Studying anything classified as a Schedule I drug under the direction of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States is extremely difficult, if not practically impossible. The case is the same throughout many other countries, where scientists struggle to examine the possible benefits and/or problems associated with certain substances, even under the guidance of government.
Within the United States, as social acceptance of medical marijuana expands, scientists are left struggling to gain federal approval for research on cannabis because the laws remain extremely restrictive.
Researchers have been able to find ways around these difficult restrictions by studying another cannabinoid from the same plant: cannabidiol (CBD). Although cannabidiol is derived from cannabis, it is not as restricted by the federal government because it triggers no psychoactive characteristics, which is associated with its sister cannabinoid, THC.
Since CBD is unable to cause the ‘high’ associated with marijuana use, it is therefore considered much safer by the federal government. Researchers, therefore, have been able to study its potential medical applications in much greater depth than with cannabis containing THC.
Through this new avenue of research, the developments have been dramatic. There is now significant new insight into the powerful potential of CBD to dramatically change alternative medicine. Considering there have been so many recent breakthroughs, the eight studies described below offer a good summary of the most important ones to date.
Although many epileptic patients have been self-medicating with CBD heavy strains of medical marijuana for years now, the research confirming these anecdotal results has only recently been published. One of the most important studies looking into CBD treatment for epilepsy, “Cannabidiol exerts anti-convulsant effects in animal models of the temporal lobe and partial seizures”, found very conclusive evidence about the ability of CBD to reduce or eliminate epileptic seizures in lab rats.
The result of this study calls for renewed attention into larger scale clinical trials for CBD treatment of epilepsy and seizures than what has been previously conducted. In this study, researchers found that two different seizure types, both temporal lobe, and partial seizures, could be effectively treated with CBD. In particular, rodent models of temporal lobe seizures were reduced in all doses: 1, 10 and 100mg/kg. It also indicated that any doses larger than 10 mg/kg were able to positively influence partial seizures. In both cases, CBD reduced the number of severe, lethal and tonic-clonic seizures in higher doses.
A 2006 study conducted by the University of Naples called, “The marijuana component cannabidiol inhibits beta-amyloid-induced tau protein hyperphosphorylation through Wnt/beta-catenin pathway rescue in PC12 cells,” examined the ability of CBD for treatment of the underlying causes of Alzheimer's disease.
One of the primary medical benefits currently being researched for CBD therapy is its potential as a neuroprotectant. At the moment, however, there is only minimal understanding of how it offers this protection.
Through this study, the researchers were able to find new evidence about how CBD is able to target Alzheimer's disease specifically. First, Alzheimer's is linked to the effects of oxidative stress on the brain, which eventually leads to something called Abeta-induced toxicity, or an increased accumulation of Abeta peptide.
Cannabidiol seems to be able to “rescue” cells from within this accumulated toxicity, through a pathway called the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway. Although this is only one piece of the puzzle, it provides important insight into how CBD can offer relief for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Another area where research is only just beginning to back up the years of experience of patients who have self-medicated with THC or CBD heavy strains of cannabis. Cannabis has long been known to reduce pain, however in a study conducted by Temple University in Philadelphia, “Distinct interactions of cannabidiol and morphine in three nociceptive behavioral models in mice,” demonstrated the ability of CBD to reduce certain models of pain.
It was studied in combination with morphine, as a standalone treatment, and compared against the results of a strictly morphine treatment. It was found to be beneficial for reducing chronic pain of specific variety, while also helping boost the effectiveness of morphine. This opens the doors for further study into CBD as a pain reliever, especially in cases where opioids may not be a viable option.
In many studies, some of which are summarized within the review “The Antitumor Activity of Plant-Derived Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids,” research has proven time and time again the antitumor capabilities of CBD. Thus far, CBD has been found to reduce the progression of many cancer cells, including glioblastoma (GBM), breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer.
Cannabinoids, including CBD and other non-psychoactive components of cannabis, have been found to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells, slow metastasization and inhibit their overall viability. Other studies have suggested that CBD treatment reduces the expansion of cancer blood cells, and the creation of stem-like cancer cells, both of which would inhibit further tumor growth. Studies thus far have been conducted using lab animals, but the push is now on to begin clinical studies of CBD’s potential.
Unlike the THC counterpart, CBD is in no way psychoactive. Instead, according to the research, it acts like an antidote to the potential issues caused by THC. At the Yale University School of Medicine, “Impact of Cannabis Use on the Development of Psychotic Disorders,” found strong evidence linking marijuana use to the appearance of a variety of different psychotic episodes, whether in the short term, or in the long term.
However, CBD has been found to have absolutely no ability to trigger either short or long term episodes of psychosis in users. It has also been shown to limit the period of time that THC can interact with CB-1 receptors, thus limiting the length and strength of a THC associated high. Research is now pursuing the potential of CBD to treat both THC induced psychosis as well as more naturally appearing instances.
In perhaps the most replicated areas of study, CBD has been proven to be an effective, all natural alternative to anxiety medication. At the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, in an often-cited study titled, “Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients,” the results were clear. Through three separate indicators (visual, self-assessed, and physiological) participants who were treated with CBD prior to public speaking all demonstrated reduced stress and anxiety. This was in comparison to a control group who received no treatment, and a group who simply received a placebo. All CBD participants confirmed greatly reduced anxiety, better cognitive ability, and a higher comfort level when speaking publicly.
In 2013, a pivotal study, “Cannabidiol enhances consolidation of explicit fear extinction in humans,” determined that CBD was able to gradually decrease the fear response to a previously experienced stimulus. Not surprising then, that for people suffering from symptoms and anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress, that CBD has been suggested as a potentially extremely viable treatment option.
Overtime, CBD was found to reduce the response to memories which had previously been formed with strong association to fear. The conclusion of this study stated that, “These findings provide the first evidence that CBD can enhance consolidation of extinction learning in humans and suggest that CBD may have potential as an adjunct to extinction-based therapies for anxiety disorders.”
As with many of the other studies mentioned above, CBD has again been found to offer medical therapy, where other options have failed. This is the case for people suffering through opioid additions, where viable solutions are limited.
Researchers in Greece have found that CBD may offer some assistance, published in their article, “Cannabidiol Inhibits the Reward-Facilitating Effect of Morphine: Involvement of 5-Ht1a Receptors in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus.” Just as the title suggests, they discovered that through CBD therapy, addicted lab animals were able to counteract the positive reward stimuli created through opioid use. This meant that the animals no longer felt the associated rush of good feelings that had previously been linked with their drug use. The authors hypothesize that with proper application and dosage, addicts could potentially begin to break down the strength of an addiction in order to better manage it.