Research Roundup: Dissecting Reddit comments on perceived therapeutic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) products

A new study published in the March issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy sought to understand how people view the medical properties of CBD (abstract below). With CBD becoming more and more prevalent in daily use, understanding how people think about CBD can be important for public health. With research lacking and little legal oversight, many people are making broad claims about CBD.

This study was conducted on Reddit.com to gauge how people on social media describe the benefits of CBD. Reddit calls itself “The Front Page of The Internet” and they have different subsections called subreddits devoted to a particular topic. This study looked at all comments from the subreddit focused on CBD from the beginning of January 2019 to the end of April 2019.

They found that anxiety and pain are the two most discussed topics for CBD as a remedy. 6.19% of comments mention anxiety, while 3.22% mention pain.

They then compare these to the comments sent into the FDA (Scientific Data and Information about Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds; Public Hearing; Request for Comments). They go on to state that comments from the FDA tend to have a higher focus on physiological ailments (like chronic pain) and less on mental ailment (like anxiety) than the subreddit comments.

Overall, this may mean that we should focus more research money toward understanding how (and if) CBD helps with various anxiety and pain disorders, because this seems to be where the general public has most of its focus.

 

Abstract

Background

CBD products have risen in popularity given CBD's therapeutic potential and lack of legal oversight, despite lacking conclusive scientific evidence for widespread over-the-counter usage for many of its perceived benefits. While medical evidence is being generated, social media surveillance offers a fast and inexpensive alternative to traditional surveys in ascertaining perceived therapeutic purposes and modes of consumption for CBD products.

Methods

We collected all comments from the CBD subreddit posted between January 1 and April 30, 2019 as well as comments submitted to the FDA regarding regulation of cannabis-derived products and analyzed them using a rule-based language processing method. A relative ranking of popular therapeutic uses and product groups for CBD is obtained based on frequency of pattern matches including precise queries that entail identifying mentions of the condition, a CBD product, and some “trigger” phrase indicating therapeutic use. We validated the social media-based findings using a similar analysis on comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) 2019 request-for-comments on cannabis-derived products.

Results

CBD is mostly discussed as a remedy for anxiety disorders and pain and this is consistent across both comment sources. Of comments posted to the CBD subreddit during the monitored time span, 6.19% mentioned anxiety at least once with at least 6.02% of these comments specifically mentioning CBD as a treatment for anxiety (i.e., 0.37% of total comments). The most popular CBD product group is oil and tinctures.

Conclusion

Social media surveillance of CBD usage has the potential to surface new therapeutic use-cases as they are posted. Contemporary social media data indicate, for example, that stress and nausea are frequently mentioned as therapeutic use cases for CBD without corresponding evidence, that affirms or denies, in the research literature. However, the abundance of anecdotal claims warrants serious scientific exploration moving forward. Meanwhile, as FDA ponders regulation, our effort demonstrates that social data offers a convenient affordance to surveil for CBD usage patterns in a way that is fast and inexpensive and can inform conventional electronic surveys.