It doesn’t matter how prepared we are, how healthy we are, or how strong we are—we all experience pain. But, while the sensation of pain is essential, it does have a nasty habit of stopping us from doing the things we love. That’s where CBD oil comes in, as research suggests it could be useful at managing pain, with minimal risk of adverse side effects. So, how does CBD affect pain?
To understand how CBD oil could make its debut as a treatment for pain, we first need to understand the phenomenon of pain. The difficulty with treating pain is that it’s subjective, varying from one person to the next. Whenever we experience pain, there is an emotional and a physical component to consider.
HOW PAIN WORKS
Pain may feel instant, but whenever we stub a toe or catch a finger in a drawer, the sensation has to pass through dozens of control points. These control points include neurons, nerve fibres, the spinal cord, and three different areas of the brain. Even once the brain has processed the signal, it still needs to coordinate the appropriate response. In the case of a stubbed toe, this is usually a lot of jumping around, and a few harsh words.
However, the process outlined above is only half the battle. Have you ever noticed how even the smallest bumps seem more painful as you get older, despite easily walking them off as a kid? That’s partly because there is an emotional component to how we feel pain. Our brain reminds us to avoid painful situations by creating a lasting memory.
It may not seem like it at the time, but our emotional response to pain is crucial, as living pain-free would create far more problems than it solves—how would you know if you had an infection, or if you cut your hand? Pain is an essential defence mechanism, but even the best intentions can go awry.
WHAT’S THE LINK BETWEEN CBD OIL AND PAIN?
For most of us, the pain we experience is nociceptive. When nerve fibres detect an injury, they trigger our pain response via the central nervous system (CNS). Causes of nociceptive pain include bruises, burns, or fractures.
However, nociceptive pain is not the only kind of pain. There is also neuropathic pain, a sensation linked to the body’s neurological system. Remember those control points we mentioned earlier? Well, imagine that one of them is damaged. The sensation of pain would be disrupted, throwing how we process pain into disarray. The result can be anything from an intense shooting pain to numbness or a burning sensation. And, worst of all, this type of pain can very quickly become chronic, severely impacting a person’s quality of life.
It’s in cases of chronic pain that we typically turn to prescription painkillers. Unfortunately, not only can they prove ineffective, but some carry substantial side effects and are highly addictive. This is where many researchers are making a case for alternatives such as CBD oil. Not only could it prove an effective remedy for pain, but according to the World Health Organisation, it has “no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential”.
HOW COULD CBD OIL HELP MANAGE PAIN?
The evidence supporting CBD oil’s pain-relieving qualities is still in preclinical or animal model stages. However, early results are encouraging, and with that in mind, let’s take a look at what leading research institutes suggest about the capabilities of CBD oil.
• Nociceptive pain relief
A condition well-known for causing instances of acute and chronic nociceptive pain is arthritis. With over 200 different types of arthritis, there is no shortage of people affected. Worst of all, not only does the degenerative disease cause issues with mobility, but there is currently no cure. However, in 2000, the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology uncovered some promising results.
Utilising a rodent model of arthritis, researchers tested the effects of CBD. They found that 25mg per day (administered orally) exhibited “immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory actions”, and, as a result, concluded that CBD has “potent anti-arthritic” effects on this model of arthritis.
Thankfully, the conclusion above appears to go hand-in-hand with the results of a 2016 study published in Molecular Medicine Reports. In it, researchers from Jiaotong University College of Medicine found that cannabidiol (CBD) demonstrates “anti-apoptosis, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative activities”. Oxidative stress is a key contributor to inflammation, which, if left untreated, could lead to rheumatoid arthritis, ischemia-reperfusion injury, and neuropathic pain.
• Neuropathic pain relief
Knowing that nerve endings and neural pathways play a crucial role in neuropathic pain, treatments need to target these mechanisms directly. Encouragingly, a comprehensive review by Frontiers in Pharmacology found the results from dozens of preclinical studies to support the use of medical cannabis in treating pain. But, don’t let the phrase “medical cannabis” alarm you. Medical cannabis is merely a term used to describe not only the plant, but its constituent parts—including cannabinoids such as CBD.
The 2018 review highlighted the analgesic effect of cannabinoids, including inhibition of neurotransmitters, modulation of neuron excitability, and restriction of pain pathways. Not only did the researchers associate the use of cannabinoids with improvements in neuropathic pain, but they added that medical cannabis was generally well-tolerated.
The review did note several areas that still need development, such as follow-up results and long-term evidence regarding the risks and benefits of medical cannabis. There is, of course, a long way to go before we see doctors regularly prescribing medical cannabis derivatives as a treatment for pain.
CAN CBD OIL MAKE PAIN WORSE?
All of the research outlined above encourages the use of CBD oil, but is there a risk it could increase pain, making it worse? So far, none of the studies highlighted link consuming CBD oil with an increase in pain.
There is evidence to suggest interactions between CBD and enzymes in the liver. If you’re on any prescription medication, you should consult your doctor before taking CBD oil to see if you might be affected. On the whole, CBD oil appears well-tolerated, with reported side effects including mild cases of dry mouth, drowsiness, and low blood pressure.
WHICH CBD OIL HELPS PAIN?
The exact concentration, dose, or variation of CBD oil needed to treat a specific condition is still unknown. While studies suggest CBD oil may be useful in treating pain, more research is required before we can confidently say which dose is most effective, or how often you would need to take it.
If you’re new to CBD oil, the smartest approach is to start low and slow. That means a low-concentration oil, consumed once or twice a day. Once you’re accustomed to its effects, you can increase the dose and frequency according to your needs.