Pain affects more Americans than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined, according to one scholarly survey published in the “Journal of Pain”, about one-third of people who report pain experience their pain as disabling, severely impacting their daily lives.
For those living with chronic or acute pain, finding a safe, effective method of managing it is a key concern. Commonly used painkillers include acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and opioids. However, many of these medications carry side effects or lead to dependency stemming from long-term use.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is currently gaining traction as an alternative form of pain relief. It is thought that CBD may work to alleviate pain by reducing inflammation in the body.
How might CBD oil help with pain management?
CBD is believed to help reduce pain in several ways. It stimulates the body's endocannabinoid system, which is partly responsible for mood, memory, and how pain is experienced. A 2004 study published in the “British Journal of Pharmacology” reported that CBD relieved pain in rat subjects apparently through the TRPV1 receptors, which control functions such as inflammation, body temperature, and awareness of pain.
CBD has also been shown to inhibit glutamate levels in the brain and spinal cord of mice, which can be associated with increased sensations and transmission of pain. In human clinical trials, CBD has been shown to enhance anandamide signaling in the brain. Anandamide is often referred to as the “bliss molecule” and healthy levels of it are linked to feelings of well-being and happiness.
Through modulation of the endocannabinoid system, the body is brought back into a state of homeostasis or balance. CBD oil is also rumored to help promote sounder sleep, which is helpful for those whose sleep patterns are disrupted by chronic pain. However, the studies on CBD as a sleep aid have produced mixed results. .
Research into the therapeutic potential of CBD for pain relief is increasing. However, many of the studies into CBD thus far have been conducted in non-human animals.
Studies have documented CBD oil as a potentially effective treatment for chronic pain conditions that are challenging to treat, such as neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis (MS), and intractable cancer pain. Although CBD appears effective in alleviating neuropathic pain caused by conditions such as cancer or stroke, there are many different types of neuropathy, and more research is needed.
A 2013 research paper published in the “British Journal of Pharmacology” found that CBD extract seemed to alleviate severe neuropathic pain induced by chemotherapy in cancer patients. CBD may also help suppress inflammatory pain, which causes muscle cramps and headaches.
In a study performed on rats and published in 2016 in the “European Journal of Pain,” researchers found that CBD had limited oral bioavailability. Topical application of CBD may be more effective than oral ingestion in cases where inflammation or pain is specific to one area, such as arthritis or muscular pain.
Samantha Tucker was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle crash in 2010 that resulted in the amputation of her left arm from the elbow down. Her path to recovery was long, and in some ways, rendered more challenging after she took up archery following the accident.
She trained hard to win a place in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, but the wear and tear of training and overuse of her shoulders and right arm and hand lead to aches, pains, and inflammation.
“When you're in pain, you're never able to perform at your peak ability and you're always living 'less than', said Tucker. “I only have one life and it's not going to be a 'less than' life.”
Hesitant to take pharmaceutical prescriptions as she feared they may impinge on cognitive function, she sought an alternative. “I use Kannaway's Gold Oral Applicator every morning and Kannaway's Premium Full Spectrum Oral Applicator every evening,” she shared with Weedmaps News.
“In addition to a reduction in daily aches I experience as I'm training for my first triathlon, I notice a lot less inflammation than I would normally have while exercising and training and an easier time bouncing back after a hard workout.”
Tucker also observed that her sleep quality has improved since taking CBD oil. “CBD is a natural way for me to achieve high performance and attain the recovery time I need.”
Rachael Carlevale, founder or Ganjasana Yoga, a cannabis-centered yoga practice, had been suffering from painful uterine and fibroid tumors that caused extreme pain and bleeding. In a bid to find a natural method of relieving the pain, she began using full-spectrum USDA-certified organic CBD oil.
“In utilizing the CBD oil, I was able to relieve my pain and shrink the tumors. I had surgery, and rather than take the prescribed fentanyl, I used CBD (and THC oil) to heal. I continue to take the oil daily for prevention,” she explained to Weedmaps News.
“I also want to note that not all CBD oil helped, and that it was only organically grown cannabis, made via solventless methods that truly brought relief to my suffering.” Carlevale pointed out that there is an abundance of products on the market that contain carcinogenic ingredients such as propylene glycol, and she avoided using these products.
What the experts say
Stasia Woodcock is a pharmacist with Curaleaf New York who specifically endorses CBD oil as a form of pain relief for conditions that cause inflammation or nerve pain.
“The current research shows that CBD is a very potent anti-inflammatory agent, which can help decrease pain where inflammation is a key factor, such as arthritis or colitis,” Woodcock explained. “CBD has also been studied in the prevention and treatment of neuropathy, or nerve pain.”
Woodcock also emphasized that CBD is unique because it assists with an array of symptoms associated with pain. “CBD is a huge multitasker. Whereas most medications typically work on only one symptom, CBD can help with multiple facets of pain, including inflammation and the anxiety constant pain can cause, in addition to the pain itself.”
She points out, however, that severe pain, such as the pain associated with fibromyalgia, endometriosis, or musculoskeletal pain such as severe back pain, benefits from the entourage effect of CBD in conjunction with THC. “The research also indicates that higher doses of CBD (between 100-200 mg per day) are often needed when CBD is used without THC to bolster its effects.”
Woodcock underlines that, thus far, there is no clinical evidence that CBD causes any serious side effects. “It doesn't cause stomach issues, itching, or constipation the way anti-inflammatories and opioids can. When a medical cannabis product is dosed properly, it can provide powerful pain relief without any [intoxication], which is not typically the case with opioids.”
Lastly, Woodcock cautions that verifying the source and potency of CBD oil is critical. “Medical cannabis products are highly regulated and tested, whereas hemp CBD products are not required to be regulated,” she said. Buyers should be aware that many hemp products might not contain what they promise, and may even include harmful substances in their formulation. Buying third-party tested products can help ensure you receive the CBD you are paying for.
Those who suffer from inflammatory or neuropathic pain may find CBD oil helpful in alleviating pain and treating associated symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.