Make no mistake, cannabidiol (CBD) is changing the way we approach pain management. Over the last few years, it seems as though the amount of articles being written about this non-psychoactive cannabis/hemp compound has increased tenfold. This spike in curiosity can mainly be attributed to more and more people relating their own experiences with CBD, along with a growing library of research that has appeared out of the shadows of pseudo-medicine and into the light of accepted practices.
Article at a Glance:
Pain management could benefit from the use of cannabidiol (CBD).
- But what type of pain?
- There are many different types of pain with varied causes.
- Pain can compromise every aspect of the sufferer’s life.
Opioids have long been the go-to option for pain management.
- Opioid addiction is a serious problem in the country.
- Effectiveness of opioids eventually decreases, causing a need to constantly increase the dosage.
- Overdose is just one of the side effects of opioid dependency.
Studies have focused on CBD as an alternative to opioids.
- CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis/hemp plant.
- While most evidence surrounding CBD’s benefits for pain is anecdotal, animal studies have shown that CBD can reduce pain and inflammation.
- Though no specific dosage for CBD has been established yet, the human body does not build a tolerance for CBD, meaning no increase in dosage is necessary.
- Studies show CBD could positively impact traumatic brain injury.
- CBD also displays results with arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
CBD and Opioid Combo
- Used together, CBD and opioids can greatly reduce pain.
- CBD has been shown to reduce opioid dependence.
- CBD Legality
- There is growing acceptance to medical CBD use.
But before we reveal the evidence supporting the hypothesis that CBD does indeed support pain management, it is important to understand pain, various discomforts, and how such suffering can be a debilitating presence in a person’s life.
Pain is complicated. It’s the product of injury, physical or emotional trauma, disease or merely the natural progression of age. It can be sudden or nagging or chronic or acute—and manifests as sensations like sharp and stabbing or prolonged and dull. Pain doesn’t discriminate, affecting every square inch of the human body for people from all walks of life.
As for how it impacts everyday life, pain changes the way people get out of bed, how they approach work, how they interact with friends, how they enjoy family, and how well they sleep. No matter what else is happening in your life—good or bad—pain has the power to override everything.
The Role Of Opioids In Pain Management
Unfortunately, the mission to successfully manage the broad spectrum of pain has led to bouts of opioid addiction that crosses socio-economic borders. While regarded as the best treatment of pain for thousands of years, somewhere along the way opioid treatment crossed the line from helpful pain relief to a dangerous doorway to addiction.
As researchers see it, the problem with opioid treatment is that, eventually, its effectiveness begins to wane because users naturally build a tolerance, meaning they will also require an ever-increasing dosage in order to manage their pain. Clearly, this mode for pain management is unsustainable, and can lead to a dependence that becomes harder and harder to control.
Aside from the tolerance building and the question of addiction, the overall effectiveness of opioids in pain management has been thrown into question. A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that there is not enough evidence in support of opioids as a long-term pain solution. i. At the same time, evidence also suggests that those dependent on high doses of opioids are at risk of overdose, fractures, heart disease, and sexual dysfunction.
All the while, opioid abuse in America has reached crisis levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 the number of overdose deaths involving opioids—including prescription drugs—was six times higher than in 1999.
CBD As An Alternative For Pain Relief
The vast array of side effects, coupled with the dangers of drug dependence, has spurred a movement for pain relief alternatives. A study conducted on rats and mice in the Journal of Experimental Medicine suggests that a reduction in pain and inflammation is possible with CBD use. Those same researchers also found that the rodents were not likely to build a tolerance for CBD, meaning the dose would not need to continuously increase.
And perhaps one of the brightest possibilities is CBD’s potential to provide a positive impact on traumatic brain injuries. A study from 2017 examined the connection between brain trauma and the body’s endocannabinoid system. The results found that while CBD does not bind to brain receptors the same way that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does, it does interact with brain function. Although the effect of CBD on brain injury has not been specifically tested as of yet, the authors of the report state that “CBD may be a promising future avenue of investigation in the study of neuroinflammation in response to brain injury.”
In specific conditions, like arthritis and multiple sclerosis, CBD could hold the key to unlocking a life not compromised by constant pain. A study in the European Journal of Pain tested topical CBD gel on laboratory rats with arthritis for four days. While the researchers say more human studies are needed for concrete results, the lab rats in the study showed a significant drop in inflammation and general signs of pain without any side effects.
Meanwhile, one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis are painful muscle spasms, affecting the entire body. One report found that an oral spray containing equal amounts of THC and CBD could potentially reduce the amount and frequency of these painful spasms.
CBD Used With Opioids
One of the more promising characteristics of CBD is the compound’s ability to work with opioids in general pain relief, while also helping to reduce the risk of dependence. One scientific study treated 21 chronic pain patients who used opioids in high doses. These individuals were given cannabis with extremely low THC levels by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and were instructed to vaporize the cannabis three times a day, resulting in a decrease of pain by 27 percent.
Researchers also tested to determine CBD’s potential to guard against former opioid users relapsing back into dependence. In the study, animal subjects who had a history of cocaine and alcohol abuse, while also exhibiting relapse characteristics like dependency, anxiety, and impulsivity, were administered transdermal CBD once every 24 hours for a seven-day period. The treatment showed to prevent the development of addiction characteristics, and also deterred any relapses for five months, even though CBD traces were flushed out of the body after three days.
The Role of CBD In Future Pain Management
The ever-evolving legal status of cannabis—and by extension, CBD—state by state and throughout the entire nation, will surely continue to influence how extracts of the compound are utilized in studies going forward. As it stands, more than half the states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. But one fact is certain: the acceptance of some CBD products and uses in mainstream institutions like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will likely lead to wider use by the medical community. This makes education surrounding the possibilities of CBD for pain management even more crucial.