Is CBD a Placebo? What this means & does it really matter? (The Placebo Effect Explained)

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Is CBD a Placebo? What this means & does it really matter? (The Placebo Effect Explained)

One of the most common accusations that is pointed towards CBD, is that it is a ‘Placebo‘. If we can burrow down into what that means, it is a suggestion that CBD is a fraud, it’s fake, and its only benefit is from what we create of it ourselves.

This, just to warn you, causes a stir whenever it is mentioned to any proud owner of a CBD brand. We’ve seen companies recoil and act in horror and some get quite angry about the matter.

But, we find this topic extremely interesting.

We have been researching and thinking a lot about this, and wanted to share some light on our findings. The intention is to help you, understand if CBD is a placebo, and if it is, why being a placebo may not be a totally bad thing.


Is CBD a Placebo?

Well, Yes, and No. Maybe. CBD is not always a Placebo, but it does take advantage of the Placebo Effect.


Let’s Explain.

When somebody calls CBD a ‘Placebo,’ what they are essentially saying is: “CBD is a con.” Which isn’t very nice at all.

The accurate definition of Placebo is: “An inactive substance or other intervention that looks the same as, and is given the same way as, an active drug or treatment being tested.”

The accusation being made when CBD is called a Placebo is: “CBD is a substance with no benefit yet is being sold as having health benefits”

This is where we can say that the molecule itself (as part of the family of cannabinoids) is not a placebo.

— but why?

There is plenty of evidence and research into cannabinoids and their potential for having medical (cannabinoid medicines) and well-being (food supplements) applications.

Cannabinoids are lipid signalling molecules that interact with a network of receptors called the Endocannabinoid System. Cannabinoids support this biological network and can have a profound effect on our body.

There are a million different factors that determine how your body uses/does not use cannabinoids and their potential effect within your unique cluster of billions of cells and electrical wiring (your body). So even if you don’t notice what the CBD (and the other minor cannabinoids) is doing, you can be assured that the cannabinoids are active within your Endocannabinoid System.

The only time where CBD IS a Placebo is when the product has been missold – or oversold – to a customer (why CBD is often called a Snake Oil). There are many manufacturers and brands who have been caught producing products with less CBD than advertised, or with no CBD at all.


From our experience, the most common reasons why people think CBD is a Placebo:

1.) The product has been missold & there is no CBD in the oil (to con a customer into buying fake CBD): This has and will always happen. This is why finding a reliable and trustworthy supply is essential.

2.) The product is oversold and unachievable/unrealistic health claims are made: It is no secret that CBD is often oversold, and we regularly need to reset the expectations with new users of CBD. While CBD is much more than a powerful phytonutrient, it will not help your hair grow back (true story: a real sales rep who used to claim this).

2.) They’ve never tried it and just read that CBD is a placebo online and taken it as gospel: Or decided that CBD is not for them, and would like to tell others not to. Which is fine.


The follow-up argument is always a suggestion that the benefits of CBD are all in our minds, a phenomenon called the Placebo Effect.

This, albeit quite inconvenient to your friendly CBD marketing team, is true. And, there are studies proving it [source]

This is the part about CBD (and many other products that we all buy) that we find enormously fascinating and gives us an insight into how we all work as human beings.


Placebo Effect (& how it is more beneficial than you think).

The Placebo Effect is a psychological phenomenon where symptoms of a disease/ illness are reported to be improved, despite the patient receiving a Placebo. While we all could find ourselves scoffing, and concluding that it is simply a delusion, there is proof that the Placebo Effect has both a psychological, and biological, function.

The controversial opinion here is that there is a Placebo Effect element to the benefits of CBD. Not just CBD, but thousands of things we do on a daily basis.

The ritual of taking a supplement can have a psychological benefit that we can take advantage to improve our well-being. That’s right, Plecebe (trick) ourselves into feeling better.

It sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but we Placebe/ trick ourselves all the time – most likely without noticing we’re doing it.

We all feel more confident about that important presentation at work when we’re wearing a shirt that fits just right. We all feel we can run faster when we strap on a fresh new pair of running shoes. We all feel better about a crisis after a nice warm cup of tea.

We do things that don’t have LITTERAL benefits all the time.

That perfectly fitting outfit does not actually improve how well prepared for the presentation we are, just how we feel about ourselves. And the performance increase of new shoes vs old shoes, does not correlate with the increase in footwear technology. Tea does have some therapeutic effects, but the association with a warm cup and a moment of peace is what makes everything seem a whole lot better.

We trick ourselves every day, so why can’t we do the same thing for our health? There is evidence that suggests a Placebo can be used to improve our well-being and quality of life, in the same way that wearing certain clothes improves our confidence.

So if there is an element of Placebo Effect to CBD, surely, that isn’t a bad thing at all?!


How the Placebo Effect can improve our well-being, & quality of life? 

If I suggested that a sugar pill (complete placebo) could help your body fight a low-level upper respiratory infection (like the common cold) as effectively as an active drug, you might think my brain had been abducted by aliens. But, it’s true.[source].

Nicolas Humphrey wrote a fantastic article in the New Scientist (Evolution Could Explain the Placebo Effect – annoyingly behind a paywall) that goes some way to explain the evolutionary function of the placebo effect.

The article goes into more detail but explains how our minds can control the response of our immune system, and our perception of our environment can turn our immune system down. The immune system is a very expensive and uses up a lot of valuable energy, especially in the Winter when food sources are scarce. So, as humans evolved, in much harsher times than we live in today, it made sense for our immune system to lower its functionality and conserve energy for more pressing bodily requirements. As the summer came around, and the food was abundant, the immune response comes back online.

While our environment and food supply has changed, our evolution has yet to catch up.

It seems that if we commit to a ritual which we believe is weakening the infection – with a potentially useless placebo – could help our minds feel more optimistic and signal to our body that food is abundant, and we enter into a healing state. The result is fewer symptoms (runny nose, itchy face, cough etc.. is caused by our immune response, not the infection itself) and quicker recovery time [source].

The point of this is not to say that you should take a sugar pill, rather than a course of antibiotics (that would be very silly), but to prove that there are some benefits associated with certain substances that can actually be attributed to the Placebo Effect… and that’s something we should be thankful for.


Wrapping this up – why not the best of both worlds?


To bring this to an end, the net time somebody says “CBD is a Placebo”, you can confidently say: “YOU KNOW NOTHING” (and hopefully send them this article). 

We know for a fact that cannabinoids are beneficial and have a provable role within our body, so, taking CBD every day has a biological impact on us whether we notice it or not. AND there is a psychosomatic benefit where the daily ritual of taking CBD that could be part of why we feel more ready for the day, or primed for bed (in the same way that brushing our teeth does the same).

Written by – Ian McLaren

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