Preclinical animal research suggests that CBD may have moderate pain-relieving effects for neuropathic pain without the cannabinoid-like side effects, however, there is currently a lack of large, well-designed clinical trials (the type of research you want to see to put full stock in a treatment) confirming these effects.
The use of cannabis for pain relief dates back to ancient China. It’s thought that CBD oil might help ease chronic pain in part by reducing inflammation. In addition, CBD oil is said to promote sounder sleep and, in turn, treat sleep disruption commonly experienced by people with chronic pain.
A type of pain triggered by damage to the somatosensory system (i.e., the system responsible for processing sensory stimuli), neuropathic pain often occurs in people with conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in New York City.
Chronic pain is the most common reason for medicinal cannabis use, according to a recent survey. If you have a chronic pain condition and have not been able to manage it with standard treatment (or wish to avoid the adverse effects of other medications), you may be considering CBD oil for pain relief.
Common types of chronic pain include:
So far, much of the evidence for CBD oil’s effects on pain management comes from animal-based research. This research includes a study published in the journal Pain in 2017, in which scientists observed that treatment with topical CBD helped thwart the development of joint pain in rats with osteoarthritis.
Our body’s endocannabinoid system is composed of three main components:
CBD is not marijuana – even though it can be derived from the marijuana plant. Still, some CBD products contain THC, and for some people these products may work better (remember the entourage effect). The stigma surrounding marijuana-derived treatments can be difficult for people who benefit from their medicinal effects. Having honest conversations with family members (including how to talk to your kids about CBD and medical marijuana use) about the science and history of medicinal cannabis use is often a good place to start.
Your Body Chemistry Matters
The 2018 US Farm Bill legalized the growing of hemp and sale of hemp-derived products, which made CBD legal at the federal level (mostly). As noted, hemp is a species of the marijuana plant with one very important distinction: the variety must have less than 0.3% THC. So, if the CBD you buy comes from a hemp plant with less than 0.3% CBD and is grown in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill regulations, and you live in a state where CBD is legal, you are in full abidance of the law.
Our natural endocannabinoids function on demand, meaning that when our body senses inflammation, or needs to return to homeostasis (a state of stable balance) it will release endocannabinoids that bind to cannabinoid receptors.
Clear? You likely still have questions. Read on for specific products and which symptoms they aid.
Cannabis (most commonly obtained from the Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa plants) has three major components: cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. While there are over a hundred different cannabinoids, the two major components are tetrahydrocannabional (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Historically more attention has been paid to the psychoactive (euphoric “getting high”) component of the cannabis plant, THC; there have been fewer scientific studies on the medical use of CBD, a non-psychoactive component of the plant.
In fact, the FDA has issued several warning letters to companies and individuals that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain CBD. The FDA has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD the manufacturers had claimed they contain.
What’s the thinking behind using cannabis for chronic pain?
Given the ongoing challenges of chronic pain management coupled with the consequences of the opioid epidemic, pain management practitioners and their patients are searching for effective and safer alternatives to opioids to alleviate pain. With the legalization of marijuana in many states and resulting cultural acceptance of this drug for recreational and medical use, there has been an increased interest in using cannabis for a myriad of medical problems, including pain.
Given its promising results in animal models, along with its relative safety, non-psychoactive properties, and low potential for abuse, CBD is an attractive candidate to relieve pain. Unfortunately, there is a lack of human studies about the effectiveness of CBD. However, there is an abundance of commercial advertisements about the magical effects of CBD, and it is frequently presented as a cure-it-all potion that will treat everything including diabetes, depression, cancer, chronic pain, and even your dog’s anxiety!
Given the rapid change in the legality of cannabis coupled with the increased appetite for something new, and driven by unprecedented profit margins, the advertising for cannabinoids in general and CBD in particular has gone wild. The FDA is very clear that it is illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement. And it warns the public about its potential side effects, as it’s often advertised in a way that may lead people to mistakenly believe using CBD “can’t hurt.” CBD can cause liver injury, and can affect the male reproductive system (as demonstrated in laboratory animal studies).