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Does CBD Really Work? 5 Things You Should Know

January 03, 2023

The store shelves are lined with CBD products – gummies, drinks, lotion, even socks and sportswear. They promise to treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain, but does CBD actually work?

“CBD, short for cannabidiol, is well promoted by companies producing infused products so many people feel they know what it is and how it can help them. But, there is still a gap between what people know and do not know about CBD,” warns Godfrey Pearlson, MD, medical director of Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network.

Dr. Pearlson shares five facts you should know before you reach for the CBD.

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CBD is not THC.

Most often produced in a laboratory or derived from hemp plants, cannabis’s non-psychoactive cousin, CBD does not make users feel high on its own.

“CBD is an important ingredient in medical cannabis, but it cannot produce a ‘high’ when taken alone,” he says. “There is also no evidence it is addicting.”

CBD may have health benefits.

CBD products in the correct doses may help address conditions including anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. It can also effectively treat certain types of epileptic seizures and may help muscle spasticity from multiple sclerosis.

“The first medication the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved containing CBD was to reduce severe seizure activity in certain uncommon types of childhood epilepsy,” Dr. Pearlson says.

But many other health benefits of CBD have never been rigorously tested, in part because the federal government has been reluctant to explore the possible health benefits of any cannabis-related products, he adds.

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Finding the right dose is important.

Many currently available over-the-counter forms of CBD contain only a few milligrams of the product. We don’t know that such low doses are necessarily helpful. Clinical trials of the drug for epilepsy and schizophrenia have used doses of 600-1000mg per day, Dr. Pearlson says.

However, higher doses can cause mild side effects – with some users reporting nausea, fatigue and irritability – and CBD can increase the effect of blood thinners and other medications.

“Always let your doctor know if you’re taking CBD because it can cause abnormalities in liver-related blood tests if taken in high doses,” he notes.

CBD is unregulated.

Sold as a supplement and not a medication, CBD is not regulated by the FDA. That means you can’t be sure of the safety and purity in products.

“We currently do not know the best dose or form of CBD for specific medical conditions, so users may not realize any benefits from products,” Dr. Pearlson says. Very recently, the FDA has taken steps to more closely regulate CBD.

CBD comes in many forms.

The way you take CBD should depend on your comfort level, goals and the properties of the drug.

If you experience joint pain, for example, Dr. Pearlson suggests taking CBD orally. Rubbing a CBD-infused oil or lotion on the area, might help, although absorption through the skin is rather low.

Soaking in a tub full of water infused by a CBD bath bomb might feel good, but none of the drug will be absorbed into your body.

For anxiety, try a mouth spray that gets CBD into the bloodstream faster.

But most importantly, always check with an expert.

“It’s crucial that anyone trying something like CBD talk with their doctors first to be sure it won’t interfere with any other medication or therapy they’re on,” Dr. Pearlson stresses. “Secondly, only buy products from reputable sources. Some impure forms of CBD contain enough THC to cause the user to test positive on drug screens for cannabis.”

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The Behavioral Health Network provides the full continuum of both mental health and substance abuse recovery services, personalized to the needs of every client and integrated with their primary care health needs.

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