It’s not exactly a new observation that Americans have a growing fascination with CBD. At the end of 2018, Google announced that “CBD gummies” were the third-most searched food item in the United States, and today searches for CBD outstrip those for topics like Kim Kardashian and veganism (an insight that comes courtesy of cannabisMD’s own data analytics tools).
And according to a new poll from Gallup, Americans aren’t just casually searching for information on the non-intoxicating cannabinoid — they’re also buying (and using) CBD products in record numbers.
In early August, the polling agency released the results of a survey that examined the use of CBD products in the United States. The survey sought to determine people’s familiarity with CBD products, and to find out if (and why) people were using them. After speaking with 2,543 adults over the phone, the researchers found that around 1 in 7 American adults, or 14 percent of the population, are currently using CBD products to relieve a variety of symptoms (more on those later).
This is a substantial jump from figures reported earlier this year by analytics firm Cowen & Co., which survey a nearly-identical number of people in February. At that time, only 7 percent of respondents said they were using CBD products.
Not only did the Gallup poll seek to shed light on how many people are using CBD, it also examined their reasons for doing so. Here are the top five most common answers:
Around 40 percent of respondents said they used CBD products to treat pain. This is one of the health benefits best supported by research. For example, a 2018 review of the available scientific literature, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, examined the use of CBD and other cannabinoids in the treatment of multiple types of pain. The researchers found that CBD’s “anti-inflammatory … and anti-spasmodic benefits and good safety profile suggest that it could be an effective and safe analgesic [i.e. pain reliever].” Other studies have shown that CBD can be an effective treatment for lower back pain.
CBD’s anti-anxiety effects have been another driving force behind its popularity, and 20 percent of respondents said they turned to the cannabinoid to help relieve their anxiety symptoms. This is another relatively well-studied aspect of CBD, though most studies up to this point have relied on animal subjects or examined relatively niche topics like public speaking. However, a 2019 study published in The Permanente Journal examined 72 adults with symptoms of anxiety, and found that nearly 80 percent of them reported consistent relief over the course of the three-month study.
According to the Gallup poll, 11 percent of CBD users depend on their products to help relieve sleeping problems like insomnia. Here again, there’s some scientific backing to support their decision. Many experts believe that CBD could help improve sleep by regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle (i.e. making you more alert during the day, so you feel more tired at night). Some studies have shown that CBD can both prolong sleep and enhance its quality — but others studies have cast doubt on its ability to do this consistently. The Permanente Journal study mentioned above, for example, found that over 66 percent of participants reported improved sleep in the first month, but this fluctuated over time.
The fourth most popular reason people use CBD is relief from arthritis, with 8 percent of respondents saying it helped ease their symptoms. The autoimmune disease is characterized by painful inflammation of the joints — and a number of studies have shown that CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
For example, a 2016 paper published in the European Journal of Pain found that topical CBD gel greatly reduced swelling and visible signs of pain in rats, leading researchers to conclude, “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviours and inflammation without evident side-effects.” Human studies are still in their infancy at this point, but anecdotally, many arthritis patients have reported that CBD topicals help them manage the pain from their condition.
Tied for the fifth most popular reason for CBD use are migraines/headaches and stress, with 5 percent of respondents saying they used CBD products to deal with each condition. When it comes to migraines and headaches, the research is mixed — a team of Italian researchers presented a study at the 2017 Congress of the European Academy of Neurology that found cannabinoids (specifically, THC and CBD) are “just as suitable as a prophylaxis for migraine attacks as other pharmaceutical treatments.” However, it also found that “when it comes to treating acute cluster headaches [cannabinoids] are only effective in patients that suffered from migraine in childhood.”
In terms of CBD’s ability to reduce stress — a nebulous term that’s often used interchangeably with anxiety, much to the annoyance of medical experts — it likely depends on the patient’s personal situation (and any other conditions they may be dealing with). However, as detailed in an April 2019 feature in the New York Times, CBD has become a hit among stressed-out parents, so there might be something to it.