According to a survey from 2018, pain is one of the three most prevalent health conditions that people try to alleviate with cannabidiol (CBD), the other two being anxiety and depression.
Although 36% of the participants of this survey reported that they feel a significant relief thanks to CBD, what do we actually know about the analgesic (pain-killing) action of CBD?
CBD and pain: highlights from the available studies
In modern conventional medicine, cannabinoids have been used in the management of difficult to treat pain for almost 20 years now. One of the first medications in this group was the Canadian Sativex, an oral spray with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD in equal portions that has been effectively used for the treatment of neuropathic pain, chronic pain, and cancer-related pain.
However, THC is not universally legal, and thus unavailable for many people suffering from pain.
CBD, on the other hand, is legal on a federal level in the US—and in many other countries around the world. But is it really effective without THC, according to the current studies?
- A review from 2018 suggested that CBD could have potential in treating migraines and pain in general, but this opinion wasn’t accompanied by experimental data of any kind
- Animal studies from 2016 (on rats) and from 2018 (on dogs) reported that CBD could help in relieving the pain and inflammation seen during osteoarthritis. Effective doses ranged from 2 mg/kg body weight twice per day (in dogs) to 6.2-62 mg/day (in rats) with no side effects
- According to an animal study from 2014, CBD may help in reducing chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain by modulating the function of 5-HT(1A) serotonin receptors. What’s also important is that this pain-killing effect wasn’t accompanied by a drop in chemotherapy efficacy
- As suggested in a 2011 animal study, CBD may support the body’s own antinociceptive systems—meaning the structures that prevent the body from perceiving the pain without getting rid of it directly. This effect could mean that CBD works on both the objective (real) and subjective (perceived) aspects of pain
- An animal study from 2007 reported that CBD may be effective in cases of inflammatory and neuropathic pain, mostly through reducing the local levels of inflammatory molecular messengers like prostaglandins, lipid peroxides, nitric oxide, and glutathione-related enzymes. In other words, CBD could somewhat inhibit local oxidative stress, reducing further damage to the tissues and, subsequently, the related pain
As you see, all of the available studies were either performed on animals or are reviews of the previously conducted trials. Why aren’t there any clinical studies on human patients in real-life scenarios of pain?
The short answer is that we haven’t yet reached a point where such studies would be ethically appropriate and officially approved on a large scale by the governing medical and scientific authorities. Anyone who ever had struggled with pain knows how serious this issue is, so doctors and scientists can’t afford to try an unconfirmed (although promising) method of relief when there are several time-proven approaches. Mixing the two would give unreliable results.
On the bright side, several clinical trials like this one, on using CBD to reduce neuroinflammation in cases of chronic back pain, are currently on the pre-recruitment stage. If everything goes well, in a few years, we will have enough data from human studies.
Although several animal studies are highlighting the potential of CBD in the treatment of different kinds of pain, human studies are still needed to make a definitive conclusion on this matter. And yet, pain relief remains as one of the top reasons why people take CBD, with perceived effectiveness.