What is CBD? Benefits, Side Effects, Legality & How to Use

CBD is a game-changing cannabinoid found in marijuana and hemp.

Recent decades have provided us with research to show that consuming or vaping CBD does not produce a “high” associated with marijuana consumption. Yet CBD does possess myriad health benefits.

At Action Spine & Sports Medicine, our own Dr. Benjamin Cowin (DC, MS, ATC, ICSC, CAFS) is a worldwide leader in sports medicine. He is an international voice for the use of CBD in sports medicine and injury recovery.

Dr. Cowin often utilizes CBD’s evidence-based health benefits to get his patients back on the field.

Below, you’ll learn all you need to know about what CBD is, including benefits, side effects, and common questions about legal issues surrounding this potent substance.

What is CBD?

CBD is a phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis plant and accounts for 40% of the extract of cannabis. It is the second most common active ingredient in cannabis, second only to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD stands for cannabidiol. 

Whereas THC is the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive “high” often associated with marijuana, CBD is associated with many health benefits without a high.

Cannabidiol is “generally well-tolerated with a good safety profile”, according to a World Health Organization report from 2018.

What is CBD used for? CBD oil (also called hemp oil) is used for conditions including pain, anxiety, seizures and epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn disease, acne, and blood pressure.

The endocannabinoid system is a newly understood and complex cell-signaling system that scientists didn’t identify until the 1990s. It is regulated and stimulated by phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC. 

Cannabinoid receptors are located all over your body, but they’re mostly in the nervous system.

The endocannabinoid system is involved in a vast array of processes, like:

  • Inflammation
  • Stress
  • Immune system function
  • Reproductive function
  • Pain sensation
  • Appetite
  • Energy
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Metabolism
  • Muscle control

CBD was discovered in the 1940s. For decades, researchers believed CBD had little effect on the human body without THC. In the 1960s, breakthrough international research revealed that CBD had potential health benefits that THC, by itself, did not exhibit.

In 2015, the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) relaxed the regulations on researchers’ ability to source and study CBD products. This made it easier to research the health benefits of CBD.

Benefits of CBD

Medical conditions that CBD may address include:

  1. Pain
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Migraines
  5. Acne
  6. Alzheimer’s
  7. Parkinson’s
  8. High blood pressure
  9. Diabetes
  10. Addiction
  11. Psychosis
  12. Cancer

Does CBD work? Yes, CBD works! Decades of research and mountains of evidence support CBD’s health benefits from major disease symptoms to overall well-being.

1. Pain

It is estimated that 50 million Americans experience chronic pain every year. A good chunk of these cases fall under chronic lower back pain, a common problem among athletes.

CBD is a known analgesic. It relieves pain when tested in human clinical trials.

Recent research supports the idea that CBD may be used to relieve chronic pain in adults.

Even skeptical researchers admit that CBD treatment for chronic pain is a reasonable treatment option for healthcare providers to consider.

2. Anxiety

CBD may relieve anxiety, a chronic mental illness affecting 40 million Americans each year. CBD may alleviate anxiety used apart from THC. In fact, THC can actually induce anxiety in some individuals, making it less than ideal to remedy this problem.

Experts estimate that up to one-third of professional athletes suffer from a mental health episode each year.

A 2015 review reveals that acute doses of CBD have the potential to treat the following anxiety-related disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder

Certain doses of CBD may relieve anxiety associated with public speaking. Too little or too much CBD may not help as much as that perfectly portioned dose.

3. Depression

Animal studies show that CBD may exhibit antidepressant effects.

High-quality CBD products seem to consistently treat depression in animal subjects. However, human clinical trials are needed to confirm whether or not this impact applies to humans.

4. Migraines

Almost 1 in 4 households contain an individual with migraines. Migraines may occur with or without visual symptoms (called “aura”).

CBD may help relieve symptoms of migraines and other headache disorders.

According to a 2019 report, “There were significant reductions in headache and migraine ratings after cannabis use.”

Cannabinoids like CBD are promising migraine treatments due to their beneficial neurological effects and anti-inflammatory benefits.

5. Acne

Acne affects tens of millions of adolescents and adults in the United States alone.

Because of CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative effects, CBD has promising potential in treating acne.

Cannabinoids like CBD alleviate skin inflammation and reduce sebum production, both major causes of acne development. 

These results have been produced in a lab and with animal subjects. However, these results still need to be replicated in human trials.

6. Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which affects memory and general cognitive function. Almost 6 million Americans of all ages suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

Early research has shown promise in relieving Alzheimer’s symptoms with CBD.

According to a 2019 review, CBD “might be useful to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease because CBD components suppress the main causal factors of Alzheimer’s disease.” 

This same study suggests using CBD and THC together may be more effective to address Alzheimer’s.

7. Parkinson’s

CBD may help treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease most likely to affect men and individuals over the age of 50. More than 10 million people live with Parkinson’s, worldwide.

Although clinical studies are few, early clinical trials show that CBD is a promising potential treatment for movement disorders like Parkinson’s.

8. High Blood Pressure

Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is a primary or contributing cause for half a million deaths in America each year. 

CBD has been shown to reduce resting blood pressure.

Studies show that CBD reduces blood pressure and heart rate in stressful conditions, but not necessarily in controlled conditions.

9. Diabetes

CBD lowered the rate of diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice in a 2005 report.

Animal studies also show that CBD may reduce diabetes-related health issues. This 2019 study shows that CBD may prevent metabolic injuries caused by diabetes in animal subjects.

So far, no high-quality research in human subjects has measured the impact on CBD on diabetes.

10. Addiction

CBD may help addicted individuals fight substance abuse.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million Americans (aged 12 and up) battled with substance use in 2017.

Athletes, in particular, struggle with addiction. It’s not difficult to recall headlines about sports celebrities losing endorsement deals or even overdosing as they tried to cope with demanding expectations and being in the public eye.

CBD may be able to help curb addictions to the following substances:

  • Opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Tobacco
  • Cannabis
  • Psychostimulants (also known as “uppers”)
  • Methamphetamine

A 2018 study adds that CBD seems to be an effective preventative therapy for relapse.

11. Psychosis

Psychosis affects millions of people just like you. A major cause of psychosis is schizophrenia, which touches 3 million people worldwide.

CBD is a potent antipsychotic compound, according to multiple studies.

By itself and in conjunction with antipsychotic medication, CBD improved psychotic symptoms “in patients with schizophrenia, with particularly promising effects in the early stages of illness.”

12. Cancer

Certain doses of cannabinoids exhibit antitumor properties, although it seems dependent on the cancer type.

In animal studies, CBD has been shown to treat several types of cancer:

  • Breast
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Colon
  • Glioblastoma

There are no high-quality studies that demonstrate whether or not CBD may work as a treatment or adjunct to cancer treatment in humans.

CBD may reduce pain, nausea, and vomiting associated with cancer treatments.

You should not change your cancer treatment regimen without consulting your physician.

Side Effects of CBD

The side effects of CBD are:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight fluctuations

These side effects are rare, as CBD is well tolerated and safe for most individuals.

Who should NOT use CBD? If you have HIV/AIDS, tumors, or allergic lung inflammation, consult your healthcare provider before taking CBD.

As with any substance, there is a slight chance you are allergic to CBD. Usually, a CBD allergy would present as an allergic skin reaction. If you’re concerned, try a skin patch test where you apply CBD to your skin and wait a couple of days to see if any allergic symptoms arise.

CBD may negatively interact with certain medications, such as:

Always consult a healthcare professional before starting a new dietary supplement, like CBD.

How to Use CBD

CBD is available in several forms:

  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Edibles (such as gummies)
  • Lotions

The first CBD medication approved by the FDA was Epidiolex, meant to treat Dravet syndrome — a complex epilepsy disorder. It hit markets in 2018.

Note: Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD.

Is CBD legal?

Pure CBD from industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states of the United States, for all ages, thanks to the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bill. Bipartisan support in the US legislature is determined to make hemp and CBD more accessible, not less.

Is CBD a drug? According to the US government, CBD is an illegal Schedule I drug if it was extracted from marijuana. CBD is legal if extracted from the hemp plant. The levels of THC present in the original plant and the final product determines if CBD is an illegal drug or not.

Unfortunately, the federal government is in a slow transition phase of approving CBD as a legal and accessible Schedule V drug that possesses evidence-based health benefits.

Concerted legislative efforts need to be made to distinguish medical marijuana (medical cannabis) and hemp products.

Does CBD show up on a drug test? CBD by itself will not show up on a drug test. However, THC will show up on a drug test. CBD often contains trace amounts of THC. This means that using CBD may occasionally show up on a drug test as THC. 

If you are going to be taking a drug test, avoid full-spectrum CBD. Instead, look for broad-spectrum CBD without THC.


CBD (cannabidiol) is the non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis, which can get you high.

CBD may result in health benefits such as the reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms and pain relief.

While CBD oil extract from hemp is legal all across America, THC and marijuana are still considered fully illegal in 8 states.

Another 10 states only allow medicinal use of marijuana and THC. In Colorado, marijuana, THC, and CBD are all completely legal.

Some experts advocate for using CBD and THC together, citing the “entourage effect”. Effectively, this means that they are greater than the sum of their parts when consumed in tandem.

Here at Action Spine & Sports Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Cowin and his team utilize evidence-based treatment plans to get you back on your feet as quickly and safely as possible. Dr. Cowin is an international leader of CBD in sports medicine.

Click here or call us today at (720) 541-7098, and set up your appointment with Action Spine & Sports Medicine in Denver, CO.


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