Over the past few decades, medical research has made clear that the cannabis plant has valuable health benefits. Much of those benefits derive from a certain chemical found in cannabis, known as ‘cannabidiol.’ Cannabidiol, which is known as CBD for short, has shown promise in treating a variety of different conditions and health problems.
Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid, a kind of natural compound found in the cannabis plant. While there are dozens of different cannabinoids, the most prominent is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is a psychoactive, and is primarily responsible for the euphoric, mind-altering effects for which marijuana is so famous. Essentially, when a person gets high off of marijuana, their brain is responding specifically to the THC found in the the plant.
Marijuana is specifically grown so as to maximize levels of THC. In fact, by definition, marijuana is simply a cannabis plant with a high level of THC. The term ‘hemp,’ in contrast, refers to cannabis plants with small amounts of THC but (generally) relatively high levels of CBD. Hemp has traditionally been bred for non-recreational purposes. While both marijuana and hemp are of the same genus and species, their effects are not at all the same.
That’s because CBD affects the brain in a manner very different from THC. Unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive. None of the alterations in thinking and perception commonly associated with cannabis are caused by cannabidiol — CBD cannot make a person get high. Instead, CBD’s effects trend almost entirely to the therapeutic side.
The fact that CBD does not cause any sort of high can be an important advantage. While recreational users of cannabis generally desire the psychoactive effects of marijuana, for others the psychoactive element is a major disadvantage, since THC can trigger paranoia, agitation, and anxiety in some people.
But what exactly are the benefits of CBD? As it turns out, CBD can help treat a wide variety of different health conditions. First of all, CBD is an anti-psychotic (which may be why it seems to mitigate the negative psychoactive effects of cannabis). Cannabidiol appears to help preserve a brain chemical connected to mood, cognitive function, and perception of pain. Research has even suggested that CBD can reduce psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia and other kinds of psychosis.
CBD has also shown an ability to relieve the symptoms of those who suffer from anxiety and stress. For example, an elevated heart rate, a common symptom of anxiety, can be lowered by cannabidiol. Since stress and anxiety are so common, this potential benefit of CBD could be a boon to millions.
Cannabidiol also seems to have anti-seizure effects. There is evidence that CBD can reduce the severity of seizures and perhaps the frequency as well. Among other seizure-causing conditions, CBD has shown particular promise in treating epilepsy (especially in childhood cases).
In addition, research has indicated that CBD can help protect the brains of those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. In particular, there is good evidence to suggest that CBD can reduce symptoms of spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. These neuroprotective effects likely exist because CBD is an anti-inflammatory.
There is also some evidence that CBD can alleviate pain caused by certain conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. However, since the medication studied contained both CBD and THC, it is not clear that these beneficial effects were due to CBD itself.
In the future, further medical research should make clear exactly how far cannabidiol’s health benefits extend. Even now, as shown above, it is already quite clear that CBD has some powerful and important benefits. As time goes on it is likely that cannabidiol’s stature as a useful aid in treating many different diseases and health problems will only grow.