Can CBD Help Treat Chronic Pain Naturally?
A beginner’s guide to CBD oil and how it works
Before taking a deep dive into the results of several research papers, a basic comprehension of what CBD oil is and how it works provides a solid foundation. Armed with this information, we can start to build a complete picture of CBD’s scope of potential.
CBD or cannabidiol belongs to a family of chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Once extracted, CBD is added to a carrier oil, before being packaged and distributed as CBD oil. Once ingested, CBD interacts with our body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). Connected to major organs, our immune system, and areas of the brain, the ECS is hugely important.
Throughout our endocannabinoid system are receptors. The presence of cannabinoids, like CBD, triggers these receptors. Once activated or inhibited, CB1 or CB2 receptors can cause a variety of biological responses. Studies into the benefits associated with these reactions are growing in number. However, given the sheer quantity of variables in the human body, providing a definitive conclusion of CBD’s abilities is proving difficult.
Imagine one of those stocking-stuffer games, the one with a small ball that you have to get to the centre of the maze. In our scenario, CBD is the ball, and the maze is our ECS. At the centre is the receptor we want to activate or inhibit. Once you have figured out the route, getting to your goal is simple. But what if every time you went back to the beginning, the maze changed, or the size of the ball was altered according to the dosage of CBD? It would be too big or too small to follow the same path as before.
Stepping back from the maze, you realise that by getting to the receptor, the ball then drops through to another series of mazes, and so on. Every human's genetic makeup is slightly different—their individual maze varies. Where CBD might reach its goal with ease in one person, another individual might have difficulty achieving the same response. It doesn't mean that the ball cannot adequately get to the end of the maze, but we need to work out what needs to change for it to do so.
That is the primary focus of scientists. Their goal is to understand the endocannabinoid system and the capability CBD could have.
Don’t worry, CBD won’t get you high
It is a valid concern. CBD is extracted from Cannabis sativa, a plant that also contains THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol is well-known for its psychoactive side effects. While they do come from the same plant, the two chemical compounds have incredibly different structures. CBD does not induce a high, or any kind of psychoactive side effect. Both cannabinoids still work on the same principle of interacting with our ECS. However, due to their difference on a molecular level, the receptors and reactions they trigger are also different. A brother and sister may come from the same parents, but they will be uniquely different in how they behave—the concept is the same with THC and CBD.
What does the research say about CBD’s efficacy at treating chronic pain?
Chronic pain is defined as continuous pain, usually lasting for at least 12 weeks. Sleeping, eating, even pottering around the house; virtually every aspect of an individual's life is affected by chronic pain.
A typical option for tackling this kind of pain is prescription medicine. We cannot doubt the effectiveness of these drugs, but their side effects can also be severe. The reason CBD is so aggressively pursued as a treatment option is that it appears to have a very mild impact on the body, even in high doses.
Below, we have collated various studies that suggest CBD’s efficacy at mitigating chronic pain.
Kidney transplants are painful enough, however, with the added toxicity of anti-inflammatory drugs, chronic pain is a significant problem. Previous studies have already identified CBD’s use as a chronic pain treatment, but they had not monitored the impact of dosage or drug interactions.
In this particular instance, the focus was applied to recording results based on precise doses being administered. Results showed that “two patients had total pain improvement, 4 had a partial response in the first 15 days and in 1 there was no change”. Adverse effects were recorded, although they were not considered severe. They included nausea, dry mouth, and drowsiness.
Ulcerative colitis (UC)
To make results as genuine as possible, researchers adopt numerous techniques to ensure conclusions cannot be corrupted. To test the effectiveness of CBD, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was set up. Neither those conducting the study nor the patients knew if they had been issued with a placebo or a controlled dose of CBD. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition that causes prolonged periods of abdominal and rectal pain.
The authors of the study acknowledged that “although the primary endpoint was not reached, several signals suggest CBD-rich botanical extract may be beneficial for symptomatic treatment of UC”. The results were promising, but further experimentation with dosage would be needed to come to a definite conclusion.
In 2010, it was estimated that over 2.9 million people had rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, those numbers are also expected to have risen as a result of lifestyle factors. Usually, CBD is taken orally as an oil supplement. However, for this study, researchers identified that the bioavailability of CBD for arthritis was poor. Instead, CBD applied transdermally (as a cream) could provide more targeted relief.
The report concluded that “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviours”. It went on to add that, in their rat model, "exploratory behaviour was not altered by CBD indicating a limited effect on higher brain function".
Multiple sclerosis and chronic pain
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences published a systematic review of the therapeutic effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. Drawing data from dozens of previous studies, the report covered CBD’s effectiveness in regards to cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, addiction, anxiety, and several other conditions. Notable highlights include: "In adults with multiple sclerosis-related spasticity, short-term use of oral cannabinoids improves patient-reported spasticity symptoms".
The review also added, “In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms”. The findings of the paper are incredibly comprehensive and well worth a read to understand the sheer scope of the review. It brings together a vast collection of information and attempts to evaluate each one as part of a larger picture—something that has previously not happened. Many studies take place in isolation.
What else needs to be considered before taking CBD oil?
CBD oil is widely available, and based purely on anecdotal accounts is being met with tremendous praise. The need now is for research to corroborate the claims made by users so that treatment can be applied constructively.
The examples we have provided above are but a snapshot of the work currently underway to fully understand the potential of CBD. Reading for yourself, we are sure you’ll agree the results look very promising. As with any health supplement, numerous factors need to be considered before deciding if CBD is right for you. The level of CBD interaction in children is less known than in adults as the majority of studies use adult patients. CBD oil is also not recommended while breastfeeding or during pregnancy.
Back to our analogy about the intricacies of the human body. Once we understand the full breadth of our individual mazes and how CBD can be most effective, treatment recommendations should follow. The lack of toxicity and side effects associated with CBD certainly point towards a world full of possibilities.