Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or Voltaren are effective but prone to side effects. Their drawbacks and health risks have led more people to try CBD as a natural means to combat inflammation. This extract from hemp offers similar capacities to soothe immune activity that aggravates irritating inflammatory symptoms in the body. In addition, its analgesic and calming effects aid with the aches, pains or discomforts that inflammation causes. CBD is generally better tolerated than pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories like NSAIDs, with fewer side effects. It can be used for extended periods without the acute health risks associated with these drugs. Moreover, CBD can be used topically to treat inflammation, which is particularly beneficial for arthritis, psoriasis, and body aches. Discover how CBD compares to drugs like ibuprofen or Voltaren in treating inflammation and why it may be an excellent alternative to these compounds.
- 1 What is CBD?
- 2 What are NSAIDs Like Ibuprofen?
- 3 What Causes Inflammation?
- 4 Detrimental Effects of Chronic Inflammation
- 5 How CBD Works for Inflammation
- 6 CBD vs Ibuprofen
- 7 Can CBD Substitute Ibuprofen?
- 8 Using CBD for Inflammation
- 9 FAQs
- 10 Conclusion
What is CBD?
Extracted from the cannabis sativa plant, CBD is a therapeutic cannabinoid that can be consumed in many forms, such as CBD oil or gummies. It is produced from the resin of cannabis, which is extracted and refined into a concentrated oil. When it enters the body, it acts on cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain, organs and immune system. In reaction, the body produces endocannabinoid compounds which are highly anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic and pain-relieving. Its most valuable effects in assisting with inflammation come from the abilities of endocannabinoids to modulate immune activity.
These compounds stimulate similar effects to NSAIDs through several metabolic pathways, helping to reduce the impact and damage of inflammatory compounds like cytokines. Beneficially, CBD has no intoxicating effects or ‘high’ associated with it. While these effects are associated with cannabis, they can only be caused by products containing the psychoactive THC cannabinoid. Using pure CBD means you won’t experience any euphoric or mind-altering effects but can benefit from its natural inflammation-alleviating properties. It is very safe and has been clinically proven as a robust and non-addictive option in mitigating a range of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
What are NSAIDs Like Ibuprofen?
Anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals work by modulating the inflammatory response in the body and lowering the discomfort or pain it causes. The most common drugs used for anti-inflammatory purposes are NSAIDs. This category of drugs includes ibuprofen, Voltaren (Diclofenac) and aspirin. They work by inhibiting cyclooxygenase enzymes, which are responsible for prostaglandin synthesis. Prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory (inflammation-causing) lipid compounds in the body. By suppressing their production, NSAIDs help to reduce inflammation and its associated pain.
NSAID Side Effects & Risks
Using NSAIDs can carry very significant risks to health, particularly when they are dosed incorrectly or used for too long. Side effects of NSAIDs can be extensive and severe, including:
- Liver damage: NSAIDs can increase levels of the enzyme aminotransferase (ALT) in the liver if used over extended periods, indicating liver damage. In worst-case scenarios, they can even cause liver hepatitis or failure of the organ.
- Kidney problems: they can damage the kidneys, impairing nephron function.
- Cardiovascular risks: some NSAIDs can cause an increased risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.
- Gastrointestinal: Stomach pain, indigestion, indigestion, ulcers, and bleeding can occur with prolonged NSAID use.
Additionally, NSAIDs can cause adverse reactions (e.g. liver damage) when mixed with blood thinners, diuretics, or other medications. Their side effect risks are further exacerbated for those with underlying organ problems, liver impairment or cardiovascular conditions.
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural response of the body’s immune system that protects it from harm caused by injuries, infections, or foreign irritants. It occurs at a cellular level and can affect any body part. When inflammation occurs, white blood cells work to attack and remove infections or repair damage. The ultimate goal of inflammation is to restore the cells and tissues to a healthy, functional state.
Within the immune system, cytokines are the primary signalling molecule that controls the inflammatory response and helps other cells fight pathogens. These proteins regulate white blood cells and phagocytes, helping them identify and nullify the infection. In addition, cytokines kick off the repair process for cells and tissues affected by the pathogen or damage. Blood flow is expanded into the region, enabling nutrients and healing agents to enter, rejuvenating the tissue.
As a result, inflammation causes redness, swelling, irritation and aches because tissue cellular clearance and repair occur. But when immune signalling goes wrong, or the body misidentifies its tissue as a pathogen, it can cause chronic inflammatory symptoms that damage the cells. Many autoimmune conditions result from mistargeting by immune cells, which can wreak havoc on our health.
Inflammation can be categorized based on its duration. Acute inflammation is a response with a short, discrete period of activity. It is typical of injuries or infections, where the body becomes inflamed for a limited time until the wound or infection is healed. Symptoms like redness, soreness, pain, and swelling can increase blood flow to the affected area and support repair.
Chronic inflammation is continuous inflammatory symptoms that last for months or even years. It may not be linked to a direct injury or infection and can lead to a persistent, aggravated immune response. When this happens, the body remains inflamed extent continuously. Symptoms can be mild or intense, depending on the individual and the cause. Unlike acute inflammation, underlying issues like autoimmune problems generally cause chronic inflammation symptoms, lifestyle factors such as smoking or alcohol use, toxins, and exposure to environmental stressors like sunlight or pollution.
Detrimental Effects of Chronic Inflammation
While short periods of inflammation are a normal and healthy reaction that defends your body, chronic inflammation is a source of health issues and diseases. Because inflammation is the immune system attacking damaged or infected cells, it can cause excessive tissue damage if left unchecked for too long. Healthy cells can become impaired or irreparably harmed when this occurs. Many chronic health conditions can result from this phenomenon. For example, endometriosis is caused by chronic inflammation, which can irritate and damage the uterus lining.
Autoimmune conditions like psoriasis are often the result of chronic inflammation. In these cases, the body’s immune system attacks its tissues due to mistaking it for a foreign pathogen that needs removal. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused or amplified by these types of inflammatory issues. It causes the joints to degrade, becoming tender, stiff and painful. It is also an underlying cause of numerous neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Research now suggests that those who suffer from chronic inflammation are far more at risk of developing a range of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, IBS and neurodegenerative diseases. Inflammation in one area can often spread or begin to affect other bodily regions when not reversed, leading to worsening inflammatory symptoms across the body.
Treating chronic inflammation is challenging as it tends to occur in older individuals with weaker immune systems. It is also often the result of progressive degenerative diseases, which take a long time to treat or mitigate through lifestyle changes.
Common Treatments for Inflammation
Inflammation can be treated via multiple pathways, which are often employed simultaneously. Usually, the best methods to help reduce its symptoms are through lifestyle changes, like exercising more, sleeping better, reducing alcohol or cigarette use, plus increasing fresh vegetable intake. Natural products like curcumin and CBD oil can help the body prevent inflammation while building resilience against it.
In some cases, anti-inflammatory medications may need to be taken if inflammation is severe. For example, NSAIDs or Corticosteroids are frequently used to help with acute inflammation issues by altering the signalling of the inflammatory response. These medicines are often prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, endometriosis or other inflammatory conditions.
The problem with anti-inflammatory pharmacological treatments is that they aren’t suitable for tackling chronic forms of inflammation. Their risk of health dangers becomes much higher over long usage periods. They are very taxing on the organs and toxic if taken too much. Notably, they can strain the liver and kidneys, causing toxicity. Many are looking for different treatment options that can be taken for more sustained periods, like CBD. In contrast to NSAIDs or corticosteroids, CBD has no real risk of long-term problems when taken daily, even at high doses. It’s milder and natural, making it better for those seeking support for chronic inflammation.
How CBD Works for Inflammation
Due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties, CBD is well-suited to assist with calming inflammation plus mitigating the aches, swelling or pain it can cause. When ingested, CBD binds to the body’s cannabinoid CB2 receptors throughout the immune system. The receptors activate and release powerful anti-inflammatory endocannabinoids such as 2-AG and anandamide. These compounds have multiple immuno-modulating properties, making them potent at sustainably alleviating inflammation.
Endocannabinoids can suppress the production of inflammatory compounds in the body, such as cytokines and prostaglandins. These are essential to the inflammatory response but run rampant when chronic inflammation occurs and they become overactive. Endocannabinoids help prevent intercellular damage from macrophages or T cells attacking the body’s tissue by lowering their production and normalising their signalling. This mechanism of action is reasonably different from NSAIDs like ibuprofen, which instead operate by reducing cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes that trigger the release of inflammatory prostaglandins.
COX Enzyme Inhibition
Studies have begun to reveal that CBD and related cannabinoids, such as CBDA, can inhibit COX enzymes, which worsen inflammation. This is similar to how pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs block inflammation. For example, a 2008 study revealed a combination of CBD with CBDA worked as a selective COX-2 enzyme inhibitor. Similar conclusions were drawn from a 2023 study into CBD’s effects on COX enzymes. This study suggested CBD strongly prevented the expression of COX-1 enzymes. It could simultaneously inhibit COX-2 enzymes, but the effects were milder. Although less potent at selectively blocking COX enzymes than NSAIDs, these clinical findings are significant, highlighting its crossover in application for this inflammation-reducing capability.
Cannabidiol also helps to lower adenosine reuptake. Adenosine is a vital signalling molecule in the body that controls all movement. But it also has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain through the A2A adenosine receptor. Improving the ability of the available adenosine to bind with this receptor improves symptoms of excess inflammation and reduces its accompanying adverse health effects.
CBD can also interact with the body’s PPAR-gamma receptors, which regulate the inflammatory response. In rodent studies, CBD’s agonism of this receptor-stimulated a decrease in TNF-alpha levels. TNF-alpha is a cytokine that plays a significant part in chronic inflammation. Dysregulation or mis-signalling of this cytokine can cause or worsen many inflammatory conditions, contribute to autoimmune problems, plus raise insulin resistance. CBD’s ability to lower TNF-alpha helps prevent cell damage due to oxidative stress and inflammation. Modulating its levels in the immune system assists immune cells like macrophages and T cells identify pathogens more accurately, steering them away from damaging bodily tissues.
CBD vs Ibuprofen
CBD and NSAIDs like ibuprofen have some crossover in their mechanisms of action in the body to mitigate inflammation, but both have distinct effects, advantages and drawbacks. Neither is more effective than the other. Each has a valid and viable place in helping with inflammation and its related conditions. Overall, CBD has substantial advantages in its safety profile over NSAIDs, particularly for long-term users of these compounds.
Compared to ibuprofen or aspirin, CBD has fewer side effects, dependence risks, better product selection, greater breadth of inflammatory benefits, plus more robust efficacy when consumed with terpenes.
Lower Side Effect Risk
CBD is safer and better tolerated than pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories. This particularly applies to long-term, sustained use of these compounds as NSAIDs like ibuprofen are toxic if used for extended amounts of time. The same isn’t true of CBD, which can be taken over months or years without issue. CBD’s side effects are far more rare whilst also being more mild. They can include topics like dry mouth, stomach irritation or drowsiness. In contrast, NSAID side effects tend to be more severe, like stomach ulcers, headaches, dizziness or blood pressure increases. In adverse cases, they can cause cardiovascular or liver damage, leaky gut, weakened bones or immune issues.
No Dependence Risk
Pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories and painkillers such as DMARDs, opioids or corticosteroids can be highly addictive. As such, they can’t be taken for long periods, or the risk of causing addiction and its associated negative health consequences is substantial. This can be worse for some people than the original inflammatory problem being treated in the first place. Addiction to DMARDs, for example, can exacerbate its side effects, like liver and kidney toxicity. Over time, it will also lead to withdrawal sickness if usage of the drug is ceased. While they’re more potent at targeting pain and limiting inflammation, their risk of dependence makes them more dangerous and unsuitable for chronic inflammation treatment.
In contrast, CBD is non-addictive. It’s been cleared of having dependence-forming characteristics through multiple clinical studies. In contrast to most painkillers, the cannabinoid has no dopaminergic properties so it won’t affect behaviour patterns. The WHO’s review of its safety found that CBD was not habit-forming, had strong tolerability, and had very low side effects and risks. In many people, CBD can help in treating addiction. It assists in reducing the cravings that addictions cause, helping individuals break the cycle of drug usage, which keeps them hooked.
More Product Selection
A key benefit of CBD over ibuprofen is that it can be taken in a greater variety of ways, with better flexibility in product types and choices to suit individual preferences. Medicine like ibuprofen or aspirin is typically only available in pill or dissolvable tablet form. Occasionally, it can be found infused into the gel or topical solutions. For prescription NSAIDs, there is less choice of product, and it usually must be taken as a pill.
In contrast, CBD can come in various mediums like gummies, CBD oil, tinctures, sprays, vapes, edibles, lozenges, used topically as CBD cream, and even sublingual strips. Many of these come in tasty flavours, making the product more palatable. In addition, a more extensive variety of strengths plus CBD formulations can be found versus NSAIDs. For example, you can find low or high-strength CBD, which suits different individuals who can have varying sensitivities to cannabinoids. Likewise, CBD products can be formulated to contain CBD only as an isolate or as full-spectrum products that contain a blend of added terpenes, minor cannabinoids, phytonutrients and antioxidants alongside CBD. Each offers its distinct benefits, again giving buyers more options in choosing to use these products for inflammation. Unlike with pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories, you’ll be able to find a CBD product to suit your unique needs, preferences and tastes.
Synergies with Anti-Inflammatory Terpenes
CBD is synergistic with both terpenes and many other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN or MEB. When consumed in combination, these natural compounds from cannabis improve the combined inflammatory lowering effects of CBD oil. Terpenes from hemp contribute to the ‘entourage effect’, which enhances cannabinoid uptake in the body’s cannabinoid receptors by boosting receptor permeability. Doing so enables the endocannabinoid system to be activated more effectively, accelerating its anti-inflammation effects. Many terpenes like myrcene are anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and immune-promoting agents that support lowered inflammation. Similarly, CBD taken with other cannabinoids like CBG or CBN improves the combined anti-inflammatory effects of these compounds. Different cannabinoids have differing pathways of action and benefits, making them more potent when used together.
Although CBD can stimulate selective COX enzyme inhibition to reduce inflammation, it isn’t as effective as ibuprofen. Its ability to block the enzymes isn’t as direct, targeted or consequential as its synthetic counterparts like aspirin. That’s because NSAIDs are non-selective in inhibiting the COX enzymes. They are better suited at counteracting both COX-1 and COX-2 enzyme types, providing a more comprehensive ability to suppress the inflammation they cause.
Another critical downside of using CBD for inflammation versus NSAIDs or pharmaceutical remedies is that it won’t be as reliable for many people in combatting symptoms. These synthetic medicines are purposely designed to work reliably for inflammation every time and are potent enough to do so. In contrast, some people won’t always respond well to cannabinoids like CBD. Some people see little effectiveness for their inflammation symptoms, while for others, it may only work for certain forms of inflammation. CBD is selective at targeting COX enzyme inhibition, making it more capricious in providing results. NSAIDs’ non-selective action means they will always block these enzymes, making them consistent across almost everyone despite their more significant side effects. As such, they’re better for acute or intense inflammation that needs management through more potent means.
Can CBD Substitute Ibuprofen?
As CBD grows in popularity, it is being increasingly researched as a complement or even replacement for the use of conventional anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drugs. It provides many of the same effects as these drugs and is better suited for sustained use in treating chronic inflammation. But its lack of potency and reliability versus ibuprofen may mean it lets users down when they need it most. As such, it can’t be relied on in cases of more acute pain or inflammation from headaches, arthritis, muscle soreness or minor pain. Pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories are non-selective for COX enzymes, ensuring they always work when taken.
Additionally, only some respond to CBD. Some individuals find little benefit from cannabinoids despite their natural therapeutic potential. They’re often better used for mild inflammation or supporting the treatment of chronic inflammation alongside other remedies such as better diet and lifestyle improvements. Although it has fewer side effects and is safer, CBD shouldn’t be viewed as a viable substitute for ibuprofen due to their differences in effects and benefits. It’s non-addictive, all-natural, plus won’t cause toxicity or severe side effects, but it has less application for treating acute inflammation or pain.
Using CBD for Inflammation
Most people will take CBD either orally as CBD oil or using a CBD topical to treat differing types of inflammatory symptoms.
CBD oil is an excellent option for most types of inflammation, being easy to measure, dose and accurately titrate. As opposed to topical products, oral CBD products like tinctures or oil will offer generalised relief from inflammation anywhere in the body. You can use it for most inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, colitis, psoriasis, and headaches. Many CBD oils use a carrier like MCT to better deliver the cannabinoid into the body and aid with absorption.
You’ll usually find it in two forms: full-spectrum CBD oil and isolate CBD products. Each has distinct advantages, but full-spectrum CBD is more productive for inflammation. It contains many complementary anti-inflammatory compounds, including terpenes, minor cannabinoids and antioxidants. This blend of potent natural compounds can alleviate inflammatory conditions more than any individual cannabinoid. To take it, you can either drop it into your mouth and eat it or use it under your tongue sublingually for more rapid absorption. Sublingual absorption has higher bioavailability and takes effect faster, making it better for quick effects in blocking inflammation. In contrast, digesting CBD can take a couple of hours but is slower to release, meaning it’s better for general use or chronic inflammation.
Topical CBD excels at helping with inflammation in a particular surface area of the body. It’s beneficial for aches, pains, and swelling that can occur with arthritis or injuries. It can be rubbed into the afflicted area, quickly working through the body’s CB2 receptors to stimulate inflammation-lowering benefits. Many CBD creams or ointments also contain vitamins, moisturising agents and natural antioxidants, which assist with overall skin health. They can be ideal for inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, helping to directly counteract its irritating effects and heal the underlying skin layers.
If you’re applying a CBD topical, it will take an hour or two to be absorbed. But once the skin has taken it in deeply, it will provide its rejuvenating, pain-relieving effects via the joint or skin’s cannabinoid receptors. Many use it for arthritis, applying CBD ointments to the joints when symptoms flare up. It helps to block pain via nerve cells in the region, altering nociception to mitigate the uncomfortable pain sensations associated with arthritis. For others, like athletes, it’s an idyllic method to help in calming down muscle or tendon soreness after exercise.
CBD has multiple properties as a natural anti-inflammatory, enabling it to assist with inflammation. It interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate the immune system, effectively downregulating the inflammatory response. Research has shown that endocannabinoids produced from this system in response to CBD can alter the production and signalling of cytokine proteins, which control inflammation. Additionally, it affects COX enzymes like ibuprofen, helping to inhibit them and reduce inflammatory symptoms. While not as powerful as ibuprofen or pharmaceutical NSAID drugs, CBD has fewer side effects and can be used for longer, making it better for chronic inflammation.
Versus ibuprofen, CBD has more mild side effects, which occur much more rarely. It also can be used for extended periods without raising the risk of severe side effects, which is untrue for ibuprofen. Long-term use of ibuprofen can lead to gastrointestinal problems, ulcers in the gut, liver toxicity, blood pressure issues and an increased risk of heart attack. In contrast, CBD has mild side effects such as dry mouth, drowsiness or mild stomach irritation, which most people don’t experience. Confirm with your doctor if you’re looking to take either compound, as they’ll be best positioned to advise you on the health benefits versus risks involved.
For individuals such as athletes, CBD is helpful in soothing muscle aches from inflammation. It interacts with cannabinoid receptors in tendons and muscles, promoting the release of therapeutic, anti-inflammatory endocannabinoids in the region. This counteracts muscle soreness and helps block the pain these aches cause. Some individuals find the best relief from CBD topicals or oils for localized application to inflamed muscles.
The time it takes for CBD to exert its anti-inflammatory effects can vary based on dosage, individual physiology, administration method, and cannabinoid tolerance. Some people may experience relief relatively quickly, within 30 minutes to an hour, especially when using methods like sublingual dosing. Applying topical CBD creams can take longer to work as they need to be absorbed through the skin.
It may take consistent use of CBD over extended periods for chronic or systemic inflammation to observe noticeable effects. It’s essential to be patient and consistent with CBD usage in these cases to maximise activation of the endocannabinoid system and the anti-inflammatory benefits it can provide.
Both CBD and ibuprofen are valuable in their own right. Each offers unique properties that are better suited to particular conditions or scenarios. CBD, for instance, provides a greater breadth of potential health benefits for holistic wellbeing, with the ability to help with symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, psoriasis, inflammation, arthritis and pain. It’s milder but natural, non-addictive, and has fewer risks of side effects in comparison to ibuprofen.
For more severe inflammation or high-reliability relief, ibuprofen is a better option. Unlike CBD, it’s a non-selective COX enzyme inhibitor, so it has higher efficacy for blocking inflammation. But its potency also means it has more risks. Ibuprofen can cause severe cardiovascular and organ damage if taken in high doses for too long.
The choice between CBD and ibuprofen depends on how you respond to each, the type of inflammation, and personal preferences. Often, they’re interchangeable, but not always. You should consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable option.
While offering many helpful anti-inflammatory effects, CBD isn’t necessarily the ‘best’ anti-inflammatory. Its critical advantages versus pharmaceutical remedies include being safer, all-natural, non-addictive and capable of being used sustainably over time. It may be the best in specific scenarios for some people. For example, those with chronic psoriasis symptoms can consistently use CBD topicals to combat their condition. In contrast, NSAID compounds like aspirin cause very adverse health consequences if taken for too long. CBD’s primary appeal lies in its potential to modulate inflammation without the negative effects of traditional anti-inflammatory medications.
Combining CBD and ibuprofen is not recommended due to both compounds having the ability to interact with P450 enzymes in the liver. In combination, these interactions may raise the risk of liver damage or toxicity, making them better used on their own. Using CBD with many medications like blood thinners can carry risks of higher side effects or adverse reactions. It’s always important to check in with your doctor before taking it if you have an existing condition or prescription medication in use.
Ibuprofen and CBD are better suited for different purposes, and neither is necessarily ‘better’ than the other. NSAIDs like ibuprofen are more powerful, reliable and suited to counteracting severe inflammation or pain. They can be relied on to work in everyone but can’t be used for long periods because of their potential to cause severe side effects, including liver or kidney toxicity. In contrast, CBD is a natural alternative for mild inflammation or mitigating chronic inflammation over more extended periods. While less reliable and consistent, it has better safety, fewer side effects and won’t cause addiction. CBD also has some advantages over pharmacological anti-inflammatories, like having more excellent product selection and synergies when combined with terpenes from hemp, plus aiding with a broader range of other conditions such as anxiety, sleep or stress.