Pain is one of the most common symptoms of illness, and one of the hardest ones to manage. When a patient is experiencing painful symptoms, a doctor’s first reaction is usually to prescribe painkillers. After all, being in pain is one of the most incapacitating and debilitating feelings there is. Unfortunately, many painkillers aren’t recommended for long-term use. But with over 20% of the U.S population and over 13% of adults in the U.K living with chronic pain, new solutions are needed. Today, scientists are studying CBD as a potential alternative to traditional pain management medicine. But can it really be effective in treating chronic pain? And what kind of pain can it treat? We take a closer look at the scientific evidence.
What is CBD?
First of all, let’s talk a little bit more about CBD. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike other, non-medicinal forms of cannabis, CBD doesn’t cause a “high.” Instead, it has a wealth of benefits on the body and mind, such as preventing epileptic seizures and migraines or reducing anxiety and depression.
CBD works by acting on the endocannabinoid system, which among other things regulates pain, appetite and mood in the human body. The receptors it engages and the way it acts on our bodies is not fully understood yet. But recent research suggests that CBD could be a helpful alternative to a lot of the traditional methods of treatments for painful conditions like arthritis or Crohn’s disease.
Non-prescription CBD products are not currently approved by the FDA. However, research suggests that this molecule is effective in treating a number of conditions. We recommend consulting with a medical professional to see if prescription CBD could help your condition.
What kind of pain is CBD effective against?
CBD is widely considered to provide relief from pain. Although studies disagree as to exactly how effective it is, pain relief remains one of its main features. But that doesn’t mean CBD should be your method of choice for treating just any kind of pain. For example, CBD might be effective in treating chronic pain or joint pain, while the pain of a broken leg may be better addressed with other substances. Here are the types of conditions that CBD can be effective against.
CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system, which regulates both pain management and inflammation in our bodies. This makes CBD particularly effective for dealing with inflammatory pain. Some of the most widely studied types of inflammatory conditions that respond well to CBD are arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
In a 2016 study, scientists observed the effects of CBD on arthritic rats. They found that a high dose of CBD seemed to greatly limit the pain that the rats were experiencing. They concluded that more clinical human studies were needed, but that the results seemed very promising.
While animal studies are often irrelevant to human wellbeing, it’s worth noting that all mammals have the same endocannabinoid system. As a result, the same mechanism that helped arthritic rats manage inflammatory pain is likely to be at play in humans. This is also why CBD tends to work the same way on people as it does on other pets, such as cats and dogs.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease are very painful inflammatory conditions affecting the digestive tract. CBD has been found to be particularly effective in treating those diseases. Not only does it offer relief from the pain, it also worked to reduce inflammation, IBD-related arthritis and nausea.
CBD for pain is also believed to be effective in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Research on the topic is somewhat limited, as most of it has been conducted on mice. That being said, there is good evidence that CBD acts on pain pathways associated with neuropathic pain. It works by inhibiting the release of inflammatory agents, which lower the levels of neuropathic pain. These pathways are similar in mice and humans, suggesting that CBD could be a treatment option for those with neuropathic pain.
CBD was found to be effective in treating migraines. It can work as a painkiller and is effective on various sorts of headaches. Moreover, it may help to prevent migraines by lowering levels of anxiety and helping patients to sleep better.
Is CBD safe to take for pain?
As a substance, CBD is considered very safe, even in large quantities. In rare occasions, people may have an adverse reaction to it, causing:
- Increased or decreased appetite
However, no serious or life-threatening side effects of CBD have been reported over years of studies.
Is CBD safe to take long term?
One of the best things about CBD is that it is a safe painkiller to take over extended periods of time. In comparison, people who suffer from chronic pain are often prescribed medicines that are unfit for extended use.
For example, opioids are often prescribed as painkillers for the management of chronic pain. In recent years, the amount of opioids prescribed has more than doubled in both the U.S and the U.K. These medicines are very powerful painkillers, but they come with a lot of unwanted side effects. As you may know, opioids are derived from the same molecules as heroin and morphine. Their side effects include:
- Memory loss
- Digestive problems
- Nausea and vomiting
More importantly, opioids are very addictive substances. This can make it hard for people with chronic pain to stop taking them when they start experiencing side effects or want to try out alternatives. Doctors warn that they should be avoided as much as possible for the treatment of chronic pain.
The other, most popular form of painkiller for chronic pain are anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen. Although their side effects are not as dramatic, they are also liable to create an addiction and some unpleasant side effects. Over time, their use might lead to kidney problems, stomach pain and ulcers.
Compared to these types of painkillers, CBD is much safer to take long-term. In fact, there is nothing to suggest it can’t be taken daily for years. The only issue? It’s a question of strength. CBD, even in large quantities, is not nearly as powerful a painkiller as things like opioids. And with chronic pain, relieving just part of the pain is not enough.
For people with extreme cases of chronic pain, it’s unlikely that CBD alone will provide sufficient relief. However, CBD can still be used to complement other forms of treatment, and could potentially reduce the need for other, more harmful painkillers.
What CBD products can I take for pain management?
There is an incredible variety of CBD products on the market today. From salves to drops to CBD gummies and capsules, it can be difficult to get your head around all the different options. For pain management, let’s break CBD products down into two main categories: edibles and topicals.
Edible CBD products are those you ingest directly. The most popular way to take CBD is to use a dropper and place a few drops of CBD directly under the tongue. This is a good way to use pure CBD oil, and it provides faster pain relief than other methods. Other options include taking CBD capsules or eating things like CBD chews, gummies or candy.
Dosing these products for chronic pain can be difficult, as everyone experiences different levels of pain. It is recommended to start with a lower amount (around 10 mg/day) to make sure you are not experiencing any potential nausea or appetite changes. If that amount doesn’t create any negative side effects, you can progressively move on to larger doses.
Topical products are another good option, especially for people suffering from joint pain. A topical is a product such as a cream or a salve that you apply directly to the area in pain. The CBD that it contains absorbs through the skin and provides pain relief precisely to that area. It can be a good option for people who are wary of the potential side effects of CBD like nausea or changes in appetite.
Some other options for taking CBD include suppositories and vaping oils. Although few people would choose suppositories over another product, they can actually provide very fast and effective pain relief. Vaping is more common, and many people like it because it allows you to get a steady amount of CBD in throughout your day. As with any product that you smoke or inhale, though, it can have negative effects on your lungs and respiratory system.
CBD can be effective in the treatment of pain, even if it isn’t always enough on its own. For people suffering from chronic pain, it offers a good alternative to potentially dangerous painkillers that are not suited for long time use. So, is CBD the next big development in chronic pain research? It may be! But all we can say for now is that it works on some people, and is at least safe for everyone.
CBD for pain relief
2008 study on the effects of CBD for pain management
2012 study on the effects of CBD for pain management
2018 review of research on cannabinoids and pain
CBD for pain management of arthritis
2016 study on the effects of CBD on rat arthritis
CBD for Inflammatory Bowel Disorder
2014 study on the effects of cannabis for Crohn’s disease
CBD for neuropathic pain
2012 study on the effects of CBD for inflammatory and neuropathic pain management
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD