As CBD’s popularity grows, there are more questions around its use within the U.S. medical system. Can you get CBD...Read more
Does CBD treat anxiety? Or does it treat the feelings and symptoms associated with anxiety? What about epilepsy? Cancer? When people use CBD as part of cancer treatment, is the CBD treating the cancer itself or rather the symptoms that come from cancer treatment?
The symptom vs. condition debate
People have claimed CBD’s numerous benefits and linked those benefits to treating conditions as varied as epilepsy, insomnia, arthritis, anxiety, and cancer, plus a whole host of other conditions. But there is a difference between saying something treats a condition directly versus treating symptoms of that condition, and as such, the widespread claims have sparked a lively discussion and debate in and around the CBD industry, its consumers, and the media regarding what is the correct way to talk about CBD’s effects.
But it’s really not a simplistic, binary answer. CBD doesn’t just strictly treat conditions, nor does it strictly treat symptoms, and how we distinguish between the two depends on both the condition and the amount of research done on CBD’s effect on a particular condition or the symptoms resulting from it.
Distinguishing conditional treatment from symptomatic treatment
Conditions have a broad spectrum of symptoms. Technically, for something to treat a condition, it needs to treat the underlying cause of the condition, which in many circumstances would impact multiple symptoms. Therefore, it’s not scientifically accurate to label something as a treatment for a whole condition, unless there is enough proof to show that it does in fact treat multiple elements of that condition and the root itself.
A little of both
So, it depends on what you’re treating. For cancer patients, CBD is used to treat the symptoms those patients experience when undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. It does not treat the cancer itself. But for patients with anxiety, because of CBD’s direct, positive impact on the transmission and expression of serotonin through our CB1 receptors, it is in fact going to one root of the problem.
This is similarly true for pain treatment. CBD has a direct effect on the receptors in the endocannabinoid system related to nociceptic pain, helping block inflammatory signals and macrophage repair cells from instigating further inflammation after injury or damage. So, in that case, it does directly treat the underlying cause. It also works directly with neuropathic pain receptors in the endocannabinoid system by, again, helping to inhibit the expression of certain pain and inflammatory mediators that kick into gear when treating neuropathic and neurodegenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV, and it has additionally been shown to have neuroprotective effects more generally. Thus, some scientists have noted the potential for CBD to help treat the causes of those conditions and even help with prevention.
Symptoms, until research proves otherwise
That said, considering that research on CBD is still in nascent stages nearly across the board, no matter which condition we’re looking at—with the particular exception of the acute forms of epilepsy Dravet and Lennox-Gestaut syndromes—in general, saying that CBD treats a condition is too broad a statement. In the United States, there is only one drug to have been approved by the FDA to aid in the treatment of Dravet and Lennox-Gestaut syndromes—both acute forms of epilepsy—as well as tuberous sclerosis. That drug is Epidiolex. And even for Epidiolex, the language used by the brand itself is that the drug is “used to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gestaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex.” Seizures are one symptom of each of those conditions, so while seizures are a significant component of the conditions and treating the seizures results in significant improvement for the patients, the CBD-based drug is still technically treating the symptoms instead of the condition itself.
Until more research is done on CBD’s specific effects on many more conditions in humans, with multiple clinical trials to boot, it is best to assume it treats symptoms of conditions rather than the causes of the conditions themselves.
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