Chronic pain and pain from inflammation-related medical conditions are incredibly common. Fortunately, for many pain sufferers there may be some positive news as Cannabidiol (CBD) may offer relief.
You will find our article titled What is Cannabidiol (CBD)? very helpful with understanding CBD.
So, can CBD help you with pain?
The compound CBD contains anti-inflammatory properties that interact with the brain to change the way you feel pain, and hence may help with pain management.
To answer this question more fully, I took a closer look at some of the newest CBD studies and research. This is what I found.
CBD May Offer Relief for All Types of Pain
Currently, a lot of the information about CBD is based on anecdotal evidence. CBD users frequently share their stories about how the substance has helped them finally get some pain relief.
What does the research suggest? Most of the studies on CBD for pain management have involved animal testing, but the results are promising.
Pain typically falls into one of two categories – nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. CBD-related products may offer relief for both types of pain due to the way that CBD interacts with the cannabinoid system.
By helping address both types of pain, CBD may provide a natural pain management solution for the following conditions:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Lower back pain
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMJ)
- Chronic pain
Nociceptive pain is related to the injury of tissues, including muscles, skin, or joints. People experience this type of pain when inflammation triggers nociceptive nerve fibres.
You may experience this pain when you stub your toe or when suffering from inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis or appendicitis.
In a 2016 study, researchers found that transdermal CBD reduces inflammation-related pain in arthritic rats. Researchers applied the CBD topically and found that it helped reduce joint swelling and improved limb posture in the rats.
By tackling inflammation, patients may enjoy CBD for pain relief from all types of inflammatory illnesses. Besides arthritis, these same benefits may provide relief for back pain, headaches, and chronic pain.
Neuropathic pain includes pain from damage to the nervous system. Conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or sciatica, cause neuropathic pain. There is evidence that suggest migraines are the result of neurogenic inflammation affecting blood vessels in the brain. It turns out that CBD may help with this category of pain as well.
A study involving human trials found that CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) together may help reduce neurogenic symptoms, including neuropathic pain. This study included 24 patients suffering from various conditions that cause neuropathic pain, including:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury
- Limb amputation
- Brachial plexus damage
You can discover much more about THC in our article: What is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?
Some patients received placebos while the others received CBD and THC. The patients that received the cannabinoid compounds experienced reduced pain and improved mood and cognition.
So, how does CBD help with pain?
Researchers believe it interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS includes a wide variety of cannabinoid receptors found in the immune system, brain, and spinal cord.
The ECS is responsible for regulating everything from sleep to your immune response. It also regulates pain.
The US National Library of Medicine currently lists 15 completed clinical trials related to CBD for pain relief. Most of those trials examined the benefits of CBD for pain relief for cancer patients or multiple sclerosis sufferers. A lot of those trials also involved drugs that contained both THC and CBD.
Some research appears to suggest that THC and CBD may desensitize the TRPV1 receptor. This receptor impacts the way you experience pain, such as the burning sensation you get when you accidentally touch something hot.
The results are not conclusive, but they do suggest that CBD may impact the way your brain responds to pain. It may also provide anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to these two factors, CBD could help tackle both neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain.
The Problem with Traditional Pain Relievers
Of course, CBD is not the only pain reliever. Traditional treatments for pain relief include various over-the-counter drugs and prescription pain medications.
The main types of conventional pain medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids. NSAIDs include Advil, Aleve, and many other over-the-counter drugs. They work by blocking enzymes that lead to inflammation, much in the same way that CBD inhibits specific enzymes. However, they also bring a few potential side effects:
- Stomach pain
- Kidney problems
Opioids are more powerful and often used to treat neuropathic pain or chronic pain related to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Doctors also commonly prescribe opioids for back pain or nociceptive pain from injuries. As with NSAIDs, opioids also have disadvantages:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Cardiovascular issues
- Mental cloudiness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Mood changes
The medical community considers addiction to opioids the biggest public health crisis that we currently face. As CBD is not addictive, it may offer a safer solution for pain management. In fact, CBD may even provide an effective method for overcoming opioid addiction.
One study found that CBD may reduce the craving for opioids. The study included 42 former heroin users. Some participants received a placebo while others received an oral CBD solution.
When showing drug-related cues to the participants, those that took the CBD experienced fewer cravings and anxiety compared to those given the placebo.
How Can CBD Be Used for Pain Relief?
CBD comes in a wide variety of products, from CBD oils to sprays and teas. Several of the studies used topical CBD products to help reduce inflammation-related pain, such as the study on arthritis pain in rats. The study on CBD for opioid cravings used an oral spray.
Have a read of our article CBD Product Types to discover much more about CBD delivery types.
The bioavailability varies with different delivery methods. Some types of CBD products may offer more relief compared to others, as they allow more of the cannabinoid to reach your body.
When analyzing the bioavailability of a drug, researchers have considered the following delivery methods:
Unfortunately, we don’t yet know the bioavailability of CBD products when taken intranasally or topically. Between inhalation and sublingual (ingestion), inhalation allows more of the compound to reach your body.
One set of researchers propose using intranasal and transdermal (topical) CBD products to deliver greater bioavailability. They note that oral methods, including inhalation and sublingual, don’t offer effective delivery methods, as inhalation may only provide between 2% and 56% bioavailability.
CBD oil for pain relief may not work as well compared to a CBD topical cream. We may also soon see more CBD nasal sprays.
The spray allows the substance to travel through the nasal passages, which offers a faster route to the brain compared to placing the oil under the tongue.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research to help determine the best CBD products. While it appears that topical creams may offer faster results, sublingual products, such as CBD oil, may offer longer-lasting results.
Potential Side Effects of CBD for Pain Relief
Researchers consider CBD a safe substance for the treatment of a variety of conditions, as it contains very few risks of negative effects. However, the one main area of concern with CBD is drug interactions.
When taking CBD for pain management, it’s important to consider your existing medications or treatments.
Most medications travel through the body to the liver where the cytochrome P450 enzyme system metabolizes toxic compounds. The P450 system includes over 50 enzymes for processing and eliminating toxins.
To determine dosages, doctors consider the time it takes for the P450 system to process the drug. Other drugs, liver problems, or other health issues may affect the P450 system, causing it to metabolize a drug faster or slower.
CBD may interact with the P450 system, inhibiting the benefits of CBD or the bioavailability of other medications.
The P450 system includes 70% to 80% of all enzymes involved in drug metabolism. If the system is out of balance, existing medications may not work properly. This becomes a danger when taking blood thinners, blood pressure medications, and other drugs that require strict dosages.
Other than the drug interaction, CBD doesn’t include major side effects, but some people report the following:
- Upset stomach
These are also some of the side effects listed for NSAIDs. Some doctors believe that these negative effects come from the ingredients used in the CBD products, instead of the CBD itself.
For more important information have a look at our article on the Potential Side Effects of Using CBD.
Summary – Can CBD Help with Pain?
CBD appears to contain anti-inflammatory properties and changes the way the nervous system responds to pain. These two benefits address the main two types of pain – nociceptive and neuropathic.
Nociceptive pain includes pain from inflammation, such as arthritis or injury. You experience nociceptive pain when you have a backache or headache.
Neuropathic pain comes from the nervous system. If you’ve had a spinal cord injury, suffer from multiple sclerosis, or experience phantom pain, you likely experience neuropathic pain.
Unfortunately, only 15 human trials have directly looked at CBD for pain relief and most of them involve cancer patients or MS sufferers. While numerous studies help show the benefits of CBD, they mostly involve animal testing.
For now, it looks like CBD can address almost any type of pain by targeting the endocannabinoid system, fighting inflammation, and changing the way you experience pain. However, as usual, you do need to discuss this with you medical professionals before use.