, characterised by rapid cell multiplication, resulting red and inflamed skin patches covered with lighter coloured patches of dead skin (scales). Psoriasis can be both painful and uncomfortable.
Research has shown that cannabinoids such as CBD can inhibit keratinocytes proliferation, meaning they can help stop the build-up of skin cells that lead to the uncomfortable symptoms that psoriasis sufferers experience. CBD exerts an anti-inflammatory action, which can reduce the dryness, irritation and redness caused by psoriasis. And it also improves hydration, elasticity and tissue scarring (CBD in cosmetics). Since research suggests CBD can ease pain, it could potentially be used to relieve psoriasis-related pain. (27)
Acne is characterised by angry, red and often pus-filled blemishes on the skin of the face and other parts of the body. Although it’s caused when excess oil, dirt and bacteria clog pore which then fill up with bacteria, acne isn’t the result of poor hygiene or diet. Some people just seem to have a predisposition for this condition, or it runs in their family. It can also be caused by excess testosterone during puberty, menstrual and pregnancy hormones.
Current acne treatments include keeping the skin clean and both topical and oral medications to reduce the oils that clog the pores, but CBD could potentially be a viable addition or alternative.
Scientists have pronounced CBD a “promising therapeutic agent” in the treatment of acne. Studies undertaken found that CBD inhibits sebum production, while also exerting an anti-inflammatory action upon oil-producing glands. (28), (29)
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness and itching. The itching is caused by dry skin, histamine release and sensory nerve fibres. According to research available to the USA National Eczema Association, the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities of CBD mean it could potentially help treat eczema. Through interactions with receptors in the skin, CBD could also help to lessen both the symptoms and appearance of this skin condition. (30)
CBD For Healthy Hair
For many of us, our hair is our crowning glory and we want to keep it looking its best, or even just keep it on our heads! I’ve been reading many articles about the benefits of CBD for healthy-looking locks, but many seem to attribute its effects to the fact that it contains essential fatty acids. Just to clarify, pure CBD distillate, the most potent, highly concentrated form of CBD, contains no fatty acids.
Hemp seed oil, on the other hand, has an extremely nutrient-rich profile, but contains very little, if any, CBD. CBD whole plant broad-spectrum oil, which hasn’t gone through any refinement, does contain the plant’s original full spectrum of trace cannabinoids, waxes, lipids, amino acids, terpenes, chlorophyll, and flavonoids, which could potentially help maintain a healthy mane in the following ways:
- Amino acids - the building blocks of protein, ideal for strengthening hair (which is made of protein).
- Fatty acids omega-3,6 and 9 - moisturise hair and seal the cuticle, improving the overall appearance of your hair -
- Gamma linoleic acid and fatty acids - used regularly, could potentially stimulate hair growth.
- Vitamins A, C and E - antioxidants that can help protect the hair from environmental damage.
- Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium - great for scalp health. (31)
Claims for the above benefits are based on studies into the benefits of supplementing with certain vitamins and fatty acids. Hair products with CBD distillate as an added ingredient to a base of vitamin and fatty acid-packed botanical oils, will, of course, provide you with much the same benefits.
Scientific studies into the specific health benefits of pure CBD have shown that it is naturally:
- Anti-inflammatory - so could potentially be beneficial for psoriasis and folliculitis of the scalp.
- Adaptogenic - which means it can regulate sebum production, so could be beneficial for those with greasy hair.
- Antioxidant - could help protect from environmental damage. (32)
But could it help with hair loss?
We all lose hair throughout the day, but some people experience either hereditary, hormonal or stress-induced hair loss. CBD increases blood circulation and has antioxidant qualities so, applied topically to the scalp, it could stimulate damaged hair follicles and promote hair growth. CBD has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, high levels of which have been linked with hair loss. CBD also supports immune system function, to help get to the root cause of certain types of hair loss. (33)
Healthy Sex Benefits
The influence of cannabis use on female sexual enjoyment has been the focus of much research. One study found that cannabis activates the part of the brain related to sexual arousal, meaning it could potentially address the issue of low sex drive. Ayurvedic Medicine has for many years employed Cannabis sativa to improve ejaculatory and sexual performance. However, I’ve found no research on this subject which concentrates on CBD alone. (34)
But there are receptors located throughout the ECS which, when CBD interacts with them, set off a chain of reactions in the body. There are actually ECS receptors in the brain and in the sexual reproductive organs, such as the testicles.
Research has found an important link between endocannabinoid concentrations and sexual arousal which in theory, means that using CBD could increase sexual desire as it increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the body. Other research suggests that CBD’s anxiolytic properties are responsible for this: by relieving the user’s anxiety ability, sexual desire increases.
There are certain studies demonstrating that by helping to relax the blood vessels, CBD promotes blood flow which in turn can tackle both the problem of erectile dysfunction and lack of staying power during sexual intercourse. (35)
Quit Smoking (and Drugs) Health Benefits
Anyone who’s tried to give up smoking knows just how difficult it can be. The thing is, we don’t generally tend to equate smoking cigarettes with drug addiction or substance dependence, since it doesn’t have the same negative connotations as do illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Yet, drug addiction, or substance use disorder, is defined as a compulsive, physiological need for an addictive substance - which is what nicotine is (as are both caffeine and alcohol). In fact, it’s been said that nicotine is more difficult to give up than heroin - and both drugs are known to cause withdrawal symptoms.
When someone is addicted to a habit-forming substance, it can negatively impact both on their own life and work, and on those around them. Addiction can cause emotional and behavioural problems, such as emotional dysregulation (an inability to properly regulate emotional responses), and can ultimately lead to a number of other health problems. People who misuse drugs have a lower life expectancy than the general population. According to World Health Organization estimates, each year 8.8% of deaths worldwide are caused by alcohol use, 3.2% by tobacco use and 0.4% by illegal drug use. (36)
Research demonstrates that CBD could be useful in the treatment of addiction disorders. It’s thought that this cannabinoid regulates certain neuronal circuits involved in drug addiction and can reduce drug-seeking behaviours. CBD’s anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties are believed to be beneficial for those trying to give up smoking or taking drugs.
While more research is needed, especially into whether cannabidiol can help you give up smoking, some studies have yielded promising results. For example, a 2013 study, smokers who used a CBD inhaler reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked by 40%. (37)
Side-Effects of CBD
Studies illustrate that CBD is generally well tolerated, even in doses of up to 6000mg. Some have reported side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea, appetite and weight changes and fatigue or sedation. According to the World Health Organization, these side effects could be the result of drug interactions and has pronounced pure CBD safe to use. (38)
This underlines the importance of both seeking advice from your GP before you take CBD and ensuring that you buy only good quality CBD from a reputable supplier.
→ This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any ailment, illness or disease.
→ For a full report on the recreational use of CBD read WHO's Critical Review Report on CANNABIDIOL (CBD)
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