CBD Oil for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How This Condition Can Be Treated

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil hasn't been proven as a safe or effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). There are some promising findings for CBD treatment in other conditions, such as fibromyalgia syndrome, but no specific research on chronic fatigue.

Yet chronic fatigue is an extremely difficult illness to manage and interest in treating ME/CFS with CBD products remains, especially as many people find little relief from the fatigue, headache, joint pain, and other symptoms with conventional treatments.

This article explores how CBD might help people living with ME/CFS. It discusses what's known from CBD research about benefits and possible side effects, drawn from other conditions that may respond to CBD.

CBD oil
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What Is CBD Oil?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, which comes from the cannabis plant. That's the same plant that gives us marijuana. However, CBD—as an oil or in other forms—doesn't have psychoactive properties. That means it doesn't provide the "high" associated with marijuana.

The substance in marijuana that gets you high is called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Growers who want to maximize the plant's psychoactive effect use breeds and techniques that result in higher levels of THC.

On the other hand, cannabis that's grown for hemp is generally richer in CBD than THC, and that's where CBD comes from.

How CBD Oil Works

CBD is believed to offer health benefits by acting on dopamine receptors in your brain. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter (chemical) produced in the body that's associated with mood regulation, pleasure, and reward. It's also involved in processing pain sensations.

However, as researchers learn more about CBD, it has become clear that there is more than one chemical pathway that leads to effects in humans. CBD also is believed to act on a specific serotonin receptor, one that's linked to pain relief effects in animal studies.

Studies of CBD have identified its effects on more than a dozen chemical receptors but scientists are still working to understand these mechanisms.

Medical Purposes of CBD Oil

People use CBD oil to manage symptoms in a host of health conditions, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease. However, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved Epidiolex. It's used to treat two severe seizure conditions affecting children, called Lennox-Gaustaut and Dravet syndromes.

Research on CBD Oil Benefits for ME/CFS

So far, there's no research evidence for ME/CFS treatment with CBD oil. There are no ME/CFS treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration, either, but the needed research on ME/CFS is evolving.

There's now a registry of more than 4,000 people living with ME/CFS, with the You + ME database available for scientific research on the condition.

Research findings that may have implications for people living with ME/CFS include:

  • A 2017 ​study that suggests CBD may diminish the activity of brain cells called glia that can lead to central sensitization. That's a hypersensitive central nervous system and a major feature of ME/CFS and other central sensitivity syndromes such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraine.
  • A 2017 study on Alzheimer's disease that suggests CBD lessens oxidative stress and suppresses pro-inflammatory activity. These effects could prove helpful with ME/CFS.
  • A 2016 review that found evidence for treating migraine and irritable bowel syndrome with CBD, and perhaps fibromyalgia. These conditions are related to ME/CFS.

ME/CFS is believed to stem from the dysregulation of multiple systems throughout the body. The symptoms are similar to those of influenza, and can include:

While it's less well documented in ME/CFS, a condition called endocannabinoids deficiency, characterized by lower amounts of naturally produced endocannabinoids in certain individuals, has been linked to fibromyalgia, making cannabis products a promising treatment.

CBD also is believed to help with your body's homeostasis, which is keeping things like temperature, respiration, and blood flow in proper balance. Homeostasis tends to be out of balance in ME/CFS.

CBD and Inflammation

CBD oil is believed to be effective against pain and inflammation, and, in its pure form, it's generally regarded as safe. Especially in light of the theory that ME/CFS is related to nerve-related inflammation, and with the wealth of evidence pointing to it being an inflammatory disease, it's likely that CBD could help with chronic fatigue.

Why More CBD Research Is Likely

Studies are expected to advance treatment options, identify side effects, and address the needs of people living with ME/CFS pain and related symptoms.

CBD is being researched for numerous conditions, and many of those conditions share features with ME/CFS. Other study results that apply to similar conditions don't extend to ME/CFS, but they provide some basis for informed speculation.

People living with ME/CFS offer anecdotal evidence on how CBD helps to relieve symptoms. When patients with difficult-to-treat conditions tell their healthcare providers something works, they're likely to show interest.

Reported Side Effects of CBD Oil

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Side Effects

The possible side effects of CBD aren't completely known. Some reported side effects include:

  • Changes to liver enzymes used to process drugs
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased tremor in Parkinson's disease, at high doses

The following side effects are possible but require more study, according to the World Health Organization:

  • Changes in hormonal levels
  • Immune system changes, with stimulation at low levels and suppression at higher levels

The immune system effects will be especially important for ME/CFS, which is believed to involve a chronically overactive immune system.

CBD and Addiction and Abuse

Addiction and abuse don't appear to be problems with CBD, and it appears to have a low toxicity level, which means that it takes a lot to overdose. Some studies show that when a state legalizes marijuana, the number of opioid prescriptions drops. That's good news for healthcare providers looking for safer pain treatments, and for lawmakers and law enforcement agencies trying to find solutions.

How to Find CBD Oil

CBD oil may be available at local shops and dispensaries, and its best to buy CBD from a trusted source. When the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law, it made hemp an agricultural product. That means products made from hemp—including CBD—are legal at the federal level.

If you are buying CBD oil, first consider why you want to use it and which form will best meet your needs. It's best to have this conversation with a healthcare provider to help inform your decisions and ensure you avoid any complications like drug interactions with your medications.

CBD oil can be used in several different ways. You can smoke it (typically in vape pens), take it in capsule form, use it sublingually (under the tongue), use oral sprays or drops, or apply it topically to your skin. A crystalline form of pure CBD is also available, which is generally taken sublingually.

CBD products also come in varying strengths so check the labels for the number of milligrams in each dose.

You'll also want to ensure your products are certified by a third party, such as the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).

If you're in an area with laws prohibiting CBD, you may want to consult a legal expert on whether it could be a problem for you. Some states and municipalities have passed laws specifically banning hemp products or CBD. Technically, federal law overrides state law. That doesn't mean, though, that your state or town will automatically stop making arrests and pressing charges under its CBD laws.

The website ProCon.org has information about which states have laws specific to CBD oil. A site called Governing maintains a map of where marijuana is legal in some form.


Cannabidiol (CBD) oil shows promise in treating chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) but as yet there's no research evidence for its benefits. However, studies have demonstrated that CBD may offer help to people living with similar inflammation-related conditions, and more research specifically for ME/CFS is likely.

CBD comes in different forms and varying strengths. Your healthcare provider can help you to determine if a type of CBD product can help and explain any side effects that you may experience. Keep in mind that CBD isn't associated with a marijuana-like high.

With legal changes in-store and more research coming, things may change rapidly when it comes to CBD oil and other cannabis-based treatments. It's likely that much more will be known about the effectiveness and safety of these products a few years from now.

A Word From Verywell

You have a lot to consider when it comes to any form of treatment, and even more when it comes to CBD for chronic fatigue. Be sure to consider the pros and cons, including the legal ones. Discuss this option with your healthcare provider to make sure you're not endangering your health. As with any treatment, watch for side effects.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Frequently Asked Questions

  • For how long does CBD make you drowsy?

    Drowsiness is one of the possible side effects of CBD oil. This can compound the fatigue due to CFS. How long drowsiness lasts varies. Talk to your healthcare provider if drowsiness impacts your daily activities and avoid driving or operating machinery if CBD makes you sleepy.

  • Does CBD raise dopamine?

    Early research has shown that CBD has the potential to increase levels of dopamine. This is a key brain chemical that plays a role in how your body interprets fatigue.

  • Does CBD increase serotonin?

    Research about the impact of CBD on serotonin levels is limited, but it is generally understood that it does not increase levels of this important pain neurotransmitter. However, research has indicated that CBD may play a role in how your brain processes serotonin, which may be why it reduces pain symptoms.

  • Can CBD affect thinking?

    CFS can cause low levels of serotonin, which can impact how the brain functions. CBD can help clear brain fog and help with attention and memory because of its ability improve how your body processes serotonin.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal StudiesCannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139–154. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034

  3. Boggs DL, Nguyen JD, Morgenson D, Taffe MA, Ranganathan M. Clinical and Preclinical Evidence for Functional Interactions of Cannabidiol and Δ-Tetrahydrocannabinol. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018;43(1):142-154.

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  5. de Almeida DL, Devi LA. Diversity of molecular targets and signaling pathways for CBD. Pharmacol Res Perspect. 2020 Dec;8(6):e00682. doi:10.1002/prp2.682. 

  6. Corroon J, Kight R. Regulatory Status of Cannabidiol in the United States: A Perspective. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2018;3(1):190-194. doi:10.1089/can.2018.0030

  7. Ramiller A, Mudie K, Seibert E, Whittaker S. The Facilitation of Clinical and Therapeutic Discoveries in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Related Diseases: Protocol for the You + ME Registry Research Platform. JMIR Res Protoc 2022;11(8):e36798. doi:10.2196/36798

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  9. Watt G, Karl T. Evidence for Therapeutic Properties of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer's Disease. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:20. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00020

  10. Russo EB. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2016;1(1):154-165. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009

  11. Khan MI, Sobocińska AA, Czarnecka AM, Król M, Botta B, Szczylik C. The Therapeutic Aspects of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) for Cancer and their Development: From Nature to Laboratory. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(12):1756-66. doi:10.2174/1381612822666151211094901

  12. Oleson EB, Cheer JF. A brain on cannabinoids: the role of dopamine release in reward seeking. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 2012;2(8):a012229-a012229. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a012229

  13. De Gregorio D, McLaughlin RJ, Posa L, et al. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic painPain. 2019;160(1):136-150. doi:10.1097%2Fj.pain.0000000000001386

  14. Švob Štrac D, Pivac N, Mück-Šeler D. The serotonergic system and cognitive functionTranslational Neuroscience. 2016;7(1):35-49. doi:10.1515/tnsci-2016-0007

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Additional Reading
  • Hill KP, Saxon AJ. The role of cannabis legalization in the opioid crisis. JAMA internal medicine. 2018;178(5):679-680. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0254.

  • Nijs J, Loggia ML, Polli A, et al. Sleep disturbances and severe stress as glial activators: key targets for treating central sensitization in chronic pain patients? Expert opinion on therapeutic targets. 2017;21(8):817-826. doi:10.1080/14728222.2017.1353603

  • Piomelli D, Weiss S, Boyd G, Pacula RL, Cooper Z. Cannabis and the opioid crisis. Cannabis and cannabinoid research. 2018;3(1):108-116. doi:10.1089/can.2018.29011.rtl

  • Russo EB. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency reconsidered: current research supports the theory in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and other treatment-resistant syndromes. Cannabis and cannabinoid research. 2016;1(1):154-165. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009

  • Vallee A, Lecarpentier Y, Guillevin R, Vallee JN. Effects of cannabidiol interactions with Wnt/B-catenin pathway and PPARy on oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in Alzheimer's disease. Acta biochimica et biophysica Sinica. 2017;49(10):853-866. doi:10.1093/abbs/gmx073

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.