Pain is a complex problem affecting many in Australia and around the world. 1 in 5 Australians over 45 has had chronic pain issues at some point in their lifetime. Unfortunately, many of the underlying conditions that cause such pain are difficult to treat. Often people are prescribed addictive painkillers such as oxycodone or anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals called NSAIDs. These products are side-effect prone and can damage the kidneys or liver with sustained use. Their impacts on our health can be dire. CBD is offering a natural alternative to these heavier-duty compounds. People who have pain issues are turning to CBD for its analgesic properties in mitigating symptoms of pain. It’s able to limit our perception of pain while aiding in soothing its underlying causes. Let’s take a look at why CBD can help with pain, plus how to use it.
- 1 What is CBD?
- 2 What is Pain?
- 3 Types of Pain
- 4 How is Pain Treated?
- 5 Side Effects of Pharmaceutical Pain Medications
- 6 Can CBD Help with Pain?
- 7 Side Effects Versus Pharmaceuticals
- 8 Using CBD for Pain
- 9 Will CBD Work for My Pain?
- 10 How to Use CBD for Pain
- 11 Conclusion
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the hundreds of cannabinoid compounds that naturally occur in the hemp plant (cannabis sativa). This cannabinoid in particular is highly therapeutic and prized for its health-promoting properties. When consumed it interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the body and causes the release of anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), and analgesic (anti-pain) compounds known as endocannabinoids. It’s natural, non-psychoactive, non-addictive, and safe to use daily. The best part is – CBD has very minimal side effects for users. Some users report mild stomach aches, dry mouth, or drowsiness at high dosages. Compared to pharmaceuticals offering similar effects, its safety profile is far superior.
What is Pain?
Pain is an unpleasant reaction to external, or even internal, stimuli from our nervous system. It causes uncomfortable sensations in the body or mind which signals to us that something is wrong. It’s a system designed to protect us, helping us avoid injury. Nerve receptors across the peripheral nervous system are responsible for delivering these sensations. These are located in just about every part of the body. When we feel the heat, pressure, cold or other stimuli they are activated and send signals to the brain that something is wrong.
Types of Pain
Generally, pain is categorized based on the duration it’s experienced, as well as how it affects the nervous system. It can be acute – where the pain is short-lived, occurs quickly and goes away soon after the stimuli are removed. Chronic pain however is usually the result of an ongoing health issue, disease, or injury that lasts months and can be debilitating. Pain can also be classified by its effects on the nervous system. There are three main types of pain:
This type of pain occurs in the nerves as a stabbing or shooting sensation. It often is tied to the touch sensation and can make the feeling of touch or pressure highly uncomfortable. Because neuropathic pain is controlled by our nerve pathway signals, it’s able to be suppressed by downregulating these signals. CBD can enable this through its role in activating the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating nervous system responses.
Pain that is nociceptive is caused by injuries to the body’s tissues such as muscle fibres. It occurs from blunt force, for example being punched. It usually presents as an aching feeling or dull throb. This is usually what is felt with gut or stomach pain, period pain and other internal pain types.
Is the pain that feels ‘radiating’ and affects the nerve roots. It’s usually a deep pain that is felt from the spine, inner legs, pelvis, or hips. Frequently it is known as sciatic nerve pain due to affecting the sciatic nerves in the legs and buttocks.
Pain is experienced differently in each person – we all have different tolerances, perceptions, and sensations of it which is important to be aware of. When it comes to CBD’s usefulness in treating pain, it can only assist with neuropathic pain. We’ll come back to this topic in more detail.
How is Pain Treated?
Pain can be both actively treated in many cases or mitigated through lifestyle change, physical therapy, and pharmacological protocols. It’s important to note that some forms of chronic pain can’t be cured for many – often the only option is to manage it. Let’s look at the primary ways pain is treated.
Lifestyle changes: this particularly applies to chronic pain. Many types of chronic pain are caused by diseases like arthritis in the joints. Lifestyle changes can help in lowering overall inflammation and underlying causes of chronic pain. For example, eliminating alcohol or exercising more might reduce the symptoms of arthritis in some people and help prevent the symptoms from recurring.
Physical or psychological therapy: for many who become injured, physiotherapy, stretches, recovery exercises, and physical conditioning can help to mitigate pain symptoms. Even those with severe injuries can see improvements in pain levels by adopting daily therapy practices. The same can be said for mental illnesses. Psychological therapy to manage issues with depression, anxiety, or other mental problems can help to change our perception of pain.
Medications (pharmaceuticals): many doctors prescribe opiate-based painkillers or pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs to help with symptoms of pain. Common opiate-based painkillers include codeine, oxycontin, and tramadol. Each of these is addictive, taxing on the liver and can cause unpleasant side effects. The other key category of medicines to combat pain is NSAIDS or ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs’. Ibuprofen, aspirin, and paracetamol are the most common medicines that fall into this category. They’re typically used by people with issues such as headaches, arthritis, or certain chronic pain types.
For many, pharmaceutical medicines are a poor option in the long term to deal with pain. CBD is providing an all-natural alternative to help mitigate both pain and inflammation for these individuals. Let’s take a look at why pharmaceuticals can lead to negative long-term health outcomes and why people are seeking other options.
Side Effects of Pharmaceutical Pain Medications
There are two main forms of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat pain which are NSAIDs and opiate-based painkillers. Both carry risks and side effects that make them problematic. They are also addictive – particularly for stronger opiates like oxycontin.
Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs or ‘NSAIDs’) are often prescribed to deal with topical pain issues or pain in an isolated area like arthritis in the joints, headaches, pain from strains, and body aches. They are more suited towards treating minor pain or discomfort, but won’t provide much relief for acute, intense pain. NSAIDs reduce pain by lowering inflammation. They block enzymes in the body that are the primary trigger of the inflammatory response, known as prostaglandins.
Common side effects of NSAIDs are:
- Stomach irritation, indigestion, and stomach ulcers
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Kidney damage
- Blood clots and blood pressure problems
Side effect risks increase at higher dosages and usage frequencies. This makes NSAIDs particularly unsuitable for chronic pain or inflammation due to heightened risks over time. CBD can usually substitute the role of NSAIDs for many users. For many looking to naturally reduce pain, it’s a strong alternative option and acts on similar metabolic pathways. It may also be used in a supplementary fashion alongside NSAIDs to support the cessation of symptoms. This won’t work for all individuals though – you’ll need to experiment and assess its efficacy for yourself.
Pain Killers (Opiate-Based)
Opiates are prescribed for both acute and chronic pain, helping patients to relax and mitigate the uncomfortable sensations occurring in their nervous system. Unfortunately, opiates are highly addictive. They can be dangerous due to substituting the body’s production of endorphins, the brain chemical that causes pleasure and blissful feelings. Over time the brain can become reliant on them due to this substitution. It results in the user feeling unhappy and irritable when the opiate is removed. Effectively opiates can ‘hack’ our dopamine and endorphin systems, causing us to desire them constantly – the source of addiction. Because of their danger, opiates are usually employed when other forms of therapy or pain relief haven’t worked, or when pain is severe.
Side effects of opiate painkillers include:
- Nausea and sick feelings
- Dizziness and drowsiness – it can be dangerous to use these painkillers if driving or operating machinery
- Constipation and stomach irritation
- Mood and focus problems
The risks and likelihood of side effects and addiction increase with longer-term use, plus with higher dosages and usage frequency. Opiates can cause overdose if misused which will result in injury or even death. They can also dampen the body’s natural breathing function and suppress the diaphragm, which can result in breathing problems. It can lower the oxygen supply to the brain or cessation of breathing. This makes them even riskier for those with existing breathing or lung conditions like asthma.
Can CBD Help with Pain?
CBD has analgesic or pain-relieving characteristics via activating cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. It causes this system to produce endocannabinoids like anandamide that help in downregulating pain sensations. The method of action is through the CB2 receptors in the body that act on the CNS to help dampen the feelings and symptoms of pain in the nervous system. As the nervous system is responsible for us feeling pain, CBD’s action on it helps to reduce our sensation of pain, particularly in isolated areas. It is particularly effective for neuropathic pain. The downside is it’s less effective for other pain types like radicular pain. CBD won’t be able to help you with severe pain and it doesn’t work for everyone. It may be a good option to test as a natural pain-relief alternative.
CBD, like other cannabinoids, is also anti-inflammatory. It can mitigate the underlying inflammatory causes of pain. It acts along similar pathways as NSAIDs in aiding inflammation reduction. By supporting the production of cytokines, it helps to soothe the immune response that contributes to inflammation. Cytokines are immunomodulating agents that signal the immune system to react to stimuli. Better regulation of these agents leads to improvements in inflammation symptoms. Many other cannabinoids in hemp like CBN, CBG, and CBC are also highly anti-inflammatory in the body and help to reduce markers of inflammation in the cells. Furthermore, antioxidants in CBD oil like GLA, ALA and omega 3 are also naturally anti-inflammatory and assist in protecting cells.
Outside of the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids like CBD also interact with non-ECS receptors in the nervous system and brain. The two notable interactions it has been with the TRPV1 and 5-HT1A receptors. TRPV1 has a role in our sensation of pain. By modulating it, CBD assists in limiting our experience of pain. On the other hand, 5-HT1A plays a role in serotonin regulation. It also offers a form of analgesia through lowered pain reception when activated.
Side Effects Versus Pharmaceuticals
The key difference between CBD and pharmaceutical painkillers is their side effect risks. CBD has minimal side effects, while still being an effective analgesic. Those that are reported are generally very mild, even at high dosage ranges and frequencies of use. Some of the most common side effects are dry mouth, mild upset stomach, and drowsiness (although this can help with sleep).
The body can absorb the cannabinoids like CBD very easily. Because it’s natural and plant-based, it’s more well tolerated biologically than pharmaceutical compounds. It readily binds with cannabinoid receptors in the body to quickly trigger their effects. These receptors are responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD that make it exceptional in mitigating mild pain issues such as headaches and back pain.
Using CBD for Pain
CBD won’t work for all types of pain – particularly if it’s acute or intense. It’s better applied similarly to NSAIDs for minor aches due to back pain, nerve pain or arthritis. Because of its capacity in mitigating inflammation, it’s also more useful for mitigating inflammatory-related pain types.
Backaches and pain are extremely common, particularly as we age. It’s estimated that up to 80% of adults experience back pain at some point. It can be caused by muscle tension, poor posture, pinched nerves, and injury. While this pain can strike at any age, it is most common in adults between 35 and 55. Anyone who has ever suffered back pain knows how debilitating it can be. Back pain can make sitting, standing, or even walking difficult. CBD is offering much relief from this frustrating experience. The endocannabinoid system has CB2 receptors deep within the back’s tendons and muscles. These receptors can provide targeted, localized back pain relief when activated. Through this pathway, CBD can reduce strain and soreness within the back.
Joint and Arthritis Pain
Joint pain is a common problem. It can be caused by several different things, including injury, inflammation, and arthritis. Arthritis is the most common cause of joint pain. You or someone you know may be suffering from arthritis pain right now. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both conditions lead to degradation of the sheath which surrounds the knee, elbow, or other joints that prevents friction between the bones. It can cause intense pain and aching in the joints and worsens over time.
Osteoarthritis is the most frequently seen form of arthritis. It happens when the cartilage which cushions the joint between bones begins to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a separate type. It’s a chronic inflammatory condition that is symbolised by joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Autoimmune problems are the underlying cause of this arthritis type.
CBD is thought to help reduce inflammation in the joints from rheumatoid arthritis via interacting with CB2 receptors in the region. Simultaneously it works to counteract symptoms of pain via its analgesic properties. Multiple preclinical trials and studies in the US and Canada have experimented with CBD to deal with rheumatoid arthritis pain. Through these mechanisms, it can help to restore mobility in the joint, return movement and bring relief.
Nerve or neuropathic pain can be debilitating. It can make it hard to concentrate, sleep, and even enjoy life. This type of pain is often the result of an injury or inflammation. However, it can also be caused by diabetes, shingles, and fibromyalgia. CBD oil can help with nerve pain by reducing inflammation and downregulating pain signalling in the nerves. It helps both directly with the pain sensation and related inflammation.
CBD won’t work for all nerve pain cases. Its efficacy heavily depends on some key factors. These factors include the severity of your nerve pain, the cause of your nerve pain, and your physiology. All of these things will play a role in how effective CBD oil is for you – individual experiences and results can vary. Studies have tested it on certain types of peripheral nerve pain issues. These showed some beneficial effects but it was most effective for minor pain. It helped to reduce the perception of pain but wasn’t effective for severe cases.
Menstrual Cramps and Pain
Menstruation can be a painful experience for many women. It is extremely common among women in Australia. Up to 84% of women have had some form of pain during their period, with more than 30% experiencing it every month. Pain from menstruation is called dysmenorrhoea. There are conditions such as endometriosis and adenomyosis which lead to more intense forms of menstrual pain. CBD’s potential to suppress inflammation and downregulate pain perception may help alleviate menstrual pain. Many women also report that it assists with related period issues like mood swings and bloating.
Headache and Migraine Pain
Migraines and headaches cause a throbbing, aching sensation in the head and can be mild or intense. Both can be caused by many triggers but are thought to be primarily the result of neurotransmitter imbalances. CBD’s capacities in lowering neuroinflammation, modulating serotonin receptor activity, plus binding with the brain’s CB1 receptors means it can target this pain area. The endocannabinoid system has many neurological effects and studies are starting to indicate its properties in mitigating migraine pain. A 2018 study from the Journal of Headache and Pain found users with migraines who employed moderate doses of CBD and THC when symptoms began experienced substantially reduced migraine intensity and duration. More studies are needed to corroborate these results and provide clinical evidence for this mechanism.
Will CBD Work for My Pain?
CBD doesn’t work for everyone. Factors like your individual genes and physiology, how much you take, frequency of dosage, whether you’re using other medications, your pain level and condition plus other factors like lifestyle will all play a role in how much benefit you see. Even the product choice and strength of your CBD product will impact results – for example, you might find only a CBD cream can provide relief for arthritis in the knee and other products don’t provide adequate results. Different products have different strengths and bioavailability. Oral strips and CBD oils are the most bioavailable and generally will be more potent than gummies, creams, sprays or edible products.
How to Use CBD for Pain
Let’s look at product types, dosages, frequency of use and selection criteria to consider when using a CBD product for pain. Note you should always consult with your doctor before trying it. Never mix it with other medications, or alcohol or use it if you’re pregnant.
Dosage and Frequency of Use
The dosage you require to assist with your pain is dependent on a range of factors. For larger individuals, you’ll need higher doses. The same will apply if your pain is more intense, dosing at higher ranges tends to lead to better results. Similarly, metabolic factors and individual preference will influence the dose you need to mitigate your pain issues – some people simply need more or less CBD for their pain. How concentrated or strong your CBD product also factors in – higher strength products require less quantity to achieve equivalent effects.
Generally, it’s recommended to take 100-150mg or a few drops per day to begin with. After 4-6 weeks gauge how effective your dosage approach has been and adjust or increase it. There’s no single optimal approach for deciding on the right dose – it will require some experimentation. Starting at low doses enables you to pick up how well your body tolerates CBD and avoid any side effects from the outset. Side effect risks are minimal. They may display drowsiness or dry mouth.
Timing and frequency of administration will depend on your subjective pain symptoms. Generally, it is best to dose CBD at least once or twice per day to maximize its effect and uptake within the body’s endocannabinoid system. You may wish to time your CBD administration to match that of your pain symptoms occurring, to provide direct relief in a shorter time span.
Picking a Product
Choosing the right product depends on your type of pain, personal preference and how much potency you need. Like with administration, you should look to experiment with different brands, product types and ingestion methods. A huge range of CBD products exists from CBD gummies, oils, tinctures and sprays, to lozenges, balms and creams. Creams are ideal for local relief if the pain is occurring in a certain region, such as arthritis in the joints. Other forms taken orally will still be effective but vary in bioavailability and speed of action. Sprays or vapes containing CBD are more quickly absorbed. Edibles, oils and gummies must be digested so are slower acting.
You can also find full-spectrum CBD products which contain a broad range of cannabinoids, plant nutrients and terpenes. Terpenes – natural plant pheromone compounds – are thought to increase the uptake and effects of CBD, so may amplify its benefits in the endocannabinoid system. This property is called the ‘entourage effect’, which increases cannabinoid receptor activation, a synergistic interaction. Isolate products contain higher cannabinoid concentrations but remove much of the plant material contained in full-spectrum oils that offer substantial supplementary health benefits.
CBD is already helping many users with their pain. It is renewing hope for many in obtaining relief from often persistent pain symptoms, without having to resort to side effect-prone pharmaceutical drugs. We’ve explored what pain is, the main types of pain plus how it occurs. Whether you’re experiencing joint or arthritis pain, back pain, menstrual pain or nerve pain, it’s worth experimenting with CBD to understand whether it can assist you in reducing or resolving symptoms. It aids with inflammation and delivers some relief from its analgesic properties while being natural and having minimal side effects. It’s not a magic cure but you may see significant improvements in symptoms.