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The Implications of Using CBD for Chronic Conditions: Here’s What We Know

Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound in cannabis, has become a popular alternative to pharmaceuticals. CBD users can sometimes find relief from their conditions without harsh side effects. 

41% of cannabis users surveyed report swapping out other medications completely in favor of cannabis, while another 58% use cannabis and other medication or alternate between them,” researchers stated in a survey by Brightfield Group

While CBD may be a beneficial alternative for chronic conditions, it’s important to consider the implications of using CBD before changing your current regimen.

Diabetes

Studies have suggested that inflammation has a correlation with insulin resistance. This may be the result of the body not moving sugar from the bloodstream into cells, causing excessively high blood sugar. Obesity-related inflammation particularly limits glucose metabolism, resulting in high blood sugar. 

Researchers still don’t know exactly how CBD improves insulin resistance, but often credit it to the compound’s anti-inflammatory effects

According to a report on Type 1 diabetes from the Diabetes Council, “CBD can save insulin-forming cells from damage so that normal glucose metabolism can occur.”

It’s important to note that most claims being made are based on studies with animals, not humans. Using CBD to treat diabetes without more substantiated research and medical oversight could be dangerous. Until further human studies are conducted, CBD can’t be considered a direct treatment for diabetes. 

However, the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabidiol may be beneficial for managing secondary symptoms from the disease. For example, CBD has neuroprotective qualities and may prevent retinal damage.

Cancer

While there is anecdotal evidence of successfully treating cancer with CBD, no definitive studies can back this up. However, we do know that CBD plays a role in cancer prevention and seems to have anti-tumor effects. In a 2012 report, researchers explained, “Evidence is emerging to suggest that CBD is a potent inhibitor of both cancer growth and spread.”  

The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that CBD is anti-proliferative, meaning it can stop, slow down, or reverse the growth of cancerous tumors. It is also anti-angiogenic, meaning it does not support the generation of new blood vessels, specifically ones that allow cancerous tumor growth. Lastly, it is pro-apoptotic, which means it induces cellular suicide of cancerous cells. 

In addition to these cancer-specific effects, CBD may help patients dealing with pain related to cancer treatment, such as pressure on the organs and nerve injuries. Patients with cancer are commonly prescribed opiates to manage pain, but managing pain with CBD may be just as effective with fewer side effects.

Unlike opiates, which mimic our bodies’ natural endorphins, CBD actually encourages the production of natural endorphins by interacting with a neurotransmitter called anandamide. As a result, CBD is a non-habit-forming pain-reliever. 

It’s important to consider the legal implications before using CBD for cancer, or any other chronic condition. Hemp-derived CBD is legal across the United States, with specific guidelines per state. Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota have strict, conflicting rules regarding CBD, so caution should be taken if you live in those states. 

Whatever state you’re in, be sure to get high-quality CBD from producers who follow the guidelines of the law. 

Multiple Sclerosis

According to Neurology.org, “inflammation occurs in the brains and spinal cords of people with a specific kind of MS called relapsing-remitting MS.” CBD has been shown to protect against this harmful inflammation

In a 2011 study with mice, researchers found that CBD diminished axonal (nerve) damage and inflammation. CBD also reduced microglial activation, an inflammatory process that occurs in the central nervous system and is attributed to conditions like MS, Parkinson’s, and more. 

CBD may help users get relief from their MS without causing the sometimes intense side effects that come with pharmaceuticals. Still, CBD may cause some side effects that users should be aware of. Side effects may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea

Anxiety and Depression

The hippocampus, the most widely studied portion of the brain, is responsible for the regulation of memories and emotions. Researchers believe the hippocampus plays a major role in depression, and have found that this region of the brain can shrink or decay in those with depression.

Fortunately, the shrinkage does not have to be permanent. The brain is very regenerative and can bounce back as new neural connections are made. This process is known as “neurogenesis” and is an important process to target for antidepressants, contrary to the prior belief that they just work to increase serotonin. 

Where does CBD come in? Research has shown that cannabidiol signals a serotonin receptor called 5-HT1A. This receptor is responsible for controlling many neurotransmitters, and is also the target of some anti-anxiety medications, like Buspirone. Activating this receptor can encourage neurogenesis, and potentially relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

While each individual case is unique, anxiety and depression tend to go hand-in-hand. CBD may encourage the neural regeneration necessary to find relief from either or both conditions. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is caused by — you guessed it — inflammation. A 2009 study found CBD was beneficial for colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers induced colitis in mice and tracked their gut inflammation, finding that “cannabidiol, a likely safe compound, prevents experimental colitis in mice.”

Another review found “this compound may interact at extra‐cannabinoid system receptor sites, such as peroxisome proliferator‐activated receptor‐gamma. This strategic interaction makes CBD as a potential candidate for the development of a new class of anti‐IBD drugs.”

If you’re considering using CBD with other medications, consult your doctor first. Much like grapefruits, CBD inhibits the cytochrome P450 enzyme, which can prevent drugs from metabolizing properly. 

CBD could also negatively affect the liver by increasing liver enzymes. A 2014 review of CBD saw changes in the liver function of 10% of the subjects, and 3% had to drop out of the study to prevent further damage. Again, consult with a doctor if you want to use CBD for a chronic condition like IBD but are worried about the effects on your liver.

The Bottom Line

Americans spend around $1,200 on prescription drugs each year, which is more than the residents of any other developed country. The price of pharmaceuticals has risen without any improvements or innovation, according to CNBC. This makes CBD an exciting avenue as a potential alternative to standard pharmaceuticals.

It’s important to remember that the effects of CBD will vary by person, and that a lot of the claims we hear about CBD are in relation to animal studies and not humans. It’s also important to be as informed as possible before diving into the complicated world of buying CBD.

Still, many people find success with CBD for their chronic conditions. 

Macey Wolfer HeadshotMacey is a freelance writer from Seattle, WA. She writes about natural health, cannabis, and music.

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