Understanding the Medical Efficacy of CBD

By Gooey Rabinski

Cannabis is a complex medicine that contains literally hundreds of types of molecules that, collectively, deliver medicinal relief for dozens of diseases and conditions. This unique herb possesses so many medical applications primarily because it is such an effective pain reliever (analgesic) and anti-inflammatory agent. 

When one also considers the significant anti-nausea (antiemetic) properties of this plant—which make it a powerful treatment for patients undergoing chemotherapy—it soon becomes apparent that there is no simple strategy for cannabis therapy. 

Understanding Cannabinoids

The primary therapeutic elements within cannabis are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are relatively simple chemicals that have a special relationship with the human body. These highly medicinal molecules precisely fit into special microscopic cellular receptors within the body’s immune system and central nervous system (CNS). 

These receptors, called CB1 and CB2, are part of the endocannabinoid system—a mechanism in humans that is increasingly believed to be responsible for monitoring and adjusting immunity, pain, nerve activity (and mobility), memory and even emotions. 

There are two types of cannabinoids: Those made by the human body, called endocannabinoids, and the type manufactured within plants such as cannabis, which are labeled phytocannabinoids. Typically, the term “cannabinoid” infers cannabis as the source of these molecules. 

A discussion of cannabinoids is incomplete without consideration of the body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS. Some theorize that a lack of endocannabinoid production in humans results in an overarching condition called endocannabinoid deficiency. The cannabinoids from an herb like cannabis are considered to supplement the body’s internal system (just as ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, is consumed as a supplement to prevent scurvy). 

Understanding CBD

One of the major chemical components of cannabis is a special cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD. This cannabinoid has gained significant media attention in recent years for its power to combat both epilepsy and cancer, two of the most common diseases in the US. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, constitute the two primary medicinal components of cannabis. 

More than 100 “minor” cannabinoids are also found within the herb, including CBC, CBN, THCV, CBD and CBG. These cannabinoids typically appear in very small quantities and are believed to enhance and buffer the effects of CBD and THC in a delicate synergistic interplay that has been labeled the “entourage effect.” The entourage effect is often used as an argument in support of whole plant medicine (or against separating or synthesizing only one or some of the cannabinoids for pharmaceutical use).   

CBD was first discovered in 1940, but not until 1963 di Raphael Mechoulam, a research professor in Israel, identify its chemical structure. Only one year later, Mechoulam isolated and identified the molecular structure for THC and, in the process, gained invaluable insight into the role and function of cannabinoids within the human body.   

Preclinical research has revealed CBD to have powerful anticonvulsant, anti-tumor and antipsychotic properties. It also treats and may even prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and HIV dementia. CBD can also limit and even reverse the scope of brain damage in stroke victims.  

Of the hundreds of chemical components delivered by cannabis, including CBD, none are lethal. Those who suffer from severe chronic pain or regularly need to relieve nausea, swelling or gastrointestinal issues may medicate with CBD on a regular basis and in large quantities—with no fear of overdose or negative side effects. This is one of the chief superiorities of cannabis and cannabinoids over conventional pharmaceutical drugs, such as opioids. 

CBD Cancer & Epilepsy Studies

The role of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, within the immune system and the CNS. CBD has been found to be a therapeutic treatment for both the core conditions, as well as for multiple symptoms thereof, that plague millions of patients. These include inflammation, pain and a dysfunctional immune system (which can lead to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease). 

One of the most powerful roles of CBD may be in the battle against cancer. Even the federal government’s relatively conservative National Cancer Institute states on its website: “Cannabinoids may have benefits in the treatment of cancer-related side effects.” What the organization doesn’t admit is that CBD and THC can also kill cancer cells. 

CBD has proven to be effective at shrinking tumors and putting cancer cells into auto-destruct mode, where they literally commit suicide and potentially cease spreading throughout an organ or the body. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment in November 2012 revealed that CBD is effective in causing cancer cells to engage in apoptosis, the medical term for the process of cell self-destruction. 

Apoptosis caused by the CBD cannabinoid can result in tumors that shrink and cancer that goes into full remission. Researchers of the study concluded: “[CBD] … induces … apoptosis in cancer cell lines.”

A study published in February 2010 in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that CBD is a pronounced anticonvulsant medication that causes “significant” decreases in seizure activity.

This research can be applied directly to epileptic patients and supports the belief among many medical professionals—and the anecdotal testimonies of hundreds of epilepsy patients—who believe CBD can cause a significant reduction in seizure activity. Concluded the study: “CBD … exerted clear anticonvulsant effects, with significant decreases in incidence of severe seizures....”

A November 2014 study conducted by German researchers and published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology revealed that both CBD alone and THC alone may be effective in treating lung cancer.

This particular study revealed that CBD makes cancer cells more vulnerable to other cells within the body that are programmed to kill them. One example of such cells is lymphokine-activated killers, or LAK cells. These are white blood cells that have been programmed to destroy cancer. Concluded the researchers: “Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, enhanced the susceptibility of cancer cells to … be lysed by [cancer killing] LAK cells.”

Illuminating the efficacy of the cannabis herb is obviously a nuanced and complex science. More research is necessary to enable medical practitioners to best formulate therapy regimes for sick patients, using the whole plant or specific cannabinoids such as CBD.