Even without proof, CBD is finding a niche as a cure-all

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By Linda Carroll, John Torres, M.D. and Ali Galante

Touted as a treatment for a wide range of conditions — including anxiety, pain, inflammation and even cancer — CBD may be the latest version of snake oil. Or perhaps a real relief for numerous ailments.

Nobody really knows which is true because there has been so little solid research on CBD’s effect on humans, experts say.

CBD, or cannabidiol, comes from the hemp plant, a close relative to another member of the cannabis family, marijuana. Both plants contain abundant types of cannabinoids, but marijuana is high in the psychoactive chemical THC, while hemp is rich in CBD, which doesn’t create a buzz but may offer a range of medicinal benefits.

Even without research to back it up, the trendy CBD has been turning up in a vast array of products, including CBD-infused lattes, massage lotions and baked goods. And that means it’s becoming big business, with sales expected to hit $20 billion in the next few years.

Thus far, there is only one use for CBD approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and that’s as a treatment for two rare forms of epilepsy. But that doesn’t stop true believers like Dr. Joseph Cohen, who runs a cannabis clinic in Boulder, Colorado, from making enthusiastic claims.

“It works for anxiety, it works for pain, it works for inflammation, it works for autoimmune disorders, and there’s a slew of other conditions for which you can get benefit,” said Cohen, a former gynecologist.

There’s no clear evidence that CBD works for any of those things, experts told NBC News. “We don’t know any of that,” said Dr. Margaret Haney, a professor of neurobiology at Columbia University Medical Center and director of Columbia’s Marijuana Research Laboratory.