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Why are women using CBD products — and do they work?

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products containing CBD are being touted as a natural, organic remedy for a wide range of women’s health concerns. Sellers of these products make many claims: CBD has calming effects on sleep, mood, and anxiety; eases hot flashes and improves bone density by balancing hormonal changes of menopause; and has anti-inflammatory properties that clear skin, cure acne, and calm rosacea. It’s promoted for PMS symptoms like bloating and mood swings. And CBD-infused lubricants claim to boost arousal and enjoyment of sex. So, how much of this is true?

First, what is CBD?

CBD is a major ingredient in cannabis plants (like hemp and marijuana). It comes in different strengths and forms, often as CBD oil, but also in pills and powders. It can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled. (Vaping it, however, may not be safe, as this blog post and web page from the CDC explain.)

Unlike marijuana, pure CBD products don’t make you feel high. A different ingredient in marijuana called THC makes people feel high.

Does CBD have proven benefits?

So far, there’s not much evidence on the medical benefits of CBD, partly because laws on marijuana made it difficult to study. Until we learn more, it’s wise to keep in mind that few high-quality studies have been done.

  • In 2018 the FDA approved a drug derived from CBD to treat rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This medication was shown in randomized clinical trials to reduce the frequency of seizures (see here and here).
  • A few studies have found CBD may improve anxiety, but the studies were small and of poor quality (see here and here).
  • Some laboratory research on human cells suggests CBD may have anti-inflammatory effects on oil-secreting glands in the skin. This might have implications for acne and other inflammatory skin disorders, but further research is needed to confirm this. And while CBD in skin products is unlikely to harm you, most dermatologists agree that there are more effective and better-studied medications and treatments for acne and inflammatory skin disorders.

Other potential benefits of CBD aren’t clear. No high-quality research shows that CBD improves sex drive, decreases pain, treats depression or mood disorders, decreases PMS symptoms like bloating and cramps, or relieves symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. This may change as more studies are done, but for now, the jury is out.

Are CBD products safe?

The short answer is this: pure CBD seems to be safe for most people. However, we don’t have rigorous studies and long-term data to prove whether or not a wide range of CBD products are safe for everyone. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that CBD is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for people who are immunocompromised.

Because CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA in the way that drugs are, there is huge variation in quality and, quite possibly, safety. In 2017–2018, counterfeit CBD oil was found that contained synthetic cannabinoids and led to a poisoning outbreak in Utah.

Testing shows purity and dosage can be unreliable in many products. One study found less than a third of the products tested had the amount of CBD shown on the label. Another study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than stated. In addition, THC (the component that can make you feel high) was found in 18 products.

Does CBD cause side effects?

CBD can cause side effects like dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and drowsiness. Additionally, it can interact with certain medicines, such as blood thinners and antiseizure drugs. If you would like to start using CBD products, it’s best to first talk to your doctor.

The takeaway

There are a lot of extravagant product claims out there about the benefits of CBD for women, but little high-quality research supports them. CBD oil and other CBD products aren’t well regulated. It’s possible what you are buying is counterfeit or contaminated. Before using CBD — especially if you plan to vape or ingest it — first talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn whether it could be safe and helpful for you.

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Comments

I am a 55 year old woman who has suffered with neuropathy since 2004 (amplified by a trauma in 2011); as well as a sciatic nerve issue and other complication since my trauma. One thing I found out (very quickly!), many of the drugs (natural or not) are either recomended for short term relief and used very long term, or the probable cause of added, often more sever, side effects. I don’t believe, for me personally, any medication that has the potential to do more harm than good, especially when it can only treat symptoms and not the cause, would be ideal, unless there is ‘no other option’ or perspective hope. Limited and controlled ecersizes along with diet, seem to have worked best for me personally; but, yes it is very difficult many days. However, I plan to watch my grandchild grow-up, and I plan to do that watching with as clear a mind as possible for today and tomorrow. Side-effects of CBD have been relatively unstudyed or unpublished for lack of verification. That is not promising. All of that being said, I am sure for some people CBD oil could be a God send of relief, most especially for some seizure and cancer patients.
Thank you.

Cannabis Sativa and Hemp are two different plants. Marijuana is not a plant, it’s a slang term used by rhetoric spewing racists seeking to profit from a new prohibition. How can you publish this when you clearly don’t know the basics?

As a woman with a cervical level spinal cord injury, who has experienced many benefits through the use of CBD … this article had absolutely no relevance to its title.

What Is CBD, and Why Is It in Everything Right Now?

You know it as the ingredient taking over the wellness world, but what is CBD, really, and is it right for you?

This story is part of the Healthyish Pantry, a collection of articles breaking down the ingredients we love most. Click here to read the whole guide—then stock up.

2017 was the year that weed went mainstream, and the “green rush” struck gold. But, while recreational marijuana is still technically illegal in most states, an industry has blossomed around CBD, a compound that’s found in marijuana but legal to sell (in most forms) on its own. Presented in hyper cool packaging—and bolstered by hundreds of rave reviews—CBD supplements have captured the imagination of the wellness world. But what is CBD, exactly, and what’s the most effective way to use it? Here’s what you need to know.

Okay, what’s CBD?

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound found in marijuana—and legal in 43 states. The cannabis plant contains at least 80 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. You’re probably already familiar with THC, the cannabinoid that prompts the psychoactive effects commonly associated with marijuana, like euphoria, relaxation, and, of course, the munchies. CBD is another cannabinoid, but, unlike THC, it’s not psychoactive. This is the source of CBD’s popularity: the ability to provide some of marijuana’s therapeutic effects without the high.

What are the benefits of CBD?

Scientific research on marijuana is still limited, and CBD is no exception. Still, dozens of studies have found evidence that CBD can treat epilepsy, act as a therapy for schizophrenia, and alleviate joint pain, among other illnesses. “Many of my pediatric epilepsy patients are getting significant seizure reduction with ingested whole plant CBD oil,” says Dr. Bonni Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein is a former Chief Resident at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; she now runs L.A. medical cannabis practice Canna Centers and acts as a medical advisor for Weedmaps.“Many adults are finding relief of pain, better mobility due to less inflammation, and less anxiety and depression.”

How is CBD made?

CBD can be found in cannabis sativa (weed) and industrial hemp, a legal variety of the plant grown for paper, textiles, and non-dairy milk. The ability to extract CBD from industrial hemp has made it possible to sell CBD products across state lines—not just in states with legalized marijuana. The compound is currently legal in 43 states, and it’s currently up for debate in states like Texas and Indiana.

Also, CBD’s purported effects of reducing stress and anxiety have prompted many to adopt it as a wellness supplement. “CBD is like taking a daily dose of well being. You’re going to be a little bit more calm, a little bit more centered, and you know that you’re going to be able to function,” says Jewel Zimmer, founder of boutique cannabis company Juna. “It’s like the adaptogen of all adaptogens, the superfoods of all superfoods—and we’re learning more and more every single day.”

Some of the many CBD products on the market

Photo by Alex Lau

How can you take CBD?

As people cash in on marijuana’s increasing legalization, the market is flooding with new CBD products. The options are truly dizzying, from chocolates and capsules to vaporizers and sublingual oils like Charlotte’s Web Hemp, which are placed under the tongue to quickly diffuse into the bloodstream. Unsurprisingly, the dessert market has CBD cornered. There are an abundance of options, from CBD/THC blend chocolate bars to foraged Icelandic berry CBD gumdrops inspired by the music of Sigur Rós.