You’ve likely noticed that CBD products crowd the alternative-remedy market these days. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant that comes in all kinds of forms, from tablets to tea. Many of these products make claims of health benefits that can’t be shown to be true.
So, what, if anything, can CBD do for lung disease?
Claims Not Backed or Debunked by Science
David Mannino, MD, a pulmonologist in Lexington, KY, and the medical director and co-founder of the COPD Foundation, says the question is common. The answer is not that easy.
“These are questions we get a lot,” Mannino says. “There’s a whole cottage industry around CBD, not dissimilar from snake oil, purported to do everything with very little evidence.” Like dietary supplements, these products can pretty much claim anything. But studies haven’t shown results on humans that CBD can help lung disease.
But there’s nothing out there yet to say CBD doesn’t help, either, Mannino says.
CBD has, at most, a trace amount -- no more than .03% -- of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance in marijuana that triggers the “high” and other brain responses. Lots of products boast CBD as an active ingredient: over-the-counter pills and capsules; oils and tinctures (meaning it’s dissolved in alcohol instead of oil); foods and drinks; oil for vaping; and even topical types you put on your skin, nails, and even in your hair. Right now, it’s illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement. Some online stores try anyway.
At the same time, pure hemp seed oil, which comes from a different part of the hemp plant, and other hemp products don’t have CBD or THC. The FDA says they’re safe. But CBD/hemp oil combos exist and blur the lines even more.
Animal Testing Shows Some Positive Results
Because CBD comes from hemp, researchers might be able to study its possible benefits more widely. Few studies have been done to date. Of that small number, not enough of them researched humans to say if it can help lung disease or not.
Some positive results have come from animal studies. A 2015 study on guinea pigs showed CBD helped open up the bronchial passages. Researchers believe it’s possible it could help people with COPD breathe easier and keep blood oxygen levels from falling, too. And a 2014 study on mice with damaged lungs showed CBD helped lower inflammation and improved lung function.
One of the few reports on CBD involving a person is a case report of an 81-year-old man with lung cancer whose tumor shrunk greatly when he regularly took CBD oil drops for a short time. Meanwhile, a 2020 pilot study using human cells and CBD oil to test possible COPD connections confirmed earlier studies that showed CBD might support your body’s anti-inflammatory and immune responses.
Labels Don’t Tell the Whole Story
The hemp plant itself is legal from a federal standpoint. To date, though, the FDA has only approved one cannabidiol product, an oral prescription drug called Epidiolex to treat seizures caused by two rare, serious forms of epilepsy. Because CBD safety guidelines haven’t been decided for other uses, the FDA stresses taking the substance can be risky.
The strength levels of CBD in OTC products can change from product to product even throughout the same brand. Some don’t have any CBD in them at all. And sometimes they really do have THC, which brings its own risk and possible side effects as with marijuana, especially if the user doesn’t know they’ve taken it. These include anxiety, aggression, and paranoia.
Since CBD product quality is unknown and unregulated, it can be hard to tell what’s legit. A Penn Medicine study of 84 “CBD oil” products from 31 different online companies found nearly 70% were mislabeled. Some said they had more CBD than they advertised, while others had less. There also have been reports that cannabinoid products like CBD have been tainted with microbes, pesticides, or other foreign substances.
Still, it’s possible that one day CBD will be found to have science-proven benefits for people with lung disease.
“There are a lot of people who use CBD and swear by it, in the absence of evidence,” Mannino says. “However, if they believe it helps, then perhaps it can. There’s fully no data that’s clear that it doesn’t do anything.”