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Does CBD Really Work? Is CBD A Placebo?

Does CBD oil live up to its hype as a health supplement and treatment, or is it a placebo? There’s more to CBD than placebo. Here’s what the research says.

Article By
Daily CBD , last updated on January 24, 2022

CBD or cannabidiol is a compound that’s gained a lot of popularity for its reported benefits for health and wellness — but does this humble compound live up to the hype, or are these benefits due to the placebo effect?

Research on CBD is still relatively young. However, there is a substantial amount of evidence that supports most of CBD’s therapeutic uses (but not all of it).

In this article, we’ll go over the effects of CBD, how it works, what CBD doesn’t work for, and what you can do if you’re not feeling the effects of your CBD products.

What Is The Placebo Effect?

The human mind is quite powerful at healing the body, and the placebo effect is an extraordinary example of this.

The placebo effect is when one experiences health benefits after receiving an otherwise inactive compound with no known medical effect.

In clinical studies researching the safety and effectiveness of a compound, a group will unknowingly be given a placebo as a comparison point.

Comparing the compound to a placebo allows researchers to measure its effectiveness. If the placebo group and the treatment group have the same reactions, whether there was an improvement or not, it means that the compound isn’t effective for that investigated purpose.

Does CBD Work?

High-quality CBD products taken at the right doses have already helped millions of people worldwide.

There’s plenty of evidence surrounding CBD’s impressive effects towards supporting healthy inflammation levels, reducing pain, supporting healthy stress levels, and much more.

Many of the clinical studies involved with CBD research include a placebo group to measure CBD’s effectiveness. CBD is proven to work on certain conditions better than the placebo, which is why prescription forms of CBD like Epidiolex are available for epilepsy treatment.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD closely resembles regulatory messenger chemicals in our bodies known as endocannabinoids in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Because CBD is derived from a plant, it’s classified as a phytocannabinoid (“phyto”=plant).

The ECS is tasked with relaying messages throughout the body to maintain homeostasis (balance) for the optimal function of our organs. It’s involved with our sleep-wake cycle, hormone balance, memory, metabolism, pain perception, immune response, and so much more.

One of the ways CBD works in the ECS is through inhibiting enzymes that break down our endocannabinoids and increasing receptor sensitivity to bind to them.

Higher levels of these endocannabinoids help this system run more smoothly to relay information throughout the body and maintain balance. By toning the ECS, CBD has been shown to have a wide range of benefits.

CBD has also been shown to interact at unique receptor sites to support healthy stress levels, reduce anxiety, and make it an effective pain killer without hijacking our opioid system, leading to addiction and severe side effects.

Also see: What Does CBD Feel Like?

What Can CBD Oil Help With?

CBD has been shown to offer an impressive range of health benefits in multiple organ systems thanks to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. It also works through other regulatory systems, like the TRP ion channels and various oxidative and inflammatory enzymes.

In 2018, CBD derived from hemp became legal for production and sale thanks to the US Farm Bill and substantial research pointing to its potential therapeutic uses.

However, the Food and Drug Administration is carefully monitoring brands selling CBD products as its research surrounding CBD is still relatively young and will shut down any company that claims its CBD products can cure, mitigate, and treat health conditions.

Currently, the only FDA-approved prescription cannabidiol drug is Epidolex. In other countries, there are a few other prescription cannabinoid medications — such as Sativex®, Dronabinol®, and Dexanabinol®, and Cesamet®.

Let’s get into some of the uses of CBD oil.

CBD Can Improve Mental Wellbeing & Anxiety

Many people supplement CBD to support stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders, though it’s not currently approved to treat any mental health issues on its own. Those who use CBD find it’s best combined with other therapies, professional counseling, medication, and diet and lifestyle changes.

A Japanese study found that orally supplementing CBD oil helped reduce social anxiety in teenagers ages 18-19 [1].

One of the ways CBD helps with stress and anxiety is by promoting gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity in the brain. GABA acts as a brake pedal to the stress response. While stress is an important mechanism in the body that helps us meet daily challenges and act as a warning system, prolonged stress can interfere with our quality of life.

CBD has been shown to improve the ability for GABA to bind to its receptors and exert its effects for slowing down the stress response and calming down the mind, and relaxing muscles [2].

CBD Can Help Manage Chronic Pain & Inflammation

There is plenty of evidence that CBD effectively manages pain symptoms as topical creams and ointments, oral supplements, and even smokable products without eliciting negative side effects associated with common pain meds.

One of the primary causes of pain is inflammation. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can regulate the inflammatory response by stimulating specialized fatty acids that act as signals to inhibit inflammatory cytokine release [3].

CBD has also been shown to reduce pain by blocking the communication that transmits pain signals between the brain and spinal cord via the vanilloid and opioid receptors through the endocannabinoid system regulation [4].

There’s plenty of evidence for the analgesic effects of CBD for nerve pain, chronic arthritis pain, painful skin conditions (such as psoriasis), and fibromyalgia pain.

CBD Can Improve Sleep Quality

CBD has sedative effects in high doses, helping users fall asleep and stay asleep without feeling groggy the next morning [5].

One of the ways CBD can support a good night’s sleep is through improving GABA receptor sensitivity in the brain to promote relaxation, effectively shutting off racing thoughts that could be preventing you from falling asleep.

On top of this, supporting the endocannabinoid system helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, which is particularly useful if you are suffering from jet lag and quickly need to get back on a regular sleeping schedule [6].

CBD Can Help Reduce Epileptic Seizure Frequency & Severity

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, yet there’s still very little we understand about this condition. Epidolex is a prescribed CBD medication used to treat two rare types of epilepsy.

There is also research to support that CBD oil can reduce the severity of seizures by regulating neural activity in the brain [7].

Related: CBD oil for dogs with seizures.

What CBD Doesn’t Work For

CBD has many health benefits — most of which are backed up by scientific research. But it’s not a cure-all or miracle supplement.

The majority of the benefits associated with CBD come from its ability to regulate homeostasis — which is just a fancy word that means balance. Homeostasis is the ongoing process of maintaining optimal balance of all organ systems in the body. This includes temperature, inflammatory status, pain levels, stress levels, and so much more. Every organ in the body is involved.

Because of this effect, CBD will only really work for conditions that involve some sort of challenge in maintaining homeostasis. Conditions like inflammation, pain, and neurological disorders are the most obvious, but there are many more as well.

In healthy people, homeostasis is already well managed — so taking supplements like CBD may help to maintain this system, but it’s not going to cause any noticeable changes. There are also some conditions or symptoms that have been tested with CBD but proven to have little to no effect.

The best example of this is glaucoma.

We already know marijuana works for glaucoma symptoms, so it makes sense that CBD would be the active ingredient for this effect since it has so many similar benefits for pain. However, numerous studies have proven that not only does CBD not work for glaucoma — it may actually make it worse.

It turns out it’s the other cannabinoids in marijuana — including delta 9 THC, CBC (cannabichromene), and CBN (cannabinol) — that offer the benefits for glaucoma symptoms.

Conditions CBD doesn’t work for include:

  1. Glaucoma — CBD doesn’t reduce intraocular pressure and may make glaucoma symptoms worse
  2. Anorexia or low appetite — CBD is not an appetite stimulant; it’s an appetite suppressant
  3. Schizophrenia — CBD can help with some symptoms but isn’t considered an effective treatment for this condition
  4. Cancer CBD can help with symptoms, but it is not a cure for cancer

Suggested Reading: What Are the Side Effects of CBD?

4 Reasons Why CBD Might Not Work

There can be several things going on as to why you’re not feeling the desired effects of CBD.

It’s important to understand that CBD affects everyone differently and to manage your expectations with the compound. Your experience with CBD can change depending on your genetics, age, metabolism, experience with CBD, and underlying health conditions.

Aside from your health, other factors can contribute to why CBD might not work for you.

1. Poor Quality CBD Products

With all the publicity surrounding CBD’s potential health benefits and the implementation of the Farm Bill, CBD quickly became a multi-billion dollar industry. There are some good products out there, but there are also many dupes.

If you’re not getting the experience you’ve hoped for with your CBD product, there’s a chance it doesn’t contain enough CBD or the hemp source is contaminated, potentially negating any benefits or causing allergic reactions.

When shopping for CBD products, make sure it’s from a trusted source. It’s hard to differentiate the good from the bad in all the advertising and marketing, but one step you can do to protect yourself from scam CBD products is to read third-party review sites on the brand and to reference independent lab tests before placing an order.

These lab tests or certificates of analysis should indicate the amount of CBD and other cannabinoids contained in the product and ensure that the extract is free from contaminants from the farming and manufacturing processes like pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and mycotoxins.

2. Incorrect Dose of CBD

If you’re not feeling the effects of CBD, chances are you’re not taking the ideal dose. Dosing CBD will take some experimentation because so many factors play into how CBD may affect you, like your genetics and reason for taking CBD. For example, CBD can be a sedative compound in high doses, but it may energize you in smaller doses.

Typically, the recommended standard dose of CBD depends on your body weight. You can try our CBD dosing calculator to help you get started, but it will take some trial and error and perhaps medical advice if you use CBD to treat a condition.

3. You Haven’t Given It Enough Time Yet

Sometimes the effects of CBD aren’t noticeable right away. You may need to give your endocannabinoid system more time to adjust to CBD and the other cannabinoids if you’re using a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum extract.

Most people start noticing the effects of CBD after regular, consistent use.

This is especially true for chronic conditions. The general rule of thumb is that the longer it took to develop the symptoms, the longer it will take to reverse them.

As long as you’re taking a high-quality CBD product at the right dose, you should start to notice the benefits after several weeks. Be patient and persistent with your dose. Keep a journal about how you’re feeling every day so you can look back and track your progress as you go.

Sometimes the differences are so subtle day-to-day you don’t notice, but when you look back a few weeks ago, you’ll be able to see just how much your symptoms have improved.

Learn more about how long it takes for CBD oil to work.

4. The CBD Oil is Expired

Cannabinoids will begin to degrade with exposure to UV and air. CBD oil typically has a shelf life of 12-18 months, but the way you store your CBD oil could affect the potency of the product as well.

If your CBD has expired, the product is highly likely to have very little to no active cannabinoids to exert its effects.

The Takeaway: Does CBD Work? Or Is It The Placebo Effect?

Although the research on cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabis-derived cannabinoids is still fairly new, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it has therapeutic benefits, and you don’t necessarily need pharmaceutical CBD to experience the effects.

As long as you’re using high-quality CBD products from a reputable manufacturer at the right dose, you should be able to notice its effects whether you’re looking to reduce pain, sleep better, improve mental focus, or relieve stress.

If you feel like your CBD product isn’t working for you, you may need to experiment with a different brand, dose, or mode of administration.

We always advise that you speak with your doctor before taking CBD to address medical conditions, especially if you’re taking prescription medications to ensure it fits your lifestyle.


  1. Masataka, N. (2019). Anxiolytic effects of repeated cannabidiol treatment in teenagers with social anxiety disorders. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2466.
  2. Réus, G. Z., Stringari, R. B., Ribeiro, K. F., Luft, T., Abelaira, H. M., Fries, G. R., … & Quevedo, J. (2011). Administration of cannabidiol and imipramine induces antidepressant-like effects in the forced swimming test and increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in the rat amygdala. Acta neuropsychiatric, 23(5), 241-248.
  3. Zurier, R. B., & Burstein, S. H. (2016). Cannabinoids, inflammation, and fibrosis. The FASEB Journal, 30(11), 3682-3689.
  4. Zogopoulos, P., Vasileiou, I., Patsouris, E., & Theocharis, S. E. (2013). The role of endocannabinoids in pain modulation. Fundamental & clinical pharmacology, 27(1), 64-80.
  5. Crippa, J. A., Guimarães, F. S., Campos, A. C., & Zuardi, A. W. (2018). Translational investigation of the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD): toward a new age. Frontiers in immunology, 9, 2009.
  6. Murillo-Rodríguez, E., Poot-Ake, A., Arias-Carrión, O., Pacheco-Pantoja, E., de la Fuente-Ortegón, A., & Arankowsky-Sandoval, G. (2011). The emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in the sleep-wake cycle modulation. Central Nervous System Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Central Nervous System Agents), 11(3), 189-196.
  7. Gray, R. A., & Whalley, B. J. (2020). The proposed mechanisms of action of CBD in epilepsy. Epileptic Disorders, 22, S10-S15.

Further Reading

Further Reading