Cannabidiol: pharmacology and therapeutic targets

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2021 Jan;238(1):9-28. doi: 10.1007/s00213-020-05712-8. Epub 2020 Nov 21.


Rationale: Cannabidiol (CBD) products lacking regulatory approval are being used to self-treat a myriad of conditions and for their unsubstantiated health benefits. The scientific evidence supporting these claims largely arises not from controlled clinical trials, but from the recognition that CBD has numerous biological targets. Yet, CBD is commonly consumed and often in over-the-counter products that are unapproved and of unknown composition. Epidiolex® is the only product that has undergone rigorous pharmacokinetic assessment and testing in clinical trials; it was approved as a non-scheduled drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of intractable childhood-onset seizures. However, studies investigating CBD for other medical conditions are limited in number and often lack the scientific rigor, controls, or sample sizes required to draw clinically meaningful conclusions. Although Epidiolex® is safe for human consumption, recent changes in regulation of commercially available CBD products have resulted in limited quality control and products marketed with unknown CBD bioavailability. Even scientifically rigorous studies have used different sources of CBD and different suspension vehicles for administration, making it difficult to compare results among studies and resolve mixed outcomes.

Objectives: This paper reviews the molecular targets, pharmacokinetics, and safety and abuse liability of CBD; additionally, the extant evidence on its potential therapeutic effects for neurological disorders, pain, inflammation, conditions related to immune function, psychiatric disorders, and substance use are described.

Keywords: Cannabidiol; Cannabis; Human; Marijuana; Medical cannabis; Pharmacokinetics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cannabidiol* / adverse effects
  • Cannabidiol* / pharmacokinetics
  • Cannabidiol* / pharmacology
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Cannabidiol