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Should You Try CBD Oil?

People are using CBD oil to treat anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Intrigued? Here’s what our expert wants you to know.

Green leaves of medicinal cannabis with extract oil
Photo credit: Getty Images
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In her quest to solve her family’s sleep problems, Michelle Kronenberg Goodman, a teacher in Westchester County, NY, turned to an unlikely source: CBD oil. Her 17-year-old daughter is sleeping better than ever, she reports—without side effects: “Melatonin made her groggy the next day, but CBD doesn’t.” Goodman drops her own daily dose in her tea at night. “It calms me better than a glass of wine,” she says.

In Atlanta, educator Erin O’Connell takes CBD oil for anxiety, insomnia, and pain from endometriosis. “I also want to give it to my elderly dog for arthritis pain,” she says. After suffering from postpartum anxiety, O’Connell decided to give CBD oil a go; it worked so well she was able to wean herself off her prescription anxiety medication. “It helps me relax in the evening, and quiets my mind. It may be a placebo effect, but I feel it’s helping, and that’s all that matters.”

Goodman and O’Connell are just two of a growing number of people who are finding a cure for modern ills in an ancient remedy: CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 natural compounds with healing properties found in cannabis. CBD oil derived from hemp—a relative of marijuana—contains no THC, so it won’t make you high. And unlike marijuana, hemp is now completely legal, as a result of the U.S. Farm Bill passing Congress this month.

This natural remedy is popping up in everything from trendy cocktails and spa treatments to tasting menus and coffee. The hemp-CBD market is expected to reach an almost-unbelievable $22 billion by 2022, according to Brightfield Group, a marketing research firm focused on the CBD and cannabis industries. CBD is appealing to people who are burned out, stressed out, and in pain. Many, like O’Connell, try it after hearing that it worked for a friend.

“I get asked by patients about CBD oil about five times a day,” says internist and palliative care physician Diana Martins-Welch, MD, assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. “More and more people are educated about what they are putting in their bodies. They don't want to be on opioids and benzos, they want to be clear-minded, they want to be organic, so they’re looking toward cannabis.”

Dr. Martins-Welch usually encourages her patients who are curious to give it a try. “I much prefer to have someone using cannabis to help them sleep than Ambien or Xanax.”

So what does CBD treat?

CBD helps with symptoms that seem to be pervasive in our society: anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, to name a few.

When it comes to sleep, CBD oil makes a difference because it turns off an overactive brain, Dr. Martins-Welch says. “I have many patients who have cancer and who can’t sleep because they are so worried. CBD sort of shuts off all of that. You can have a better sleep because you’re more relaxed.”

Despite encouraging anecdotal evidence, there’s still not a lot of great scientific research to back up CBD oil and medical marijuana. That’s because the federal government classifies cannabis as a controlled substance, like heroin, so it has been difficult to get approval and funding to do scientific research. (That situation should improve now that hemp is legal.) What we do know, thanks to solid research: CBD oil helps children with two severe forms of epilepsy that don’t respond to traditional drugs have fewer seizures. It also reduces nerve pain. Medical marijuana has been reported by patients to help alleviate cancer-related symptoms such as chemotherapy-related pain and lack of appetite. And when people with chronic pain use medical marijuana, opioid use goes down.

How to use CBD safely

Although CBD is not psychoactive, you may feel a little funny if you take the wrong amount. “It doesn’t give you a mind high, but it gives a sort of body high, meaning you’re just in a relaxed mode,” explains Dr. Martins-Welch. “You don’t want to be that relaxed if you’re going to work in the morning.” Start with a low dose in the morning, like 10 or 15 milligrams, she adds: “Just enough to take the edge off.”

In general, it’s wise to start at a low dose, and go up if needed. “It can actually cause more anxiety taking it at such high doses so you really want to find that sweet spot that's going to help you be therapeutic but not overdo it,” she says. Leslie Goldman, a writer in Chicago, experienced this firsthand. She tried CBD oil to help combat insomnia, taking a dropper full, as per the instructions, but woke up in the middle of the night with her heart beating out of her chest. “It intensified the effects I was trying to get rid of,” she says. She later found out that she should have started with a much lower dose. “Just because it doesn’t have THC, doesn’t mean it’s inert.”

The biggest danger doctors worry about with CBD oil is drug interactions. Cannabis products can interact with everything from common antibiotics to the blood thinner Coumadin. To make sure you’re safe, talk to your doctor about which drugs you’re taking or go to a drug interaction checker like the one at drugs.com and plug in all your meds along with “cannabidiol” to make sure you won’t have a problem.

Also keep in mind that these products aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it's buyer beware, Dr. Martins-Welch advises: “It’s like a fish oil supplement. You don't know that what you're actually buying is legit.” And as for those CBD-infused cocktails and anti-aging lotions, don’t expect much. “It’s an expensive ingredient,” Dr. Martins-Welch says. “I'd be surprised if they're using high-quality CBD.” It’s also not clear how much CBD we absorb through the skin or via an edible, as opposed to in an oil.

To make sure you’re getting a pure oil, get recommendations from friends and research companies’ reputations online. Dr. Martins-Welch likes ravereviews.org, because their ratings line up with the feedback she hears every day from patients.

And it lines up with her own experience as well. After seeing patients helped by CBD oil, Dr. Martins-Welch decided to try it out at home—on her stressed-out husband. “He works on Wall Street and wasn't sleeping well, so I Googled ‘best CBD oils.’ I said, ‘Let me try this company.’ And we’ve stuck with it. He uses it at night and it’s worked really well.”

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Published January 22nd, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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