CBD has steadily gained popularity over the past couple of years as a natural approach to pain relief. A compound found in the cannabis or hemp plant, cannabidiol (CBD) is sometimes touted as an alternative to pain medication in the treatment of common conditions like arthritis, back pain and fibromyalgia. But is it just hype, or could cannabis-based supplements like CBD oil be a potential safe, and effective, treatment option for chronic pain patients?
A recent market research report indicated that more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. The treatment options available are often limited to, over-the-counter or prescription pain medication. Unfortunately, medication designed to treat pain often comes with a multitude of warnings, potential side effects and also the danger of possible addiction.
The ‘opioid crisis’ has dominated the news recently and it has highlighted the potential risk of addiction that can occur through prolonged treatment. So it’s no wonder that people are desperately searching for a safer, natural alternative.
I stumbled across CBD oil myself in a fibromyalgia forum, about 3 years ago. I was desperate to find anything to help relieve my relentless pain. My own personal experiences with CBD have been very positive. Not only has it successfully reduced my pain to a more manageable level, but it’s also lowered my anxiety levels, and improved my mood and quality of sleep. It really has been a life changer.
So I wanted to explore the science behind this natural substance. Why is it effective for treating pain? How does CBD work within our body? What is the best CBD oil for pain?
First up, what is CBD?
What is CBD?
If you are new to CBD and considering trying it for yourself, you probably have a multitude of questions. So, let’s start with the basics.
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is one of more than 100 compounds called cannabinoids contained in cannabis. Similar in structure to endocannabinoids, which the body naturally produces, cannabinoids offer many potential therapeutic benefits. CBD oil is non psychoactive so therefore will NOT get you high, and it’s legal and safe.
According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) “naturally occurring CBD is safe and well tolerated in humans (and animals), and is not associated with any negative public health effects”. Several studies have evaluated the safety of CBD in adults and concluded that it’s well tolerated across a wide range of doses – up to 1,500 mg/day – that’s a lot, way more than the average person would need.
It is important to note that there are over 400 compounds within the cannabis plant, not just CBD alone, and they all have specific beneficial properties. These compounds include cannabinoids (like CBD), terpenes and flavonoids. Many of these compounds offer anti inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and a good quality CBD oil will contain an abundance of these compounds, therefore adding to its effectiveness.
If you would like to read more about the many cannabinoids found in cannabis and their specific characteristics, please read my post: The main cannabinoids and their therapeutic properties.
How does CBD work within the body?
You may have heard CBD oil mentioned as a potential treatment option for a whole spectrum of different illnesses from, epilepsy to PTSD. These claims often seem to good to be true. How can one substance treat such a varied list of conditions? The answer to this lies with how CBD works within the body, and its interaction with the native endocannabinoid system (ECS). You may not have heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), so let me explain what it is.
There are many systems within the human body; nervous system, respiratory system, endocrine system, digestive system – to name a few. But another system which is not often talked about, yet provides a vital function within the body, is the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, which are distributed throughout the body.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for regulating an array of crucial processes including functions like; mood, appetite, sleep, hormone production, and even stress, pain and immune system responses.
But the primary role of the ECS is to regulate homeostasis or balance. To function effectively the body needs to balance within certain parameters. If an imbalance occurs, illness can develop. Correcting this imbalance is where CBD oil comes in, and it is also why CBD appears to work for so many conditions.
CBD and other cannabinoids found in cannabis, respond in a similar way to our body’s own natural endocannabinoids. So, supplementing your endocannabinoids with a good quality CBD oil, could theoretically address an imbalance in a similar way to taking a vitamin supplement to correct a vitamin deficiency.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here (I don’t want to bore you) but it’s important to briefly mention the different types of cannabinoid receptors within the ECS.
There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors; CB1 and CB2.
The CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination and movement, pain, emotions, and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, and other functions. THC attaches to these receptors.
CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They affect inflammation and pain. Researchers once believed that CBD attached to these CB2 receptors, but it now appears that CBD does not attach directly to either receptor. Instead, it seems to direct the body to produce more of its own endocannabinoids therefore addressing any deficiency.
So we are already getting a picture of how CBD, along with its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, could help treat pain. Let’s delve a little deeper.
How does CBD treat pain?
Cannabis compounds like CBD have traditionally been used for thousands of years to treat various types of pain, but the medical community have only recently begun to study it again. Although evidence-based research is still in its infancy, we are starting to see positive conclusions from studies related to the treatment of chronic pain.
Here are some of the possible ways CBD oil can help treat pain:
Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters. Therefore, CBD oil may reduce pain, inflammation, and overall discomfort related to a variety of health conditions. Let’s take a closer look at the current research;
A study in the European Journal of Pain used an animal model to see if CBD could help people with arthritis manage their pain. Researchers applied a topical gel containing CBD to rats with arthritis for 4 days.
Their researchers note a significant drop in inflammation and signs of pain, without additional side effects.
People using CBD oil for arthritis may find relief from their pain, but more human studies need to be done to confirm these findings.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body through the nerves and brain.
Muscle spasms are one of the most common symptoms of MS. These spasms can be so great they cause constant pain in some people.
One report found that short-term use of CBD oil could reduce the levels of spasticity a person feels. The results are modest, but many people reported a reduction in symptoms. More studies on humans are needed to verify these results.
The same report studied CBD use for general chronic pain. Researchers compiled the results of multiple systematic reviews covering dozens of trials and studies. Their research concluded that there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.
A separate study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine supports these results. This research suggests that using CBD can reduce pain and inflammation.
The researchers also found that subjects were not likely to build up a tolerance to the effects of CBD, so they would not need to increase their dose continually.
They noted that cannabinoids, such as CBD, could offer helpful new treatments for people with chronic pain.
Another study noted that CBD stops the body from absorbing anandamide, a compound associated with regulating pain. So, increased levels of anandamide in the bloodstream may reduce the amount of pain a person feels.
Cannabidiol may also limit inflammation in the brain and nervous system, which may benefit people experiencing pain, insomnia, and certain immune-system responses.
Studies on CBD oil and pain management have shown a great deal of promise. CBD may offer an alternative for people who have chronic pain and rely on more dangerous, habit-forming medications like opioids. But there needs to be more research in order to verify the pain-relieving benefits of CBD oil.
Endocannabinoid deficiency and chronic pain.
An area of cannabis research that I find particularly fascinating, and which i believe is worth noting, is with regards to a condition called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED).
The theory of CED suggests that in some cases the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids or enough receptors for the ECS to function properly. As a result, the many vital functions aren’t regulated properly and the body becomes unbalanced, allowing diseases to develop. This is a similar principle to vitamin deficiencies, that can lead to conditions like rickets (vitamin D) or scurvy (vitamin C).
Renowned cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo has proposed that the root cause of chronic pain conditions, like fibromyalgia and migraine, could be due to this deficiency. A recent study [seemed to backup this theory, but much more research is needed to verify it.
Although this link is not yet proven, as our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids, and we are aware of the crucial role our ECS plays within the body; boosting our own bodies natural cannabinoids with CBD oil can only be a good thing, especially when treating chronic pain conditions like Fibromyalgia.
What are the best CBD oils to treat chronic pain?
Now you are aware of the science behind the claims, you may be considering trying CBD oil for yourself. But please be aware not all CBD oils are equal. A full spectrum product, containing an abundance of cannabis compounds, not just CBD, is deemed far superior to an isolated CBD only oil.
As I have discussed, there are over 400 compounds found in the cannabis plant: cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Each cannabis compound has its own beneficial properties. Therefore a product containing a full array of cannabinoids and terpenes should have a more beneficial effect on the body than one made from CBD alone.
Other cannabinoids to look at for that may also relieve pain:
CBDa – Reduces inflammation. Inhibits cancer cell growth
CBG – Aids sleep. Relieves anxiety. Muscle relaxant. Slows bacterial growth. Promotes bone growth. Relieves pain.
CBC – Inhibits cancer cell growth. Promotes bone growth. Reduces inflammation. Relieves pain.
I personally find a full spectrum CBD oil most effective for my chronic pain. So, when researching CBD oils please bear this in mind, and always look for a full spectrum oil, and don’t be afraid to ask for a lab report, this will give a breakdown of all the cannabinoids present.
I have compiled A Comprehensive beginner’s guide to buying CBD, which includes everything you need to know to purchase an effective CBD product for your needs. It also includes tips on how to stay safe.
Could CBD oil be an effective treatment for chronic pain?
So, can CBD treat chronic pain?
From the research already carried out, and the personal accounts from pain patients, the answer appears to be, yes. Much more research is needed but it’s an exciting time in cannabis science.
Due to how CBD works within the body and it’s positive interaction with our native endocannabinoid system (ECS); CBD oil appears to offer many pain relieving benefits without the unwanted side effects associated with traditional treatment options.
I know experiences vary between users but there is a lot of evidence building that points towards CBD as a potential effective treatment option for chronic pain patients, and I for one will continue to use it daily.
If you would like to find out more about CBD, or you have any specific questions you need answering, please head over to my Facebook page CBD Resource Centre