Though there are thousands of testimonials online from people claiming CBD has helped them with their pain and inflammation, what does the science say? Can CBD really help?
In this article we’ll look at the science to learn how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to understand how CBD works. We’ll reference studies to see what’s been discovered so far and highlight best practices for CBD use.
Hopefully, this article will serve as a good starting point for anyone curious about using CBD oil for pain.
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CBD for pain: some history and science
CBD is extracted from hemp and cannabis plants. Our relationship with these plants goes back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Ayurvedic healers were prescribing cannabis as medicine for everything from arthritis to epilepsy to anxiety to menstrual cramps as far back as over 4,000 years ago. Queen Victoria’s own doctor prescribed it to her in 19th century England!
Unfortunately, the early 20th century was to be the beginning of a long period of prohibition on cannabis in Canada and the US. This became a severe impediment for those in the medical community interested in studying cannabis. Even worse, this was happening just as a scientific revolution in medicine was getting underway.
In 2018, CBD was legalized in both Canada and the US. Medical research has resumed, but it’s still early days and much more research needs to be done before we understand CBD enough to prescribe it like a drug.
Today, the most common use for CBD is to address chronic pain. In a recent survey of over 2400 people by the The Center for Medical Cannabis Education, most people using CBD to treat a medical condition said the top 3 uses for CBD were for chronic pain, arthritis and joint pain.
How does CBD work in our bodies?
Medical research has already uncovered a few pathways through which CBD can affect pain. First, CBD inhibits the release of inflammatory agents like glutamate. This is a quality that is considered “neuroprotective.” CBD can also help dull the burning, tingling and prickling sensations that accompany neuropathic pain. CBD may be more effective for this when combined with magnesium glycinate.
Another way CBD works is by enhancing anandamide signaling. Anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule” is an endocannabinoid produced by our own bodies which plays a role in regulating pain. It’s also linked with feelings of well-being and happiness. By enhancing anandamide signaling, CBD helps reduce pain throughout the body.
Research also shows that CBD can calm dysfunctional glycine receptors. Glycine receptors play a big role in how our bodies process pain—and can cause heaps of problems By targeting alpha-3 glycine receptors CBD can help suppress chronic pain and reduce inflammation.
Another way we are discovering CBD alleviates pain is through activation of certain receptor proteins responsible for controlling our awareness of pain. One such receptor protein is vanilloid receptor TRPV1. A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that TRPV1 mediated CBD’s pain-relieving properties. The research team concluded that CBD could be a “useful pharmacological alternative in the treatment of the disease-associated chronic pain.”
Is there any proof CBD oil for pain will work?
Currently, there isn’t enough medical evidence to support using CBD oil for pain. Most evidence is anecdotal, from people offering testimonials that CBD worked for them.
However, studies investigating the possibility of using CBD oil for pain have begun. Numerous experiments are beginning to show CBD may hold promise for treating issues involving pain and inflammation. A 2016 animal study published in the European Journal of Pain, found that 6.2-milligram and 62.3-milligram dosages of transdermal CBD gel were effective in reducing both the inflammation and pain of arthritis in lab rats.
A 2017 study on rats induced with osteoarthritis published in the Journal of Pain found that CBD prevented joint pain and nerve damage. In another peer-reviewed research paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology, CBD helped alleviate severe neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients. There’s also evidence that CBD may help relieve pain from multiple sclerosis.
Pharmaceutical companies have begun developing CBD products for pain relief. Sativex, a cannabis-based pharmaceutical product, was approved in multiple countries to treat neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms and severe pain from advanced cancer. It is currently being evaluated in clinical trials in the US.
How can I use CBD oil for my pain?
Since there are quite a few products out there, the first thing to think about is the kind of pain you’re treating. After you’ve considered your options and purchased your first product you’ll need to do a little experimentation. If you’re just beginning to incorporate CBD into your health and wellness routine, remember the golden rule “Start low, go slow.” Whether you use CBD topicals, ingest CBD edibles or oils, or take CBD another way, it’s always best to start with a minimum dose, and to increase it only gradually. After a month or two of experimentation and self observation, you should be able to find your “sweet spot”—the dose you find works best for you. For more on how to do that, read our article on CBD oil dosage.
It’s important to follow this gradual process of experimentation because CBD works differently for each person and also causes different effects at different doses. Simply doubling a dose does not guarantee CBD will kill twice as much pain. With CBD, sometimes less is more.
Generally the idea is to start with a very low dose of 5-10mg, and gradually increase it every 5-7 days. Observe yourself daily and record the effects you feel in a daily journal. Did you yell at your children less frequently. Did you feel more mobile? Did you feel less anxious? How was your sleep? Try to be as detailed as possible and become more self-aware. After a month or two, look back in your journal and evaluate. You should be able to identify the dose that worked best.
CBD creams and skin balms are often applied to areas of localized pain, such as sites of muscle spasms or arthritis pain. Be aware than the skin is not very permeable to CBD and that CBD is only absorbed through pores. Consider buying a higher potency CBD cream, transdermal patch, or CBD oil for topical use.
If your brain is the intended destination, you can put drops of CBD oil under your tongue. A measured dropper helps measure out dosages more precisely. The area under your tongue contains a very high concentration of blood vessels, plus it’s close to the brain. Don’t swallow your oil immediately. Leave it under your tongue between 30-90 seconds. If you swallow it right away, the CBD will have to go through your digestive tract and much of it will be filtered out by your liver. Once CBD gets into your bloodstream it can be deployed throughout your body.
There are situations in which ingesting CBD might be preferable. Eating CBD might be better if you want CBD released into your system gradually over time. Typically, CBD that goes through the digestive process remains in your system longer than vaping or drops under the tongue. Some find that eating a CBD gummy or two before bed is better for sleep, for example.
People suffering acutely often combine different methods, for example using a CBD cream and taking drops as well. This is perfectly safe as CBD is non-toxic and you can’t overdose. Generally speaking, the human body can well tolerate doses between 20mg-1500mg per day.
One thing to consider when using CBD oil for pain is whether it is acceptable to have any THC in your product. Although most people prefer Full Spectrum CBD Oil, it may not be appropriate for all. Hemp CBD OIl – No THC is the better choice for anyone with THC sensitivities, or who want to avoid THC altogether.
How does CBD affect inflammation?
Inflammation occurs naturally as our bodies fight infections and heal injuries. It’s when inflammation becomes chronic that our immune systems go from healing us to producing damaged cells and free radicals. These are highly damaging to the body, and can be precursors for a host of ailments, including cancer.
Chronic inflammation doesn’t always present itself in obvious fashion, but that makes it no less dangerous.
In the last few decades, the link between chronic inflammation and disease has become clear. Scientists currently estimate that up to 20% of cancer cases have chronic inflammation at their root. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily caused by inflammation. However, people with Alzheimer’s have elevated inflammatory markers which increase both the severity and speed of cognitive decline.
There are a number of serious health conditions and diseases we know of that are linked to inflammation:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Interestingly, CBD addresses inflammation in much the same way as aspirin. Doctors often recommend a daily aspirin for those at risk of heart attack. Aspirin works by inhibiting your body’s production of inflammatory prostaglandins. That’s a trait aspirin shares with CBD. CBD works by inhibiting the enzyme COX-2—the very enzyme that produces prostaglandins.
Studies conducted on rodents show that CBD likely protects joints against inflammatory arthritic damage in other ways as well. CBD was found to reduce the production of inflammatory tumour necrosis factor (TNFα).
CBD also influences the PPARγ receptor—the one responsible for telling your DNA to change which genes it expresses. The PPARγ receptor plays a role in reducing production of inflammatory molecules. It also influences the production of antioxidants. Because of it’s neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believe CBD might potentially have a role in treating Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and other conditions.
CBD’s reliability for treating arthritic pain is also supported by patient testimony. A CreakyJoints.org poll noted that of the 57% of arthritis patients that tried marijuana or CBD for medical reasons, more than 90% say it helped.
CBD: part of preventative and holistic medicine.
The laws now allow people to experiment with CBD oil for pain and inflammation. However, most chronic conditions can’t be addressed by CBD alone. CBD works best when incorporated as part of a self-care routine that incorporates an anti-inflammatory diet and physical activities. These improve immune system function and help reduce inflammation by preventing its occurrence in the first place. Some scientifically-backed ways to reduce inflammation include:
- Anti-inflammatory diets that are high in raw foods, vegetable and whole grains. Reduction or elimination of meat, sugars, simple carbs and processed foods—all highly inflammatory.
- Increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA. These are abundant in fish and algae.
- Engaging in low-impact exercises like cycling, yoga, pilates, water sports and tai chi. Emphasize core strength, breathing and flexibility. Allow your vital fluids and nerves to flow and signal freely.
Use CBD safely
Although CBD is non-toxic, non-addictive and you can’t overdose, it doesn’t mean it can’t be abused. Remember that CBD can prevent the uptake of certain medicines in the same way grapefruit does. If your medicine carries a grapefruit warning, CBD may interfere with it. If you are on any medications, make sure to consult a medical professional first.
Medical disclaimer: This information does not constitute medical advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Consult with your doctor before modifying your regular medical regime.