Since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, CBD has been high in the public consciousness as an alternative treatment, with the 2019 Consumer Reports survey finding that almost 25% of respondents had used CBD to replace over the counter medication or prescription drugs. People have been using CBD oil to manage a wide range of conditions, effectively reducing the pain associated with conditions like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. So how does CBD oil work, and is it a viable alternative for pain relief?
What is CBD oil, and how does it work?
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Marijuana contains over 100 chemical compounds, and is most well known for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive cannabinoid that causes the ‘high’ feeling sought by recreational users. CBD, however, is not psychoactive, and can provide pain relief without altering a user’s state of mind.
CBD works in a signaling system in the body known as the endocannabinoid system. The nervous system contains cannabinoid receptors, which qualitative data suggests can be upregulated by a variety of pharmaceuticals and alternative medicines to reduce pain. CBD oil may be capable of stimulating these receptors, although its effectiveness depends on matching the condition with the CBD oil that works best for it. When the right oil is chosen, CBD may impact endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing chronic pain and inflammation in the body.
Research into the effectiveness of CBD oil for pain management
Marijuana has been used in pain management for over 4,000 years, but it is only recently that research has looked at the specific compounds responsible for pain relief. Research began with rats, with studies finding that CBD can reduce pain responses to surgical incisions and lessen sciatic nerve pain. Several studies have now also focused on humans, with researchers repeatedly finding that a combination of THC and CBD can treat the pain associated with arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The oral spray, Sativex, has consequently received approval for the treatment of multiple sclerosis in several countries, and in a small sample study of its effectiveness, participants reported improvements in muscle spasms, walking and pain reduction. However, there was no control group, so more research would be needed to confirm the results.
Research is still limited
Although an increasing amount of studies are focusing on the effectiveness of CBD oil in pain management in humans, research is still in its infancy. This is largely due to political issues surrounding cannabis research. Pre-clinical trials in animals strongly suggest, however, that CBD has the power to reduce pain and inflammation, and observational studies in humans appear to support this.
Daniel Clauw, M.D. and Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center recommend that those living with chronic pain discuss CBD oil with their doctor if they wish to include it in their treatment plan. They advise continuing with prescribed medications, and warn that CBD products should be bought from reputable sources. This is important because CBD products are not currently FDA approved, so those looking to use them should be careful to choose products that have been tested by ‘an independent third party lab.’
Evidence suggests that CBD oil may be effective in the reduction of chronic pain. However, because marijuana has been classed as a Schedule 1 drug for so long, medicinal uses of CBD have not yet been extensively researched. For this reason, anyone wishing to incorporate it into their treatment plan should first discuss the idea with their doctor and be careful to source a safe and reliable product that matches their needs.
Author: Isabella Lovett