Pain is a major problem for 100 million Americans. Although the pharmaceutical industry is constantly coming up with new solutions to help people with pain symptoms, medication is becoming part of the dilemma. More people than ever are dying from opioid overdoses, but many don’t know that there are non-narcotic treatments to manage their conditions.
CBD oil is generating a great deal of buzz for its pain-relieving potential. It has been studied for its benefits in treating a wide variety of ailments, including arthritis, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. It’s not addictive and has few side effects.
Is Replacing Opioids With Cannabis Really the Best Solution?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the primary active compounds in marijuana. Therefore, you might wonder if using it will give you a buzz or alter your cognitive function. Pure CBD doesn’t contain THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. CBD is not intoxicating and has no potential for addiction.
Opioids, on the other hand, produce euphoria and have mind-altering qualities. As they exert changes on your central nervous system, opioids influence your brain’s reward and pain pathways, leading to tolerance and dependence. Some individuals who use these powerful drugs become addicted rather quickly.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. This means that it’s on the same schedule as heroin. However, FDA-approved drugs that contain CBD and have a THC content below 0.1 percent have been moved to schedule 5.
The CBD oil that is widely available in retailers across the country is not considered a drug. In fact, it’s difficult to categorize because it’s not regulated as a dietary supplement or medication.
Replacing powerful narcotics with CBD may be an ideal solution for people suffering from pain. CBD has even been studied for its use in countering other addictive behaviors. Its ability to alter brain pathways related to addiction enhances its benefits for those who want to quit using painkillers while treating their physical discomfort.
Whether or not you have been using painkillers to treat your symptoms, CBD can help in a number of ways. In this article, we’ll discuss the therapeutic effects of CBD for pain.
How Does CBD Relieve Pain?
The body contains cannabinoid receptors throughout the spinal cord, central nervous system and tissues. After researchers began discovering these receptors in 1988, they began to look into their influence on a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain.
The two main receptors, CB1 and CB2, work somewhat differently. CB1 is more prevalent and influences the stimulation of nerve cells. CB2 is involved in mediating pain and suppressing inflammation.
Proteins that bind to these receptors are called endocannabinoids. These work with the endocannabinoid system to provide relaxation, regulate appetite, help people sleep, control memory functions and influence learning. CBD is an exogenous cannabinoid. It comes from outside of the body but mimics some of the actions of endocannabinoids, indirectly working on various receptors to control pain.
In fact, cannabinoids may be 10 times more powerful than morphine in relieving certain types of pain. They have even been shown to relieve inflammation and itching in patients with allergic contact dermatitis.
Some researchers have found that individuals who suffer from certain conditions that are resistant to treatment, such as migraine and fibromyalgia, have endocannabinoid deficiencies.
Therefore, introducing exogenous cannabinoids to the system with CBD oil may enhance the body’s own pain-relieving processes. CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, it does alter the way that certain neurotransmitters communicate with those receptors, exerting its effects indirectly.
What Types of Pain Can CBD Treat?
CBD has been studied for its ability to relieve various types of pain, including:
• Chronic pain
• Discomfort associated with cancer and chemotherapy
• Nerve pain
• Spasm-related pain
• Sports pain
• Digestive pain
CBD for Arthritis
In 2016, researchers conducted a study to determine whether CBD could attenuate some of the symptoms of arthritis. A topical CBD gel was applied to rodents with joint inflammation. Using CBD topically prevents it from becoming inactivated as it goes through the gastrointestinal tract and provides steadier blood levels than taking it orally.
The results indicated that CBD:
• Reduced swelling in the joints
• Diminished acute pain
• Thinned the synovial membrane, which becomes thickened in patients with arthritis
• Reduced pro-inflammatory biomarkers
No significant side effects were noted. Doses of 6.2 to 62.3 milligrams per day seemed to help the most, although the researchers noticed that the higher doses didn’t necessarily provide more pain relief than the moderate doses. The lower doses were not as effective.
It can be deduced that using a modest amount of topical CBD may alleviate symptoms in people with joint pain from arthritis.
Other studies have found similar results. In one, subjects received oral or injected CBD. Hypersensitivity and inflammation diminished.
Optimal effects were not produced with the highest dose. The oral dosage that produced the best results was 25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. In another study, oral CBD dosages of 5 and 7 milligrams per kilogram were effective for reducing inflammation.
CBD for Cancer Pain
Cannabinoids have been studied in clinical trials for treating cancer pain, which affects up to 90 percent of patients with advanced forms of the disease. Opioids are usually the standard course of treatment for this type of pain. However, they don’t always work, and they can produce undesirable side effects.
In some trials, cannabinoids worked just as well as codeine in relieving cancer pain. An oromucosal spray that combines THC and CBD allows for customized dosing and has been shown to improve pain symptoms. A combination of THC and CBD seems to work better than THC alone.
One study investigated the use of CBD for patients who experienced nerve pain as a side effect of the chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel. Dosing subjects with CBD before administering Paclitaxel prevented the onset of pain. CBD seemed to avert nerve damage even after its use was suspended.
More human studies need to be done to confirm that CBD is effective for cancer pain. However, preclinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is helpful and safe.
CBD for Nerve and Multiple Sclerosis Pain
Many people who suffer from multiple sclerosis experience peripheral neuropathy. This disorder occurs when damaged nerves don’t communicate sensation properly. They may send pain signals when no painful stimulus is present. Because multiple sclerosis destroys the sheath that insulates the nerves, it can cause pain or numbness.
Some of the nerve damage that is caused by diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease comes from glutamate. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that transmits signals between nerve cells and is important for learning. Abnormally high levels of glutamate can overexcite nerve cells and damage them, though.
As an antioxidant, CBD may protect nerve cells from damage. The cannabinoid has also been studied for its potential to safeguard nerve cells in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which also destroys neurons.
CBD for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia has also been linked to nerve damage. It has no known cause, and treatments usually focus on minimizing pain and maximizing quality of life.
A 2013 review claims that medicinal cannabis may help with fibromyalgia pain. Some trials suggest that smoking cannabis may provide more pain relief than taking it orally. Also, most studies of fibromyalgia and cannabinoids use products that contain THC instead of CBD alone.
Because CBD is associated with far fewer side effects than THC, it may be a more suitable option for some people. It is not guaranteed to work, but its neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties make it a promising approach.
CBD for Spasm-Related Pain
Another problem that arises for many people who suffer from multiple sclerosis is spasm-related pain. The CB1 receptors have been found to control tremors and spasms in mice with multiple sclerosis.
During the early stages of multiple sclerosis, there is high inflammatory activity in the central nervous system. The endocannabinoid system is also triggered. Some researchers have noted that patients who self-medicate with marijuana experience relief of symptoms associated with the disease, such as incontinence, spasms, tremor and pain.
The studies that have found benefits for treating muscle spasms with cannabis have mainly used extracts that contained THC. However, CBD is a promising remedy for cramps and spasms because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It also increases levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid that has been linked to improvement in spasticity.
CBD for Sports Pain
Many endurance athletes can probably describe the feeling of wellbeing that they get during and after their workouts. This is often linked to the release of endorphins, feel-good chemicals in the body that reduce pain and intensify pleasure.
Endorphin levels in the blood do rise in response to prolonged exercise. These molecules are so large that they don’t cross the blood-brain barrier, though. Therefore, it’s unlikely that they are exclusively responsible for the euphoric sensations associated with intense exercise.
The levels of anandamide in the blood also go up with a good workout. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that can produce feelings of happiness and bliss. Because anandamide can enter the brain, some experts believe that it’s responsible for producing a “runner’s high.”
CBD prevents the reabsorption of anandamide after it is released in the body. Therefore, CBD could accentuate the pain-relieving effects of anandamide in athletes.
In a 2015 study, scientists found that mice had elevated levels of endocannabinoids and endorphins after running on a wheel. They were also less anxious and more tolerant of pain.
Then, the mice were given chemicals that blocked the effects of endorphins or endocannabinoids. Blocking the endorphins didn’t appear to affect the exercise-induced “high.” When the endocannabinoids were blocked, however, the mice showed signs of anxiety and pain sensitivity after running.
Humans have to run the equivalent of about three miles a day to experience this type of euphoria. However, if taking CBD can elevate levels of anandamide, perhaps they don’t have to exercise at all to reap the benefits.
CBD also exerts anti-inflammatory effects. This may help many athletes relieve pain without turning to pills. Taking too many anti-inflammatory medications can even be harmful. Many professional sports associations are developing lenient guidelines toward CBD use because of its many benefits and low incidence of side effects. CBD might help prevent sports injuries and aid in recovery.
Even if you’re not an athlete, you might get sore from time to time. Whether you suffer from muscle tension that creates knots in your back or feel a little achy after moving some furniture around, you might want to try using CBD for its ability to reduce inflammation and promote relaxation.
CBD for Migraine
Migraine is a complex disorder that is characterized by more than headaches. People who get migraines often have nausea and sensitivity to light and sound in addition to cranial discomfort. Hormones and environmental factors can trigger headaches.
Endocannabinoid deficiencies have been associated with migraine pain. The endocannabinoid system is important for regulating pain signals. It helps the body maintain homeostasis when it is subjective to extreme stimulation. If migraine sufferers are deficient in endocannabinoids, it would make sense that their systems would have trouble balancing the response to certain stimuli. This could account for the sensitivity to light and sound that they experience.
People who get migraines have lower levels of anandamide in their cerebrospinal fluid. Anandamide is related to blood vessel dilation. This also points to a link between the endocannabinoid system and migraine.
Many studies that have looked into using cannabis to treat migraines have used THC or a combination of THC and CBD. Although CBD has not been well studied for migraine treatment, the European Pharmaceutical Review claims that it may be effective as a preventative approach.
In a study referenced by the author, 200 milligrams of a product that contained either 19 percent THC or trace amounts of THC and 9 percent CBD were effective in reducing acute migraine pain by 55 percent. A combination of THC and CBD also reduced the number of attacks as effectively as amitriptyline, an antidepressant that is commonly prescribed to migraine sufferers. The cannabinoids did not produce acute pain relief in people who suffered from cluster headaches, though.
CBD for Digestive Pain
In the migraine study, researchers found that female subjects experienced a reduction in stomach pain and colitis as a beneficial side effect. Other articles reveal similar advantages of using CBD for digestive distress.
Cannabis is known for its appetite-stimulating properties. Those are more closely correlated with THC than CBD, though. Other cannabinoids, such as CBD, may help improve symptoms in inflammatory digestive conditions.
There is evidence that increasing endocannabinoid levels can reduce swelling when the colon is inflamed. Activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors protects against colitis. Even though CBD doesn’t bind directly to those receptors, it may alter activity of the endocannabinoid system in a way that reduces inflammation in the gut. For example, it is an antagonist to GPR55, a receptor that plays a pro-inflammatory role in the bowel.
How To Take CBD for Pain
There are a variety of CBD products for pain, with different routes of administration for each. Oils and extracts may produce the fastest effects when they’re vaped. Inhaling CBD may help with acute pain but is not always helpful for chronic pain.
People who suffer from constant discomfort might want to look into sublingual, oral or a high-quality topical CBD for pain. Spraying a tincture or oil beneath the tongue allows the product to be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. The rest is processed by the digestive tract.
When you swallow CBD in a capsule form, it must be digested before it is absorbed. Although this may not provide fast pain relief, the results typically last longer, which may be preferable for those with enduring pain.
Using CBD topically limits its absorption. However, it might be a valuable massage oil when it’s applied at the location of superficial discomfort, such as muscle aches.
The most effective dosage varies from person to person. Your own physiology changes over time, making it difficult for anyone to suggest the optimal dose. Therefore, you might need to experiment and change the amount that you take based on your symptoms, the type of CBD and other personal factors.
A good rule of thumb is to take smaller doses at first and increase them if you don’t experience relief. Be aware that larger doses don’t always provide more benefits.
Because CBD influences a wide range of receptors, a small dose hits its primary targets quickly. As you increase the amount that you take, the substance reacts with more receptors, producing completely different effects. When treating some conditions, such as anxiety, researchers have found that CBD may not be effective at all in higher doses.
The Controversy Surrounding CBD and Pain Management
There is some controversy surrounding the use of CBD oil. While many preliminary studies have found significant benefits to using CBD, critics point out that there have not been enough large and long-term clinical trials. Some criticize CBD’s use because researchers aren’t sure how the substance works in the body.
That hasn’t stopped other health treatments from being used by medical professionals. Approximately 18 percent of drugs do not have a well-understood mechanism of action. Experts haven’t even pinpointed the mechanism of action for acetaminophen, more commonly known as Tylenol, even though the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1951.
The same goes for other approaches to medical treatments. For example, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, a treatment that has been used for more than 30 years and is approved by the FDA, may combat depression in people who haven’t responded to other forms of therapy. However, experts are still not certain about the mechanisms involved.
The FDA requires researchers to prove that a drug is effective and safe through clinical trials. Proponents of CBD point to the many studies and anecdotal evidence showing that the extract relieves pain. Out of the 13 percent of American adults who have tried CBD for a health condition, almost 90 percent say that they have experienced positive results.
With research indicating that CBD is regarded as safe and experts as well as consumers saying that it works, it seems like it would be worth trying for millions of pain sufferers. Moreover, CBD oil is legal in every U.S. state as long as it is extracted from industrial hemp and doesn’t contain THC. Some states allow CBD with trace amounts of THC, while others have legalized marijuana products that have THC in them.
Using CBD for pain is a largely personal matter. Its effectiveness may depend on the type of pain as well as your age and general health and the quality of the CBD oil used. Because CBD has many health benefits beyond managing pain, it is often touted as a multifunctional wellness product that can make you feel better in many ways.