CBD Oil: Panacea or Placebo?

CBD Oil: Panacea or Placebo?

Last night in bed, my calf muscles started cramping. Again. Usually, it’s just my left leg, but last night it was both. The pain wouldn’t ease with my usual stretching routine so I reached for my little bottle of cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

I’ve been experimenting with CBD oil on and off for a few months. I rub it into my left calf muscle before bed and on many nights it seems to help. The muscle doesn’t cramp. But some nights, even when I use the oil, it does. And on some nights, when I haven’t used any oil, the cramps don’t appear. Last night, CBD oil gave me relief.

What’s happening here? Does the oil really have healing properties, or is it the action of massaging it into my leg that’s responsible for my relief? Could it be something else, like how well hydrated I am before I get into bed?

No prescription necessary for this CBD

CBD comes from hemp, which is a strain of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC. THC is the property in the plant that’s psychoactive and responsible for marijuana’s “high.” Over the past several months, CBD has become so mainstream in the United States that you can find it sold over the counter in pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. It’s even on the shelves of some home product stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond.

This availability was made possible late last year when the U.S. Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 became law. The new law removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that federal law no longer considers it to be an illegal substance. On the other hand, the Food and Drug Administration cautions that it hasn’t reviewed or approved any of the CBD products that are extracted from hemp and are flooding the market.

Here’s my concern

CBD products come in all sizes and shapes. There’s CBD oil that you can rub and CBD oil that you can drip under your tongue. There’s CBD balm, CBD capsules, and CBD gummy bears. There’s even CBD for dogs.

According to an article in STAT, “Twenty-six percent of Americans have tried CBD in the last two years, and the rates are much higher for patients with conditions that seem to respond to CBD treatment.” But none of these products have been tested by the government for efficacy or safety. There are many anecdotal stories from CBD users about how great the stuff is for pain, for sleeping, and in my case, to relax muscles. But that’s it.

As Dr. Peter Grinspoon wrote on the Harvard Health Blog last year, “Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently … mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting.”

That’s a concern for me. When my doctor prescribes a medication, I know what dose to take and how often to take it. I also know that it’s been tested for safety and that its production is quality controlled. I know what I’m getting. The majority of the how-to advice that I’ve read about CBD centers on going slowly and experimenting. So, that’s what I’ve been doing, even though I don’t really know what I’m getting.

The jury is still out for me on CBD oil, but I guess I’ll keep rubbing it on my cramping legs. Even if the relief that I’ve felt is a placebo, it’s still relief. But it would sure be nice to see some clinical trials of the stuff.

You’re invited to follow my personal blog at www.themswire.com.  


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.

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  1. Keith Layton says:

    CGD oil has had no positive or negative effects on me, my twitching legs or on my MS. There is apparently according to this day’s newsletter hope for pharmaceuticals or treatments based upon CBD compounds but and for me- nothing much.
    However, THC products do provide some relief late in the day and at night. It’s a coverup and not a cure as most medications for my PPMS are.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Keith,

      So far, it looks as if CBD oil isn’t doing much for me and I agree that, in my experience, THC/CBD compounds provide TEMPORARY relief.


      • Kath says:

        Should try taking it sublingually Ed, works for a lot of my symptoms and for 34,000 other members of a group I’m in all with similar or different illnesses plus when given to animals, who don’t know about placebo affect, there are great results too. X

    • JC says:

      JC 7/12/19. I’ve tried everything out there(I have PPMS),with little or no effect. THC is the only thing that has come close to giving me any kind of relief from the other effects that I have. Leg spasms,depression, anxiety,pain,etc. I take ocrevas infusions every 6 months just because it might actually slow down progression. I do it in the flower form. Seems to help but is not for everyone. Good luck

  2. Penny Pennington, Advisory Committee Buffalo NeuroImaging Analysis Center; Chair, Advancing Research in MS (ARMS) says:

    You are raising SOME of the concerns many of us have about the broad testimonials and adoption of CBD oil. The fact that it is unregulated opens the doors to a host of impurities and questionable concentrations (not that we know what the effective doses are anyway…!) The other BIG problem I see is that there is no scientific evidence from properly structured CLINICAL trials that this stuff works!!!! The FDA has strict requirements for outcomes based on a drug’s purported effectiveness. There are double blinded studies (meaning that the evaluator & patient doesn’t know if the patient is on the active drug or placebo) that must prove effectiveness for the given claim. This weeds out “placebo effect” and the potential to be attributing some improvement to a drug when it’s really something else, e.g., massage. What we see with CBD oil are a lot of testimonials, and without comparative studies that are carefully designed, we should realize that this is unproven. I tried CBD oil last year that came from a professional pharmacy with a trusted supplier. My “study of one” was aimed at getting pain relief for recurrent painful sensations in my feet. I used it exactly as directed and it did NOTHING!!!! On the other hand, there IS clinical evidence for cannabis WITH THC.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Thanks for your comments, Penny.

      I’ve also tried a THC/CBD combo (mostly CBD) from a licensed dispensary. It helped me sleep but I didn’t think it was worth the cost.


      • Stephen E says:

        They are your observations and that is fine. But like most if not all of the DMT’s and medications prescribed “off label” and designated for MS doesn’t effect us all the same. All of them cost unbelievable amounts of money every year and a lot of us are no better for taking them. So if a person is getting some relief or they “believe” they are getting some relief, in the words of a well know artist “ Let it Be”

  3. Cynthia Collier says:

    I’m taking 35 mg. of Charlotte’s web at night for a great night sleep. It Is a natural anti-inflammatory, and can help with spasticity. Unfortunately, it is expensive.

  4. Duarte says:

    I take 2 capsules everyday one at morning and other at dinner for the past year and it replaced the spasm drug I was taking. The drug was making me a zombie.
    For me CBD Capsules work to reduce spasm and sleep.
    Each has 15mg.

  5. Bonnie Topper-Bricker says:

    I am a patient advocate and I counsel a woman with primary progressive MS…we have found “bean bags” filled with millet and cooled in the freezer then placed on painful feet and legs is very helpful.

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