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When you think about cannabis, you’re likely to associate the word with your rebellious teenage years and with THC. Today, we’d like to change that perspective and teach you how it can play a vital role in easing chronic pain without the psychoactive effects.
Recently, the cannabis plant (or hemp plant) has grown in popularity thanks to the presence of beneficial compounds within it called cannabinoids. More specifically, one major cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), has been linked to helping with chronic pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Let’s begin with a brief discussion of what exactly CBD is, since the name alone might have you scratching your head. As mentioned above, CBD is sourced from the cannabis (marijuana and hemp) plant and is classified as a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring substances within the cannabis plant and have been identified for their varying roles in benefiting the human body. Scientists have identified over 100 types thus far, and speculate that there are more to be discovered.
CBD, in particular, sometimes gets confused with another cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The latter is known for its intoxicating properties, leaving the user with a high.Unlike its cannabinoid cousin THC, CBD does not get you high. It does, however, work with your body’s endocannabinoid system to create an impressively large number of health benefits. While it can leave you feeling relaxed, it’s important to note that CBD is non-intoxicating, and won’t leave you with an altered perception or the munchies.
While there are many positive effects of CBD oil, we’re focusing on the ways it can help relieve different types of chronic pain for you or your loved ones. CBD may help manage pain by reducing:
- Pain: CBD is known to help with everything from the occasional headache to ongoing, more severe chronic pain.
- Inflammation: Full of anti-inflammatory properties, CBD can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms for people living with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
- Discomfort: CBD oil can work to aid many common side effects of chronic pain and diseases like Multiple Sclerosis or arthritis, allowing a person to feel more relaxed, free, and able to manage symptoms better.
You may wonder why you would use CBD in place of other doctor-prescribed or over-the-counter medicines as treatment for some of these common illnesses. The answer is simple. CBD is a great alternative to opioids, the most common (and highly addictive) prescription for pain management. As you’ve no doubt heard on the news, there is an opioid addiction crisis happening in America, with 130 people dying every day due to overdose. CBD offers a non-habit-forming option that can supplement or even replace opioids in a pain management plan.
How Does CBD Oil Work for Pain Management?
Now that we’ve acquainted you with CBD, let’s discuss the benefits of CBD oil for pain management.
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce pain-relieving results. The endocannabinoid system is found within the body and is involved in regulating many different systems. If you’ve ever felt hunger pains from not eating for a while, that was the ECS doing its thing. It keeps your system in balance and alerts you if something is off.
The ECS produces some cannabinoids within your body (known as endocannabinoids) but is also capable of using cannabinoids from outside your body, like those from the cannabis plant (phytocannabinoids). Endocannabinoids are small substances that help keep the ECS stable. Unfortunately, some of us are deficient in endocannabinoids, and this is where CBD use can help out.
Cannabinoids work by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors that are a core component of the ECS. Each type of receptor has a unique role and location in the body:
- CB1 Receptors are found in the central and peripheral nervous systems; your brain, spinal cord, and nerves and ganglia throughout your body.
- CB2 Receptors are found in tiny spaces like white blood cells and throughout the immune system, as well as larger areas like the tonsils, the spleen, and the gastrointestinal system.
While THC is known to work directly on CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD interacts with the ECS indirectly.
One of the most prominent ways CBD does this is by interacting with the body’s TRPV1 receptor. This receptor is known to regulate pain within the body. When it becomes activated, over time, it has the chance to desensitize the neural responses to chronic pain — thereby reducing chronic inflammation.
So, how does CBD connect to this receptor? It’s known as an agonist, the opposite of an antagonist, and activates TRPV1. In doing so, it helps reduce inflammation.
This means that CBD oil and other forms of CBD may be able to help reduce the effects of chronic pain on the body.
CBD for Relief of Chronic Pain
At this point, it should be clear that there’s a strong connection between CBD and chronic pain relief.
There are several types of pain:
- Neuropathic (Nerve-Related) Pain: Comes from dysfunction or damage to your nervous system.
- Inflammatory Pain: Arises when there’s damage to the tissue. Your body’s inflammatory system kicks in and results in pain.
- Muscle Pain: Comes from a variety of causes, overusing a muscle, injuring the muscle in a workout, or from conditions that cause muscle pain (e.g., fibromyalgia).
As anyone experiencing it knows, the burden of health issues related to pain is invasive, often affecting the way daily routines are accomplished.
The anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects of CBD on the body offer a positive outlook for anyone dealing with chronic pain.
In a review published in 2018 that analyzed human studies from 1975 to 2018 dealing with CBD and pain conditions, it was found that CBD played a role in minimizing discomfort with minimal side effects. The studies spanned various types of pain: neuropathic pain, cancer pain, fibromyalgia, and back pain.
The review found that clinical trials relating to neuropathic pain had positive outcomes for animal studies. The presence of cannabinoids attenuated neuropathic pain by acting indirectly on the CB1 and CB2 receptors without adverse side effects.
Also reviewed was the role of cannabinoids on inflammation, which is an underlying cause of symptoms for diseases like arthritis as well as common ailments like back pain. It was noted that different classes of cannabinoid chemical compounds all had the same result – reduced pain behavior in animals tested. From this, researchers can infer that CBD oil or topical creams may play a role in treating common diseases and that further research and clinical trials in humans are needed.
CBD for Relief of Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America, affecting over 54 million people or 23% of the adult population. This disease is classified as the swelling and tenderness in one or more joints within the body. It can cause stiffness, decreased mobility, and pain.
Two types of arthritis impact the population:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: The body’s own immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule ( a tough membrane that encloses the joints). This leads to inflammation, which, over time, can destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.
- Osteoarthritis: The more common of the two, this type of arthritis stems from the wear and tear of the joints. It comes from damaged cartilage, which aids in joint movement and cushions the bones of the joint. As the cartilage wears down, the ends of the bones are exposed to each other, restricting movement and causing pain.
Dealing with either form of arthritis is not ideal. Fortunately, the rise in popularity of CBD oil as a treatment has shown promise in aiding the discomfort and pain associated with the disease.
In one study conducted in 2016 on rats, researchers found that the topical application of CBD on affected areas had the potential to relieve pain and inflammation associated with arthritis without evident side effects.
While more research on the exact effects on humans has yet to be conducted, CBD as an arthritis treatment is showing great promise.
CBD for Relief of Cancer Treatment Pain
The stress and hardship that a diagnosis of cancer brings is heart-wrenching. If you or a loved one have ever had cancer, you know how hard it is to go through chemotherapy. While treatment for cancer is a saving grace for many, it warrants several less-than-desirable effects on the sufferer.
Common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, pain, nausea, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Many people wind up skinny and fragile as a result.
Additionally, the various forms of treatment – surgery, radiation, chemo, and others – can cause high levels of discomfort or pain for many patients. This results in a mix of physical and emotional side effects that aren’t beneficial to the healing process. CBD may help ease many common side effects associated with cancer treatment.
In one double-blind study of 177 cancer patients who were not receiving adequate pain relief despite chronic use of opioid medications, the use of CBD was shown to be beneficial at reducing pain in subjects. Participants in the study were placed into 3 groups, and each group was given either pure THC extract, a CBD:THC extract, or a placebo. Over the course of the 2-week study, researchers found that those in the CBD:THC extract group had pain reductions of 30%. The conclusion? CBD can provide pain relief beyond that offered by opioids in advanced cancer treatment.
CBD for Relief of Migraine Pain
More than 38 million people suffer from migraines in the United States. Many individuals experience 1-2 episodes monthly, however chronic sufferers may experience upwards of 15 days of migraines per month. Migraines are classified as recurring headaches; they can cause everything from throbbing pain to nausea and feelings of weakness.
Fortunately, research suggests that CBD may help manage symptoms for chronic migraine sufferers when coupled with THC. In a 2-phase study conducted in 2017, researchers found that when patients were given 200 mg of a CBD-THC compound, acute pain decreased by 55%. There are very few existing studies on CBD and migraines, and this is just one brief insight into how CBD may help those that live with migraines.
By now, you’re probably wondering if CBD, in all its greatness, has any drawbacks or side effects. While CBD doesn’t pose serious risks to users, there are some possible side effects. Side effects are rare, especially for topically applied CBD which doesn’t enter the bloodstream, and may include:
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain or loss
Additionally, since CBD works along some of the same channels as several common drugs, there are a few interactions that should be noted before beginning a regimen. It’s best to seek a consultation with a medical professional beforehand. Some of these interactions can be from:
- Certain over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
- Prescription medications
- Dietary supplements
One more, slightly obscure warning exists as well. When it comes to interactions with other drugs, CBD can act in a similar way to grapefruit and interfere with enzymes crucial to drug metabolism in your body. If any of your medications or supplements warn against consuming grapefruit, seek medical advice on how to proceed.
And lastly, like some other drugs and supplements, CBD may increase your risk of liver toxicity by disrupting liver function.
Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t yet regulate CBD for most conditions, there is little guidance on correct dosage. It varies widely from person-to-person and should be treated with caution.
One thing that most professionals in the CBD realm agree on is to start with a low dose and work your way up. Once you start to feel beneficial effects from a dosage level, then you should continue with it. Unlike many drugs, your body is not likely to build up tolerance to CBD, so you won’t have to increase your dosage to feel good.
Existing research on CBD indicates promising potential for use in pain management. While much more CBD research is needed (particularly long-term studies), anecdotal evidence seems to suggest the same – just ask someone you know who uses CBD.
CBD products may provide relief for many people who experience chronic pain. CBD is non-addictive, non-intoxicating, and presents fewer and less serious potential side effects than many other pain medications. The use of CBD shows positive implications for joint pain sufferers as an alternative or supplement to prescription and OTC pain medications.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate CBD into your routine, consult with your doctor and see if it’s right for you!
Becca Recker is Director of Communications for Frogsong Farm. With a background in organic farming and permaculture design, Rebecca has been writing about soil health and local food access for nine years. The author of several blogs, she has contributed to articles for Oregon Leaf and Green Living PDX magazines, as well as the following websites: Civilized, Splimm, Miss Grass, and Flowertown. She has been a featured guest on the Periodic Effects and Your Highness podcasts.