In today’s age of scientific and technological advancement, it’s easy to forget the hardships humans used to regularly endure. It’s also easy to take for granted all the modern luxuries afforded to us by such advancements. Pain management, for instance, is one of those luxuries. Its necessity has led to a wide variety of potential treatments and a booming multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.
CBD and Pain Management
The strength of medicines, such as opioids, brings with it several adverse side effects, however. An increase in dependency on these drugs has resulted in a nationwide addiction crisis, with prescription drug overdoses becoming the leading cause of death in the US. This begs the question: what alternatives are there that safely reduce pain with minimal side effects and without leading to dependency?
One potential solution that’s gaining traction is cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in hemp. Those familiar with CBD have heard of its effectiveness in treating anxiety, depression, and specific neurological disorders such as epilepsy, but research also points to its use in pain reduction.
A 2006 study concluded that CBD was effective in reducing inflammatory and neuropathic pain in rats. Another similar study found topical CBD application to be an effective treatment for arthritic pain.
How Does CBD Treat Pain?
As you might expect, the answer has to do with the chemistry of the brain and body. Everyone has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body, and it’s responsible for regulating appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation, among other things. When administered, CBD targets many cannabinoid receptors within the ECS, including those associated with pain. In one study, it was shown that CBD binds to fatty acid binding proteins, thus raising levels of anandamide, a neurotransmitter known for pain regulation.
Additional research has concluded that CBD suppresses both inflammatory and neuropathic pain in rodents by potentiating (increasing the effect of) glycine receptors.
Because the FDA has only recently approved CBD, its inclusion in prescription medications in the US is minimal. A cannabis extract approved in the UK and Canada, Sativex, contains equal parts of THC and CBD. This has been shown to ease cancer pain in human trials.
THC is known for having analgesic properties, as well as causing the “entourage effect,” meaning CBD and THC become more effective when used in conjunction with each other. A report comparing Sativex to a THC-dominant extract and a placebo concluded that the CBD part of the drug was crucial in effective pain management, further reinforcing CBD’s role in pain reduction.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CBD’s pain management potential. Although current research presents a compelling case for CBD, we still don’t know much about the cannabinoid or how it interacts with the body. This partly due to the continued status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug by the DEA, which drastically hinders clinical trials and research that would further unravel the mystery of the plant. Additionally, the perceptible effects of CBD can be subtle and vary in degree from user to user.
Despite these hurdles, the evidence– albeit, mostly anecdotal evidence– that exists for CBD as an effective treatment for pain is overwhelming. Clinical animal trials alone are a compelling demonstration of CBD’s potential. If that’s not convincing enough, consider that the most extensive survey to date on cannabidiol found that 42 percent of users reportedly stopped using pain medications like Tylenol and Vicodin in favor of CBD .
Although cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, CBD as medicine is still a young concept. Ongoing research will continue to shed light on the many uses of cannabis, and its acceptance will improve, as outdated and increasingly invalid stigmas will continue to dwindle. As the CBD industry continues to expand, so will global availability, leading to less pain and a higher quality of life for all.