CBD is definitely screaming up toward the peak of inflated expectations, but it's not pure grift: the actual molecule and the way it interacts with our bodies is pretty amazing.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Moises Velasquez-Manoff dives deep into the history of therapeutic uses of CBD (which are necessarily small-scale and inconclusive, thanks to both legal prohibition and centuries of intense selective breeding to increase the THC content of marijuana, which downregulates production of CBD).
Small-scale studies and personal experimentation produced a wealth of anecdata, but not much by way of solid conclusion. That may change soon, thanks to both the breathless commercial hype and the true believers whose lives have been altered by taking CBD (maybe). In the wake of state-level legalizations (and Canada's national legalization), there is a renaissance in the science of CBD, and in more rigorous manufacturing standards (many "high-CBD" marijuana products have little or no CBD in them, and the people who claim health benefits from these are experiencing some combination of a placebo effect and just getting really high).
Preliminary data shows that CBD has 65 cellular target ("CBD may provide a kind of full-body massage at the molecular level") which may account for the very wide range of symptoms and pathologies it has been used to treat, from opioid addiction to "autism spectrum disorders… [an] aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma… [lessening the] incidence of graft-versus-host disease in bone-marrow transplant patients" and more. In the meantime, actual CBD vendors no longer make actual health claims because the FDA has (quite rightly) told them to cut it out with that shit.
And yet, for millenniums people have used cannabis itself with relatively few side effects. (These can include dry mouth, lethargy and paranoia.) THC hits CB1 and CB2 receptors, but how CBD works is less clear. It seems to interact with multiple systems: increasing the quantity of native cannabinoids in the human body; binding with serotonin receptors, part of the "feel good" molecular machinery targeted by conventional S.S.R.I.s; and stimulating GABA receptors, responsible for calming the nervous system. With more than 65 cellular targets, CBD may provide a kind of full-body massage at the molecular level.
This biochemical promiscuity is one reason CBD seems so medically promising, according to Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai, in New York. Modern neuroscience often tries to target one pathway or receptor, Hurd told me; that approach is easier to study scientifically, but it may not address what are often network-wide problems. "The brain is about a symphony," she says. And CBD, she suspects, can "bring the entire symphony into harmony."
Can CBD Really Do All That? [Moises Velasquez-Manoff/New York Times Magazine]