CBD, or Cannabidiol, is an active substance found in abundance in the hemp plant. Under scrutiny in recent years, cannabidiol is regularly highlighted for its soothing properties, its ability to alleviate chronic pain, and its lack of psychotropic effects (unlike THC, also derived from hemp). The molecule is now found in a wide selection of products, ranging from oils to chewing gums through herbal teas and e-liquids for electronic cigarettes, all sold over the counter in France. While the consumption of these products is increasingly widespread, it becomes essential to question the possible contraindications to the intake of cannabidiol, as well as the potential side effects of CBD.
The benefits of CBD
Cannabidiol is a natural substance from the hemp plant, used for ages in the pharmacopoeia of many countries to treat common ailments. Rediscovered in the second half of the 20th century shortly after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it has been the subject of increasing attention from the scientific world over the last two decades. The goal? To determine if the theoretical benefits of CBD are real, and especially exploitable. Existing studies unquestionably highlight the analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, anti-seizure and neuroprotective properties of cannabidiol. Although most of the tests have been conducted on animals in preclinical studies, and there is a lack of data regarding the use of CBD in humans, the molecule is already found in the composition of two drugs. The most widespread, Epidyolex, is indicated in the treatment of severe forms of childhood epilepsy (Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes), as specified by the High Authority of Health. The other, Sativex, prescribed in the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis, mixes CBD and THC. However, CBD-based products available commercially, such as oils and e-liquids, are not considered medicines – it is prohibited to highlight their possible medicinal virtues for commercial purposes. This explains why the collection of data on the side effects and dangers of CBD is limited to rare scientific studies and consumer testimonials. So, what are the known side effects of CBD to date? What are the contraindications? Is taking cannabidiol a risk?
The side effects of cannabidiol
It should be noted that CBD is different from THC, the famous “recreational cannabis” that alters perception and makes you euphoric. Nothing like that with cannabidiol, which has no psychoactive properties. It does not cause dependency, unlike many drugs on the market. It is therefore possible to consume cannabidiol over the long term without fear of becoming addicted. In short, altered consciousness and addiction are not side effects of CBD. Are there others? As far as we know, adverse reactions to cannabidiol are rare. A 2011 review of medical studies on “the safety and adverse effects of cannabidiol” already pointed out that CBD consumption is not toxic to cells, does not induce biochemical changes in the body, and does not affect most physiological parameters (body temperature and heart rate). What do consumers themselves say about the side effects of CBD? At low doses, these are uncommon and mild like dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, headaches and less appetite.
When taking larger doses, for example as part of a drug treatment with Epidyolex, other side effects of CBD have been reported: diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, drowsiness, liver problems. However, a dosage lower than 1000 mg per day is considered safe. More details can be found in this document published by the World Health Organization in 2018, which states, in passing, that the side effects of CBD remain mild and that this substance has a “good safety profile”. Also, keep in mind that each body reacts differently to the ingestion of a given substance. Cannabidiol is no exception: in the absence of CBD side effects for most consumers, it can happen that few people experience unpleasant adverse reactions.
Globally well tolerated, CBD could nevertheless cause adverse effects in some consumers in particular cases, especially at very high doses. A 2020 study conducted on mouses reveals that the side effects of CBD are more important when the ingested doses exceed the recommendations made by the pharmacopoeia for humans (up to 200 mg per kilo per day for rats, which is huge). Under these conditions, the substance is likely to become toxic. However, no clinical study conducted on human consumers corroborates this finding. Moreover, side effects of CBD can appear when the consumption of cannabidiol is associated with the consumption of a drug treatment. This is why it is essential to discuss with a doctor if you are on medication and are considering taking cannabidiol. A prior consultation is, in any case, essential if you intend to consume CBD-based products in order to alleviate the symptoms of a disease such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis.
CBD and contraindications
The contraindications to cannabidiol are few and are still being studied. Nevertheless, under the precautionary principle, it is better to avoid consuming it in case of taking medicine, during pregnancy (CBD would reduce the protective function of the placenta, as indicated here), and in case of allergy to the additives that can be found in cannabidiol-based products.
The side effects of CBD, almost non-existent in the vast majority of cases, are likely to be revealed in these particular cases. All the more reason to have a discussion with your doctor if you are considering using cannabidiol as a background treatment. Finally, it is necessary to pay attention to the quality of the ingested products, a sine qua non condition to avoid possible side effects of CBD. In the absence of a strict regulation in France, the quality of the products accessible on the territory is extremely variable and rests on the only seriousness of the retailers. It is therefore advisable to carefully consult the labels (in order to verify that the products contain few or no additives, that they are free of THC, and that they come from an authorized variety of hemp) and to address exclusively to trusted retailers.