I’m all about home remedies. For real.
I think that educating and empowering families to take care of mild illnesses in the comfort of their own homes is extremely important. Not only is healthcare expensive, but often times there isn’t much that a physician can offer a patient for headaches or viruses beyond things the patient can do at home, anyway. That isn’t to say, of course, that seeing a physician isn’t important too; often times, seemingly mild symptoms point to underlying health conditions that can’t safely be managed at home, or that can worsen significantly if they go undiagnosed. But for the most part, educating patients about how to safely utilize over-the-counter treatments at home saves money not only on doctor visits, but also on the expensive tests that often come along with them. (As an example…a strep test costs about $20 for a box of ~25, which is less than $1 per test, but hospitals charge probably $50 per test, many of which come back negative.) Things like certain vitamin supplements, ibuprofen, cough and cold medicine, etc. save the time and money of a visit to urgent care, but with the ability to administer treatment faster.
But the detail about worsening symptoms from undiagnosed illnesses is exactly the reason I’m wary of CBD.
Does CBD Oil Work?
In short, yes. There’s a ton of research pointing to the effectiveness of CBD oil for managing everything from anxiety to IBS to pain. Considering that many of these conditions either don’t have other effective treatments, or the treatments come with life-threatening side effects (read: opioid addiction), a safe and effective alternative is HUGE for the healthcare industry. But there are two key issues with home use of CBD oil in managing health conditions.
The first is that it might not work, because it’s not really CBD oil. The second is that it might work…a little too well…leading to the misdiagnosis (or lack of diagnosis) of a life-threatening condition.
CBD Oil: Purity and Safety
First things first, paying for a bottle of “CBD oil” doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily getting a bottle of CBD oil. CBD oil and related products aren’t regulated, which means that many products on the market contain very low levels of the active compound, if any at all. This means that you might be paying a lot of money for a “snake oil” type product. Most CBD oil products are made up of mostly safflower oil. They also often are contaminated with everything from pesticides, to heavy metals, to allergens, which can be a huge problem for susceptible individuals.
So, are unregulated CBD oil products unsafe? Probably not. But are they helpful? Also probably not.
[As a side note, healthcare providers have access to higher-dose CBD oil products that are not available to the general public. These products contain what they say they do. If you are interested in using CBD oil for a therapeutic purpose, I encourage you to speak with your healthcare provider — specifically one who is trained in functional medicine.]
If you don’t have access to a functional medicine provider, I do know of one brand of CBD oil that is well-regulated and available to the general public through Charlotte’s Web, and this is the only one off the general market that I would personally feel comfortable using, were I to use it myself.
Masking the Truth: The Real Problem with CBD Oil
The most common reason that people self-medicate with CBD oil is pain. Sure, muscle aches and pains happen. But sometimes, pain signals an underlying health condition that can potentially be very dangerous.
Chronic headaches can be the result of high blood pressure.
Joint pain could be caused by autoimmune disease.
Leg pain? Blood clots, bone cancer, fracture, bone necrosis….just to name a few.
I’m not trying to turn anybody into a hypochondriac, but I do want to highlight the fact that seemingly “normal” symptoms can signal a more grave underlying diagnosis, which is especially likely when the pain is lingering. New onset pain isn’t probably going to drive someone to explore a new home remedy. But chronic, lingering pain? That correlates with both the tendency to self-medicate, as well as with red flags for health problems. Using the CBD oil might cover up the symptoms well enough to where they aren’t noticeable, but they are still bubbling under the surface, progressing and worsening, creating further threats to a person’s health.
Another issue I see with CBD is that it’s kind of used as a band-aid approach for symptoms. CBD oil doesn’t cure lupus or anxiety. Sure, it might ease symptoms, but often the medical system has better treatments to offer that address the root cause of the problem. Just like anxiolytic medications can ease the symptoms of anxiety or PTSD, they don’t undo the trauma or maladaptive coping mechanisms that triggered it. The best treatments probably start in a counselor’s office.
To sum things up…
I have nothing against CBD oil, and I’ve seen patients get better with it. I really have. But please, please, please — before self-treating, talk with your healthcare provider about the safest and most effective options for you and your well-being.