The astonishing rise of cannabidiol (CBD) products is continuing, according to a new Gallup poll, which shows that one in seven Americans are now using them. Often styled as a non-intoxicating alternative to cannabis, CBD is purported to have a range of health benefits, without the side effects that come from taking many prescription drugs.

The increasing use of CBD is part of a growing acceptance of hemp and cannabis in general. Another Gallup poll from late 2018 found that two-thirds of Americans are now in favor of marijuana legalization, more than double the support for doing so at the turn of the millennium, and more than five times that in 1970.

Digging down on the data, the most recent poll declares that two-fifths of CBD users are doing so to ease pain, with 20 percent and 11 percent taking for anxiety and sleep respectively. This is largely in line with a survey published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018, the most in-depth analysis so far of CBD usage in America. Other reasons for taking CBD included arthritis, migraines, stress, muscle spasms and depression.

The Gallup poll also found that CBD products are most popular in the 18-29 age bracket, with 20 percent usage and 74 percent awareness. This declined to 8 percent among over 65s, but awareness was still at an impressive 50 percent in the senior demographic. CBD products are used primarily in the west of the country, which is no real shock given that even cannabis is legal in California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. More than 2,500 people took part in the survey, but no questions were asked about what CBD products people are using.

But just how effective is CBD for pain, anxiety and sleep, when considering both its therapeutic value and side effects (or lack of them) in comparison with existing drugs? Let’s take a look.

CBD for pain

The appeal of CBD products for pain lies in the fact that opioid drugs are failing patients across the country. Thousands of Americans die annually from prescription overdoses, with opioids notorious for causing dependency. CBD products are certainly a safer option, especially with CBD Drip e-liquids which have an almost immediate effect. But there are no clinical studies affirming CBD’s benefits for pain, as yet.

That so many users are taking CBD for this purpose suggests it has value, although the potential for a strong placebo effect must be taken into consideration. From the studies that have been conducted, results are conflicting. Some suggest that CBD does have analgesic properties, for allodynia in particular, but other investigations are less promising.

However, this could be down to the quality of various studies, and the CBD dosage being given to patients. That current CBD users are able to take matters into their own hands regarding dosage and treatment plans, and are seemingly getting results, is a positive for CBD. Furthermore, researchers know that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and transient receptor potential channels are implicated in pain regulation, both of which CBD works with, either directly or indirectly.

CBD for anxiety

The Gallup survey reported that more women are taking CBD products to relieve anxiety than men. While no mention was made of which products, we can guess that mostly CBD e-liquids or tincture oils are being used because of their fast effects. It is the speediness of CBD that gives it such potential for anxiety, as users are theoretically able to quickly manage anxiety attacks.

CBD may reduce anxious symptoms through a series of mechanisms, including through regulation of GABA receptors. These are binding points for GABA neurotransmitters, which are essential for preventing excessive brain activity. CBD may also relieve anxiety via the serotonin system, and an interesting rodent study found that anxiety can also be reduced through CB2 receptor activation. CBD doesn’t activate this ECS receptor, but regulates it by stopping reuptake of anandamide, a prominent endocannabinoid.

CBD for sleep

Researchers are less convinced on whether CBD has benefits for sleep, although there is little doubt that in the right dose, products can have mentally and physically relaxing effects. However, a 2018 study featured in Addiction Biology found that CBD may have a therapeutic effect on the body’s circadian rhythm. Keeping this system regulated is important, as it helps us to know when it’s time to wake up and sleep. For instance, in the evenings, the pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin, which is key for sleep. Some CBD products even combine the cannabinoid with melatonin.