Is CBD a Placebo?

placebo effect

Placebos have a long tradition in medical practice as doctors have used them since ancient times to treat patients. Currently, some investigations have shown that the use of placebo is widespread in clinical practice worldwide.

For instance, only 28% of Swiss primary care workers reported never using placebo interventions. And in Israel, about 60% of doctors and nurses admitted to using placebos, most reported as an effective therapeutic alternative. Consistent with these results, patients' attitudes toward placebo were somewhat similar. A New Zealand survey of primary care patients found that they accepted a placebo in certain clinical situations: when it was for the patient's benefit, at the patient's request, or when there seemed to be no other treatment available. And, of course, in the U.S., placebos are commonplace in clinical trials.

What is a placebo?

A placebo is a substance, pill, or other treatment that appears to be a medical intervention, but is not. Placebos are particularly important in clinical trials, during which they are often administered to participants in a control group.  They are used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments, and are most often used in drug studies.

For example, people in one group receive the tested drug, while the others receive a fake drug or placebo that they think is real. In this way, researchers can measure whether the drug works, by comparing how the two groups react. If both have the same reaction — whether it improves or not — it’s believed that the drug will not work.

What is the Placebo effect and how does it work?

How placebos work is not yet fully understood, but it involves a complex neurobiological reaction that includes everything from the increase in well-being neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and dopamine, to increased activity in certain mood-related brain regions.

The placebo effect refers to the impact of placebo on an individual. It is when improvement is observed, despite an individual receiving a placebo rather than active medical treatment. The power of the placebo effect is considered a psychological phenomenon.

Sometimes, a person may have a response to a placebo. Such a response can be positive or negative. The person's symptoms may improve, or the person may have what appear to be side effects of the treatment. These responses are known as the "placebo effect".

Research on the placebo effect has focused on the relationship between mind and body. One of the most common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person's expectations. The fact that the placebo effect is related to expectations does not make it imaginary or false. Some studies show that there are actual physical changes that occur with the placebo effect. For example, some studies have documented an increase in the production of endorphins, one of the body's natural pain relievers.

One problem with the placebo effect is that it can be difficult to distinguish from the real effects of an actual drug during a study. Finding ways to differentiate between the placebo effect and the treatment effect can help improve treatment, and reduce drug testing costs. And, further studies may also lead to ways to use the power of the placebo effect to treat diseases.

Why do some people think CBD is a placebo?

The popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) has increased, not only in the food and beverage industry, but also in many other sectors, thanks to consumers' belief that it can help cure certain diseases. But many are questioning these claims, suggesting that further investigation into CBD's effects and perceived benefits is needed.

Many scientists find it hard to believe that cannabidiol (CBD) can do so much, often attributing the results to a placebo effect. Many scientists and non-scientists think that the extraordinary effects and range of applications are simply due to placebo.

The reasons include:

  • Too good to be true. Unfortunately, CBD's reputation for being a panacea for so many different symptoms and diseases is doing more harm than good. For this reason, many prefer to think of CBD as a miracle cure, or too good to be true.
  • It may not work the same for everyone. CBD should only be seen as a weapon in an arsenal which, for some, can be a great add-on therapy to use with your traditional pharmaceutical medications, while for others it can work perfectly on its own. The point is, CBD doesn't work the same for everyone, and it may not work for some, either. For this reason, CBD may be viewed as a placebo by some.
  • It works over time. Another problem that makes many people think that CBD is a placebo is because, unlike its cannabinoid “cousin”, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces immediate effects, CBD does not. Add to the fact that CBD tends to work overtime, it's easy to see why many still consider CBD a placebo.

Is CBD Really a Placebo?

While many scientists still believe we don't have enough scientific data to make a definitive statement on CBD's true effects and therapeutic efficacy, there is also a growing faction of scientists who believe we do.

The real effects of CBD can better be understood by taking a look at the vast amount of scientific research and studies collected by Project CBD (a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and disseminating research on the medical uses of cannabinoids such as CBD) that show that CBD can be therapeutic for many conditions. There’s also a wide array of anecdotal evidence from consumers and patients touting CBD’s benefits.

As funding for cannabinoid and CBD research increases, so does the evidence that CBD can help reduce, alleviate, and treat a wide variety of specific symptoms and underlying causes, growing exponentially.

Some conditions in which CBD has been shown to be effective beyond what can only be attributed to placebo include, but are not limited to:


It is understandable why some scientists and many in the public are skeptical of the effects and benefits of CBD. While not unique in the medical world, it certainly doesn't work the same for everyone, so many people believe the reports, evidence, and stories about its therapeutic benefits are exaggerated, and the effects it has are due to the placebo.

That said, although CBD is not a cure-all, the increase in scientific research and evidence from clinical studies shows that CBD has real effects on the body, and that its benefits are genuine. As with any other drug or therapeutic, the trick is to use a therapeutic product correctly, and take the time to let it do its job.

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