Researchers are exploring hemp CBD’s health benefits ranging from digestive and brain support to smoking cessation.
The Cannabis genus of plants includes marijuana and hemp. While there is still debate about whether these plants are distinct species or whether both are variants of a single species, the fact is that both marijuana and hemp are rich in phytochemicals known as cannabinoids.1 These plant-derived cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) can, like endogenously produced cannabinoids, bind to cannabinoid receptors on human cells and influence neurotransmitter release in the brain.2
Cannabis contains more than 100 different cannabinoids. Two of the more well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC has psychoactive properties and is present in higher amounts in marijuana, while CBD is present in higher levels in hemp varieties and more recently has gained research notoriety. CBD also does not have the psychoactive properties associated with THC.
As scientists continue to explore the human health effects of CBD, they are finding that this cannabinoid has the ability to exert benefits on multiple health parameters and areas. Studies are just beginning to scratch the surface of CBD’s potential. Some of the most recent preliminary research findings related to CBD are highlighted ahead.
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A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study led by Peter Irving of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (London, UK) aimed to evaluate the effects of a CBD-rich botanical extract in patients with ulcerative colitis.3
In this preliminary study, adults aged 18 and over with ulcerative colitis on stable treatment with 5-aminisalycilic acid were randomized to the CBD-rich extract or placebo daily for 10 weeks. While the primary endpoint (percentage of participants in remission) was negative at the end of the trial (28% for the CBD extract and 26% for the placebo), the authors noted several significant findings when they conducted a per protocol analysis of the data. These included disease severity scores favoring the CBD extract over placebo as well as subjective measures, including physician’s global assessment of illness severity, subject global impression of change, and patient-reported quality-of-life outcomes, all reaching levels of significant improvement in the CBD group.
While there were issues in some participants with tolerance of the treatment, the authors attributed these effects to the low level of THC present in the extract. Furthermore, the placebo group had a greater proportion of gastrointestinal side effects, indicating a worsening of the ulcerative colitis among the group. While these results are preliminary, they suggest that CBD intake may have important benefits for ulcerative colitis sufferers.
3. Irving PM et al. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, pilot study of cannabidiol-rich botanical extract in the symptomatic treatment of ulcerative colitis.” Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, vol. 24, no. 4 (March 19, 2018): 714-724
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CBD may be beneficial for neurological conditions, with researchers increasingly studying its effects on conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. A recent investigation evaluated the ability of CBD to reverse and prevent some of the pathological mechanisms associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease in mice hippocampal cells.4
Researchers modeled the effects of acute application of beta-amyloid peptide, a protein whose accumulation is associated with the neurological changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease, to hippocampal slices from mice and found that beta-amyloid led to a decrease in long-term potentiation, or a decrease in the efficiency of synaptic signal transmission. Application of CBD after the initiation of beta-amyloid-caused changes failed to correct the deficits in long-term potentiation; however, when hippocampal slices were pre-treated with CBD, the efficiency of long-term potentiation was preserved, indicating CBD’s neuroprotective effects.
The researchers conducted further investigations into the potential mechanism of CBD’s benefits and found that they are modulated by activation of a nuclear receptor known as PPARÎ³ (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma), a substance that regulates cellular transcription of various genes. While further research is needed to clarify these effects, this preliminary finding holds promise for the therapeutic potential of CBD in Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Hughes B et al. “Cannabidiol reverses deficits in hippocampal LTP in a model of Alzheimer's disease.” Neurochemical Research. Published online Mar 24, 2018.
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Prevention of Drug Relapse
Researchers in the field of drug addiction recently sought to evaluate the potential of CBD to help prevent relapsed drug use. Since CBD has effects that may benefit neurological and psychiatric health, it follows that it may also benefit those with drug addiction, as many of the issues experienced by those with a drug addiction are neurological or psychiatric in nature. These issues include cravings, stress, anxiety, and a lack of impulse control.
In this study, rats that were modeled to be dependent on alcohol or cocaine received CBD transdermally daily for 7 days.5 They were tested on multiple tasks for context and stress-induced reinstatement (as environmental context and stressors are common inducers of drug use relapse), and on the elevated plus maze task for experimental anxiety.
CBD was found to reduce context-induced and stress-induced drug-seeking behavior without side effects such as tolerance, sedation, or interference with normal behavior. Furthermore, while plasma and brain CBD levels were undetectable three days after the last administration, reinstatement remained lowered for up to 5 months after treatment, indicating a potential long-lasting benefit of CBD administration. CBD further reduced experimental anxiety and impulsivity in rats with a history of alcohol dependence.
5. Gonzalez-Cuevas G et al. “Unique treatment potential of cannabidiol for the prevention of relapse to drug use: preclinical proof of principle.” Neuropsychopharmacology. Published online Mar 22, 2018.
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World Health Organization data suggests there are over 1 billion smokers worldwide. Because of its anti-anxiety properties, CBD may be helpful as an aid to smoking cessation.
A recent study led by Chandni Hindocha from University College London (London, UK) aimed to investigate CBD’s benefits in helping to reduce cravings for cigarettes.6 In this double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, 30 smokers aged 18–50 who smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day for the last year participated in three separate sessions: at baseline, individuals were asked to smoke as usual, which was verified by a carbon monoxide test (>10 parts per million (ppm)) (the satiety session); in two subsequent sessions, participants were asked to abstain from smoking overnight for 12 hours (verified by carbon monoxide test results of <10 ppm) (the abstinence sessions). Oral CBD at a dose of 800 mg or placebo was given during the latter two sessions.
Attentional bias towards smoking was evaluated as well as withdrawal symptoms, cravings, side effects, heart rate, and blood pressure. Placebo given during abstinence sessions increased attentional bias towards tobacco compared to attentional bias during satiety. CBD, however, reduced this effect and led to similar levels of attentional bias as the satiety session. Compared to placebo, CBD also reduced the perception of pleasantness to images of cigarettes and decreased systolic blood pressure. These results suggest that a single dose of CBD was able to reduce the pleasantness of cigarette cues by reducing attentional bias and may be a useful intervention for helping with smoking cessation.
6. Hindocha C et al. “Cannabidiol reverses attentional bias to cigarette cues in a human experimental model of tobacco withdrawal.” Addiction. Published online May 1, 2018.
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