When we talk about the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, we’re usually talking about two compounds: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
Both are the subject of significant amounts of research into their role in treating a number of conditions, but there is one major difference. THC produces psychotropic effects (i.e. it gets you “high”) while CBD does not.
For this reason, CBD oil is the preferred choice for those who either prefer not to, or legally or medically can’t consume THC. So, what exactly is CBD oil? And what does the research say about how it might benefit patients with different conditions?
What is CBD Oil?
CBD oil is derived from the cannabis plant, typically from the hemp varieties because these are naturally lower in THC. After the CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant it’s diluted with a carrier oil such as hemp seed or coconut oil.
The term ‘CBD oil’ encompasses all types of cannabis oils: full-spectrum, broad-specturm and isolate. What a doctor might prescribe you depends on your individual needs, since these three types of CBD oils contain different cannabinoids that could be helpful for different conditions.
As the name implies, full-spectrum CBD oil contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds found in the cannabis plant. This means that trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (up to 0.3%) are present in a full-spectrum product along with terpenes, fatty acids, minor cannabinoids and other plant matter.
Broad-spectrum CBD oil is a full-spectrum product with the THC removed. It still contains the other compounds, including cannabinoids, fatty acids and terpenes, but additional processing removes all or most of the THC.
With that said, there can still be trace amounts of THC in broad-spectrum products, despite THC not being listed on the label. It’s always best to discuss this with your doctor if you require a THC-free product due to your job or need to drive. Like full spectrum, broad-spectrum CBD oil has an earthy or grassy taste and is dark and resin-like in colour.
Isolate CBD oil undergoes even more processing, this time to leave only CBD with all other compounds removed. Some isolate CBD oils have purities of over 99 percent, with the remainder made up of trace amounts of terpenes, cannabinoids, fatty acids and plant matter.
CBD Oil For Pain Relief
Our bodies contain what’s known as the endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors that’s involved in regulating pain sensation, along with a number of other bodily functions. Essentially, our bodies produce endocannabinoids, which bind to cannabinoid receptors. When we consume cannabinoids like CBD or THC, these compounds can act on our cannabinoid receptors to produce new effects.
Studies suggest that CBD oil may be an effective treatment for nerve pain and back pain. CBD may also be able to help manage pain related to arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
There’s also some promising data on CBD’s role in managing rheumatic diseases such as fibromyalgia – a survey of 2,701 people with fibromyalgia found that using CBD generally reduced their pain.
A study on people experiencing pain from nerve damage showed significant pain reduction after they used CBD oil, compared to the placebo group. The oil was topically applied, which means absorbed through the skin. There were no negative reactions among the group from using CBD oil.
In another study on chronic pain, patients were asked to rate their pain before and after applying CBD topically. The patients’ average pain scores were significantly lower after treatment with CBD. All patients said that they had less pain around the home, while 93% reported improved pain tolerance when socialising, working and during recreation.
CBD Oil For Anxiety & Depression
There have been a number of studies that suggest CBD could have a positive role in reducing anxiety symptoms, although the exact mechanism is not fully understood.
A review of major studies found that medical cannabis could be helpful in alleviating anxiety, although only when using cannabis strains with low quantities of THC. In one study on public speaking, participants who took a 300mg dose of CBD before speaking reported significantly reduced levels of anxiety.
A randomised, controlled trial from 2019 found that a single dose of CBD reduced anxiety levels in patients with social anxiety disorder, while another study found that CBD had anxiolytic effects in patients with general anxiety, as well as a positive impact on sleep quality.
CBD Oil’s Role in Neuroprotection
People experiencing neurodegenerative disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) may benefit from CBD oil. One study found that 75% of the 276 study participants had reduced muscle spasms after using a CBD mouth spray.
There are also promising results with using CBD to manage Parkinson’s disease. Several studies show that patients’ quality of life and sleep may improve with CBD use, but more evidence is needed to support these findings.
CBD Oil For Inflammation
A range of studies have investigated the use of CBD in the treatment of inflammation and inflammatory diseases. However, the research is still at a very early stage and more long term studies are required before we can talk with any confidence about the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD. Nonetheless, it should be noted that many patients struggling with inflammation report positive outcomes from CBD treatment.
CBD Oil For Acne
Acne is a very common skin condition that causes discomfort, scarring and emotional distress. Our skin naturally produces sebum, an oily, waxy substance that helps to protect the skin. However, overproduction of sebum can lead to acne. While still in need of study, emerging research suggests that CBD may have a role to play in the treatment of acne in the future.
CBD Oil’s Role in Managing Cancer Symptoms
There is currently no evidence to indicate the use of CBD in the treatment of cancer. However there is evidence to suggest that it may be beneficial in the management of some of the symptoms experienced by cancer patients including pain, anxiety and nausea.
Please speak to your doctor to see if CBD might be suitable for your symptom management.
CBD Oil For Epilepsy
CBD may have anticonvulsant properties and is one of the only conditions for which a medical cannabis treatment has been fully recognised by the TGA. Epidyolex is a TGA-approved CBD product that is used as an alternative treatment for seizures brought on by rare forms of childhood epilepsy such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
CBD Oil For Sleep Disorders
CBD oil’s anti-anxiety effect could help those with sleep disorders, although more research is needed. A 2019 study looked at the effect of CBD on the sleep quality of patients with anxiety and found two-thirds reported a positive impact on sleep patterns.
CBD Oil For Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain
CBD may be beneficial in reducing symptoms experienced by people who suffer from endometriosis or chronic pelvic pain. While the body’s cannabinoid receptors are found mainly in the central and peripheral nervous system, receptors have also been found in the endometrium.
As previously mentioned, CBD may have anti-inflammatory properties. One of the key features of endometriosis is inflammation, so it’s believed CBD may reduce pain associated with endometriosis.
CBD treatment options for endometriosis include oral medications such as oils and capsules, and topical creams.
Is CBD Oil Legal?
CBD oil containing one percent or less of THC is technically legal to buy as a pharmacist only medication in Australia, but at this stage, no products have been approved for over the counter use.
This is due to the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) requirement for sufficient data to be supplied before a product is made available for sale. Conducting the research required for this data is extremely costly and something only very few pharmaceutical companies can afford to do. This means you will still need to go to your doctor to get a prescription for CBD oil, even if the THC content is below one percent.
Side Effects of CBD Oil
Like any medication, CBD oil can cause side effects. Some of the most common side effects include diarrhoea, dry mouth, dizziness and fatigue. While most people are able to tolerate CBD oil without experiencing any side-effects, it's important to be aware of the potential risks and to speak with your doctor if you experience any concerning side effects.
CBD oil can also have adverse interactions with other medications, which can increase the risk of side effects or reduce their effectiveness. In particular, CBD oil can interact with medications that are broken down by enzymes in the liver. This is because the same enzymes in the liver that break down medications also break down cannabis compounds. As always, talk to your doctor about any medications you are on before commencing cannabis care.
Is CBD Oil Right for You?
While there is a growing body of evidence to recommend CBD oil for managing various physical and mental conditions, you should always discuss with your doctor before making changes to your treatment plan. If you experience conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety or poor sleep, you may want to further investigate CBD oil’s potential benefits. However, always keep your current medications in mind when deciding with your doctor whether CBD oil may be right for you.