Solid research into any ingredient with promising health benefits is vital—and when it comes to CBD, the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis sativa plant that’s exploded onto the scene in the last few years, that reality check is doubly necessary.
So yes, scientific studies on CBD are incredibly important. But so are people’s lived experiences with CBD. Not just because they’re data points, but because they’re real. Real stories with all the emotions—the helplessness and the hopefulness, the moments of being overwhelmed or optimistic, and the waves of trepidation and eagerness.
Consider the story of Ellen Trachtenberg, 52, who lives Narberth, Pennsylvania. She contended with anxiety and depression her whole life.
Then menopause kicked in.
“Someone recommended a brand of CBD gummies … and I noticed they were especially effective for menopausal symptoms, as well as anxiety,” she says. A bonus? Her sleep improved too.
Anecdotes are not considered gold-standard science. They’re not prescriptive, and they’re no substitute for the advice of a qualified holistic health-care practitioner. But they do point to angles researchers can pursue—and as for the rest of us, we thrive on stories.
Here are some compelling ones.
Dove Weissman-Shtein, 46
Dove Weissman-Shtein of Boulder, Colorado, suffered from intense menstrual cramps for 30 years. The monthly experience would knock her down for days. Sometimes she’d treat the onslaught with just enough painkillers to make her feel numb all over.
“The first time I took CBD,” she says, “the experience was of feeling the great force of nature flowing through me. I was able to be in my body, with the experience, aware of sensation—but it wasn’t pain. It was simply life force happening through this female form.”
Now, Advil is out for Weissman-Shtein; CBD is in.
Allen Capers, 46
Allen Capers suffered a crushing work accident in 2012 and was put on as many as 18 medications—some were five times a day; three were painkillers. The side effects were something else.
“I made the difficult decision to come off all the meds and live again,” says the Rural Hall, North Carolina, resident. “I’m better than I used to be. I’m considerate, humble, and have an understanding of others I didn’t know prior.”
He says a combination of low-dose THC along with CBD allowed him to be his “true self” and to function—and get off all those pharmaceuticals.
Kimberly Lord Stewart, 61
After Kimberly Lord Stewart of Longmont, Colorado, received the grim diagnosis of breast cancer, she had a successful double mastectomy. But she went through waves of pain during recovery that were sharp, deep, and sometimes took her breath away.
“I wanted my life back and was motivated to stop taking opioids and OTC pain medications,” she says. “Within 120 days of my surgery, I went off all other medications and used only CBD daily for the lingering pain, vertigo, and anxiety. My doctors were shocked by how well I recovered.”
She’s now three years cancer free and pain free.
Mickey Schuett, 73
Mickey Schuett, a sprightly resident of Broomfield, Colorado, says he uses hemp CBD to support many parts of his body. “My doctor and I are very happy with my blood sugar under control,” he says. “CBD oil also helps with my sleep.”
He adds, “I can categorically state that my health is better than it has ever been. CBD has changed my life for the better.”
Erin Boyington, 36
Erin Boyington from Erie, Colorado, used 25 mg CBD twice daily to wean herself off prescription drugs for migraines. The drugs weren’t getting it done and were making her feel like a “zombie.”
“Over the first two weeks, the daily headaches and pains gradually subsided until I finally experienced my first headache-free day in 10 months,” she says six weeks later, all of them migraine free. In addition, “[CBD has] made a difference in my overall well-being, lessened anxieties, and helped with sleep.”
She believes switching to a keto diet has also helped with her migraines, and she hopes her sharing her journey will compel others to explore their options.
“Through this experience, I’ve gone from being a skeptic to an advocate of CBD and will tell my story to anyone willing to listen,” she says. “It truly has changed my life.”
What are people using hemp CBD for—and how much are they taking?
According to a 2018 consumer survey of 1,090 CBD-savvy Americans conducted by Nutrition Business Journal, most respondents believed CBD to be effective primarily for pain and headaches, followed by anxiety, arthritis, depression, and sleep issues.
Incredibly, 28 percent of survey respondents rated full-spectrum hemp extract—which contains CBD as well as other cannabinoids from the hemp plant—as “extremely effective,” 37 percent “very effective,” and 26 percent “moderately effective.” Only 5 percent claimed it was “slightly effective,” and 4 percent “not effective” at all.
More than half of those taking CBD were taking 10 mg per day or less.
The CBD evidence base
CBD research is snowballing. More than 440 studies on CBD were published in the first half of 2020 alone! Here’s some of the most fascinating intel.
A team of psychologists from the UK and Brazil gave CBD a check-up from the neck up. While they stress that research is still preliminary, they concluded that by interacting with receptor sites on cell walls, CBD dampens the expression of fear and anxiety and then keeps them in check.
CBD also creates positive action on serotonin receptors responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.
In a recent study of adults with anxiety, 25 mg of CBD a day improved anxiety scores in four out of five patients.
CBD may help people fall asleep by calming the central nervous system. In a 2019 study, people who had anxiety and/or weren’t sleeping well took 25 mg of CBD a day. Sleep scores improved within the first month in two-thirds of patients. (The sleep scores fluctuated later in the study.)
According to researchers, CBD modulates biomarkers that cause blood-sugar control complications. It also influences compounds like resistin that link diabetes and obesity (“diabesity” is the term) with cardiovascular disease. CBD seems to relax arteries, which become damaged with diabetes. And CBD can reduce inflammation, the damaging tissue scarring (fibrosis), and the free radicals generated with high blood glucose levels.
Researchers have studied CBD’s ability to quell both acute and chronic pain. Early studies on CBD used topically and orally reveal CBD curbs the enzymes involved in creating cytokines and prostaglandins, which are responsible for producing inflammation and its attendant pain.
Limited research shows cannabinoids (of which CBD is one) may help with several types of headache disorders, including migraines and cluster headaches.
In 2019, the Mayo Clinic provided a guide for physicians considering using CBD on patients, concluding, “Patients report relief for a variety of conditions, particularly pain,” and noting that growing evidence supports CBD oils’ “potential role as another option for treating challenging chronic pain or opioid addiction.”
The irregular muscle contractions that cause the womb lining to shed once a month are keyed by the release of prostaglandins. These compounds are elevated in women with excessive menstrual bleeding and cramps. NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen are typically used for relief because they reduce both prostaglandin levels and inflammation.
Guess what else puts a damper on prostaglandins and inflammation? CBD. While no human studies have looked directly at CBD for menstrual pain, its effects on underlying causes of discomfort are notable.
Who shouldn’t take CBD?
Pharmaceuticals with a “grapefruit warning” indicate drinking that tangy-tart juice will make the drugs more potent. That’s because certain citrus fruits—as well as a handful of other compounds, including CBD—inhibit enzymes that slow the breakdown of some 85 drugs. If you’re taking medication that carries a grapefruit warning, CBD may not be for you.
No studies have looked directly at CBD and pregnancy; this absence of research has led some authorities to advise against taking CBD while pregnant.
How are people taking their CBD?
Most people were introduced to CBD via those little brown tincture bottles with the dropper. Now, we have CBD pills and capsules at health food retailers … along with gummies, lotions, and balms. You might even find CBD ice cream. Coffee. Fizzy drinks. Beard balm. Roll-ons. And that’s not the end of it.
“There’s a slew of products that haven’t been explored,” says Katie Devoe, co-founder of CBD Nationwide, which makes finished products for other brands.
The start of a movement
CBD made a name for itself based on an anecdote—the story of a girl from Colorado, Charlotte Figi, who made the evening news back in 2013 when she was six years old.
Charlotte suffered from debilitating seizures. Her parents gave her this new cannabis hybrid—low in buzzy THC, high in this other cannabinoid: CBD.
CBD had a truly remarkable effect on the girl. Her seizures immediately dropped, and her quality of life drastically improved.
Charlotte passed away in spring of this year, but her legacy lives on. Her story is largely credited with sparking consumer interest in CBD’s health-promoting uses.
After three gold-standard clinical trials on a CBD isolate drug for seizures were published, the FDA in 2018 approved CBD isolate as an official pharmaceutical drug for two childhood-onset forms of epilepsy.