- Researchers who studied comments on Reddit said most people are using cannabidiol for medical issues, including psychiatric and orthopedic conditions.
- Experts say there’s no evidence that cannabidiol, also known as CBD, can cure medical ailments.
- However, they said some research has shown that CBD can be effective in reducing pain and nausea.
Cannabidiol (CBD) may not make users high, but it also doesn’t do much in terms of curing medical ailments.
That’s according to a
The Qualcomm Institute’s Center for Data Driven Health at the University of California San Diego reviewed user testimonials and found the majority of them took cannabidiol for diagnosable medical issues, including psychiatric, orthopedic, and sleep conditions, as opposed to using the drug for overall wellness issues.
The authors of the study, initially published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open, said scientists lacked data on why people take CBD.
Their solution was to look at the social media site Reddit and its 430 million users.
They studied groups focused on CBD users from January 2014 through February 2019.
The study authors reported that 90 percent of the testimonials discussed using CBD for medical conditions that can be treated by doctors using other methods.
“The public appears to believe CBD is medicine,” said Dr. David Smith, professor of medicine at U.C. San Diego and a study co-author, in a statement. “Who would have predicted that the public might ever think CBD is a cardiology medication?”
Cannabidiol sales topped $4.7 billion in the United States in 2019.
However, the only medical use approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a cannabis-derived drug product is for epilepsy, said Dr. Lenny Cohen, a Chicago-based neurologist.
Cohen noted that some cannabis derivatives are approved for nausea in people being treated for cancer.
“This is where official approval ends,” Cohen told Healthline. “The rest are pure speculation and anecdotal references. One of the biggest pushes for cannabinoids happened due to the overuse of narcotics with the unfounded belief that cannabinoids can be as beneficial and less addictive than narcotics.”
Cohen said the physiology just doesn’t match up, although CBD does possess properties that can keep someone calm.
“In my personal practice, unfortunately, I did not see equivalent results for pain coverage for those who had been on narcotics previously,” he said. “That being said, cannabinoids might be beneficial for narcotics-naïve patients. There are a number of studies on use of cannabinoids for neuropathic pain, for example. Unfortunately, many of them are flawed.”
Caleb Chen runs The Highest Critic, a website reviewing cannabis products.
He’s also a Reddit moderator who told Healthline he can shed light on demographic caveats present in a study based on Reddit.
“I think the study has a valid point and, while it has a clear undertone that CBD is not as effective at treating diagnosable medical conditions as ‘real medicine,’ that is not the main reason the study was published,” Chen said. “The authors noted they want this to serve as proof that the FDA needs to regulate how CBD companies market themselves more.”
“They classified the self-reported medical conditions as symptoms, but it’s impossible to know from an internet comment whether the reported medical condition has been formally diagnosed, or even would be presented to a certified medical doctor,” Chen said.
“The study admits this as a flaw and even notes that some symptoms could bely undiagnosed medical conditions,” he added.
“I think the study did a good job with the data that was available — and there really isn’t much. I also think they had a foregone conclusion going into the study,” he said.
Dr. Bill Code specializes in anesthesia and has used cannabis to treat people with chronic pain and seizures.
He told Healthline that CBD “is a potent anti-inflammatory and so can help many problems in controlling pain and inflammation” without the side effects of other drugs.
While Code said there hasn’t been enough research done, he doesn’t believe the Reddit study was an accurate gauge. He said understanding of CBD changed during the sample period.
“The article critiqued that there were not enough medical conditions specifically named,” Code said. “The FDA and medical societies hugely discourage this, so I suspect this has a great influence. Prior to 2018–2019, when Epidiolex (containing CBD for epilepsy) was approved, hemp oil containing CBD was seen more as a dietary supplement. This initiated many of the wellness statements or posts, as these are less provocative with the FDA than medical conditions.”
“I agree with the article in that changes should be legislated, and accurate lab evaluation and subsequent accurate labeling would greatly assist both the consumer and the medical people. Then we can compare apples to apples,” he said.
Carey Clark, PhD, RN, the chair of the medical cannabis program at Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego, told Healthline the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 detailed evidence around cannabis and various states of disease and illness.
“We do know that cannabinoids like CBD are effective for managing pain, muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Many other illnesses have moderate or low levels of evidence of their effectiveness,” said Clark.
“However, there is a lot of ongoing research, and we know anecdotally that patients say cannabinoids help them feel better,” Clark said.
“I am concerned that people have access to safe, tested, and high-quality cannabinoids,” she added.
“Cannabis is the most researched plant on the planet, with over 30,000 studies available. It has been used for thousands of years. What we need now are better studies,” she said.
Dr. Craig K. Svensson is a professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue University in Indiana.
He told Healthline the study is useful for “insight into the real-world use of CBD, as it informs researchers the various reasons for which people are consuming CBD, as well as how that may be changing over time.”
He said there are two big issues.
“The first, apart from seizures, [is] might CBD be useful for the treatment of conditions like pain, anxiety, and related disorders? More research is need to give enough data to make these conclusions,” Svensson said.
“The second issue is quality of products,” he added.
Aside from prescription drugs such as Epidolex, CBD products aren’t required to undergo FDA approval. Svensson noted that label inaccuracies are a concern.
“The bottom line is there is only one disease for which there is sufficient evidence that CBD is effective for a medical condition. That is two rare forms of seizure disorder, and less than half of patients with those disorders benefit from CBD,” he said.