Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Use of cannabidiol, or CBD, has skyrocketed in recent years as it has been promoted for a range of medical conditions from autism to arthritis, and testimonials on social media reflect that the marketing is working.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that roughly 90% of CBD users in the Reddit community r/CBD tout the drug as an effective treatment, but they note in an analysis published Thursday by JAMA Network Open there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the claims.
Users posting in the community recommended CBD for mental health conditions such as autism and depression -- in 65% of posts -- as well as orthopedic ailments such as arthritis, muscle cramps and musculoskeletal pain -- in 26% of posts -- the data showed.
The community also included testimonials for the drug as a sleep aid -- 15% of posts -- and as a treatment for neurological conditions such as epilepsy and migraine -- in 7% of posts -- the researchers said.
Based on these findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "should immediately crack down on the CBD marketplace that has misled the public into believing that CBD is real medicine," study co-author John W. Ayers told UPI.
"Turn on a radio, watch television or log onto social media you'll be bombarded by messages claiming that CBD is a cure-all," said Ayers, a researcher in the department of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
"These marketing practices violate public health principles to protect the public from misinformation," he said.
A similar analysis of the social media platform Pinterest, published in July by the journal Substance Use and Misuse, found that 92% of posts mentioning CBD cited benefits of the drug for anxiety, depression and pain.
However, the companies' paid influencers on social media can still share their personal experiences with these products.
Since the mid-1990s, 33 states across the country have legalized "medical marijuana," allowing for use of the drug with a doctor's prescription, according to ProCon.org.
The remaining 17 states have all passed legislation clearing the way for the use of CBD, a chemical component of hemp and marijuana plants that does not cause a "high," for medical purposes, ProCon.org indicates.
However, the FDA does not currently recommend the drug for most medical conditions, having only approved its use specifically for a rare form of childhood epilepsy, according to Ayers.
For their research, he and his colleagues collected a random sample of 376 r/CBD Reddit posts listed as testimonials.
About 340 of the posts included claims that CBD was being used to treat a variety of medical conditions, the researchers said.
Posters made statements such as "after using CBD for 2 months, my autism symptoms have improved" or, "Yesterday after taking CBD I went for a hike, [and my back pain] just wasn't there at all."
Despite these testimonials, there are few peer-reviewed studies supporting the safety and effectiveness of CBD in these and other medical conditions, according to the researchers.
There have been studies suggesting that CBD can help treat chronic pain conditions such as some forms of arthritis, although many of these studies have been performed in animals.
In addition, recent research in humans indicates the drug has similar properties to FDA-approved anti-psychotic prescription medications in the treatment of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
However, most of these studies acknowledge that more research is needed.
"CBD is not real medicine, [and] using over-the-counter CBD to treat any medical condition ... will only prolong or exacerbate your illness," Ayers said.
"Most products advertised as CBD do not contain [the drug] ... and even if you happen to obtain CBD products that haven't been adulterated, CBD can interact with your other medications resulting in serious side effects," he said.