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CBD Oil: Everything You Need to Know

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Is it just me, or did CBD oil (cannabidiol oil) totally explode over the last year? I see new articles practically every day about its miraculous benefits, including claims that it may even provide hope for patients who have exhausted their conventional treatment options. People are using it for everything from anxiety and seizure disorders to psoriasis and pain management. I’ve gotta say—I’m just blown away by the exciting possibilities that CBD oil has to offer.

Since this is such a hot topic (and I have a feeling that you’re just as curious about it as I am!), I asked our Crazy Sexy Nutrition Director, Jen Reilly, to dig into it and give us the 411. Keep in mind that research is currently underway and findings are still emerging. But you know us—we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for new info and sharing updates with you as soon as we get ‘em.

The good news is, there’s already a ton of fascinating and helpful information out there about CBD oil—and that’s exactly what we’re about to dive into.

Take it away, Jen!

CBD Oil: Everything You Need to Know

by Crazy Sexy Nutrition Director Jen Reilly, RD

Thanks, Kris! Nothing gets me more excited than the possibility of simple supplemental solutions to common health issues, so I’ve been closely following the CBD oil news for a while now. Among my nutrition patients, I’ve seen CBD oil help with anxiety and psoriasis when nothing else seemed to work. One patient has even been able to reduce her anxiety meds by half! The internet is also full of anecdotal evidence pointing to the potential benefits of CBD oil—including everything from pain management and nausea relief during chemotherapy to freedom from colitis and other inflammatory digestive disorders.

As Kris pointed out, human scientific research is still in the very early phases. This is especially relevant when it comes to determining a safe and effective dosage of CBD oil, as well as understanding the possible side effects. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get excited about its potential benefits (Kris and I sure are!), but I urge you to take caution and work with an integrative doc if you’re thinking about taking it—just like you should with any medication or supplement!

But first, what is CBD oil?

CBD oil is a naturally occurring chemical compound typically processed from the hemp plant (though it’s also found in marijuana—more on that later!). It can be taken orally—under the tongue, in food and drinks, or inhaled with a vape pen. It can also be applied topically as a salve or cream.

So, what’s the difference between CBD and THC?

Hemp and marijuana both come from the Cannabis sativa plant family, and the key difference between the two is their THC content. THC, like CBD, is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in Cannabis sativa plants. Marijuana has a high percentage of THC, which is psychoactive and well-known for the “high” it produces. Hemp, on the other hand, has a low THC percentage (0.3% or less). So, CBD extracted from hemp (and with no added components) has no psychoactive effect.

Both medical marijuana and CBD oil may be prescribed to treat certain health conditions. But, medical marijuana is still marijuana—it has a high THC content and is only legal in certain states. CBD oil, however, should be legal to consume and distribute in the United States as long as it comes from hemp. That said, many laws are still new or unclear, so research your state’s regulations to be sure. Here’s a list of states that have specific laws regarding CBD oil.

Ok, but what is CBD oil used for?

Time to dive into the good stuff!

Now, to effectively explain the potential benefits of CBD oil, I’ve gotta introduce you to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates and balances many functions of the body. But, when it gets out of whack because of stress, poor diet or too many free radicals (think: exposure to toxins), you may experience some nasty symptoms—I’m talkin’ increased anxiety, an upset digestive system, inflammation, a weakened immune system and increased sensitivity to pain. Ouch!

Under normal circumstances, we produce our own endocannabinoids that bind to our ECS receptors and keep our bodies in balance. But, when stress or inflammation ensue, endocannabinoid production decreases. And that’s where the star of our story comes in to save the day! CBD oil can stimulate the ECS receptors, which supplements a naturally occurring system and helps your body find proper balance again. Pretty cool, huh?

As I explained above, research about the benefits of CBD oil is ongoing, but anecdotal reports (both from individuals experimenting on their own and doctors who prescribe CBD oil) show lots of promise.

Here are some of the benefits and uses we’re aware of so far:


An estimated 30% of people with epilepsy are resistant to conventional pharmaceutical treatments. But, the anticonvulsant properties of CBD oil provide new hope for relief. The cannabinoids act on receptors in the brain to alter brain chemistry and reduce seizure activity. Plus, CBD oil also happens to be free of the serious negative effects that come along with many traditional anticonvulsant medications.

There are plenty of anecdotal accounts of people using CBD oil to treat epilepsy, but one in particular is particularly incredible—and touching. Charlotte Figi was having 50 seizures a day, some lasting for 2-4 hours. She couldn’t walk or swallow, and she wasn’t responding to conventional medications. At just age 5, she was suffering and her body continues to decline. But, when her mom started giving her CBD oil (with very low THC) under her tongue, the seizures stopped almost immediately. Now they only occur 2-3 times a month, mostly in her sleep. By age 6, Charlotte was walking again, riding her bicycle, feeding herself and talking. She continues to thrive and be an example of the power of CBD oil. You can read more about her touching story here.

Intestinal Inflammation

Inflammatory digestive issues are no fun—and many conventional “treatments” do nothing more than put a temporary band-aid on the symptoms (rather than address the root of the issue). CBD oil, however, may be able to prevent inflammation in the first place! By activating certain ECS receptors connected to intestinal health, it appears to increase movement in the digestive tract and balance stomach acid in a way that can help normalize digestion, prevent constipation and reduce nausea and vomiting. Larger human studies are in the works to test effectiveness and dosage so docs can better prescribe CBD oil for their patients with inflammatory bowel diseases.

Anxiety and Depression

While not completely understood yet, CBD oil is thought to stimulate ECS serotonin receptors in a way that can positively increase serotonin levels and improve mental health. Many folks taking it—for anxiety or depression specifically, or relief from something else—report feeling an increased sense of calm, less irritability, renewed interest in favorite activities and an elevated mood. In 2011, one small human study (24 people) showed that people with anxiety who took CBD oil felt less nervous about public speaking.

In addition to its ability to mitigate anxiety and depression, CBD oil can also help reduce delusions and hallucinations associated with schizophrenia. Plus, it has far fewer possible negative side effects than the medications often prescribed for these conditions.


CBD oil may help reduce chronic pain by impacting ECS receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters. It also appears to block the absorption of anandamide (a pain regulator), thereby reducing pain sensitivity.

As you know, conventional pain medications come with a laundry list of side effects, and some can be addictive. Because CBD oil doesn’t have the same caveats, doctors are feeling more and more comfortable recommending it to patients with chronic pain. For further reading, check out Dr. Eva Shelhub’s article on hemp oil for pain management here.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

While the research is very limited and mostly includes animal** and test-tube studies, there are several accounts of patients using CBD oil to reduce chemotherapy side effects. People have reported relief from nausea, vomiting and even neuropathic pain. There are also accounts of CBD oil boosting appetite and preventing weight loss, as well as promoting emotional well-being.

One area of concern for researchers is that the receptors CBD oil inhibits to prevent nausea and vomiting may be important for other brain functionality. For now, the side effects appear to be minimal, but more sophisticated human research is needed (study). As always, work with your doc—and for further information on how CBD oil can help relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, check out this article.

Acne and Psoriasis

Did you know that there are even ECS receptors in your skin (they’re everywhere!)? Well, it turns out that when CBD oil is applied topically, it stops the quick cell turnover responsible for both acne and psoriatic flare-ups. That combined with CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a promising treatment for both acne and psoriasis. Check in with your doc to determine how much CBD oil and which application method you should use for acne or psoriasis.

There are a lot of exciting uses for CBD oil in the skin care realm. Many companies are starting to use it in their products to combat acne, calm inflammation (think: puffiness, redness, etc.) and more. Stay tuned for an in-depth exploration of this topic by our fabulous Beauty Editor.

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