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CBD for chronic pain and inflammation

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, accounting for an estimated $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost worker productivity and disability programs. With so many suffering from chronic pain, CBD has become a popular alternative to traditional medicines that can be habit-forming and cause unwanted side effects.

Utilizing cannabis as a natural pain treatment can actually be traced to ancient Chinese medicine dating back to 2900 BC. While it took a long time for cannabis to be introduced into western medicine, over 100 publications on medical cannabis were published in Europe and the U.S. by the end of the 19th century. Since then, utilizing cannabis-derived products to treat pain has waxed and waned due in large part to legal restrictions. However, its use as a natural pain reliever is once again on the upswing.

Modern research on CBD as a potential for pain management has indicated promising results. Even so, the scientific community agrees that more longitudinal research is necessary to verify the mechanisms by which CBD alleviates pain symptoms as well as the long-term effects of using CBD to treat chronic pain and inflammation.

How does CBD affect pain?

Phytocannabinoids like cannabidiol (otherwise known as CBD) work together with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system to exert a wide array of effects on the body’s central and peripheral nervous system. By working in conjunction with the endocannabinoid system, CBD has been shown to decrease inflammation and relieve pain.

CBD modulates pain by stimulating the reuptake of the neurotransmitter adenosine, thereby boosting adenosine levels in the brain and inhibiting pain sensations. CBD may also block pain signals from ever reaching the brain, suggesting its analgesic (or pain-relieving) effect.

Inflammation often goes hand-in-hand with pain. The inflammatory response is an aspect of the body’s immune system that can be protective in the short-term, but chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases including cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS and heart disease. CBD can reduce inflammation by inhibiting an enzyme called COX2, which is also targeted by NSAID medications like Advil or Aspirin. CBD also reduces the effects of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines, thereby reducing inflammation.

What type of pain can CBD help treat?

CBD presents a therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of intractable chronic pain for which primary treatments are insufficient. However, because the use of CBD has only been studied in context-specific scenarios, it should not be used indiscriminately. While most studies that examine the effects of CBD have employed animal models, experts suggest that the results of those studies may have therapeutic implications for humans, but more research is necessary.

Evidence from animal studies indicate that phytocannabinoids such as CBD have demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of various chronic pain conditions. In addition to this, CBD has presented great promise as a therapeutic adjunct (or a secondary treatment used together with a primary treatment) for treating peripheral and central neuropathic pain in addition to chronic pain that results from chronic inflammation.

CBD may also provide therapeutic potential for those suffering from arthritis because cannabis-based therapy to treat pain has demonstrated pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to this, transdermal cannabinoids demonstrated reduced inflammation and pain-related behaviors in rat models of arthritis, suggesting that CBD administered transdermally may provide long-lasting, pain-relieving effects for those with arthritis. 

Phytocannabinoids including CBD have been shown to be a low-cost and well-tolerated therapy to reduce neuropathic pain and inflammation symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia, as well as increase their overall quality of life. CBD decreases inflammation by preventing reductions in microelements like zinc and selenium, which may also reduce neuropathic pain.

Cannabinoids may also be useful as a “rescue drug,” or a drug that is intended to relieve symptoms immediately, when opioid analgesics are ineffective or inadequate. 

CBD as an alternative to opioid-based treatment

Tragically, prescription drug overdoses are a leading cause of death in the U.S., which has prompted an outcry for pain management treatments that exclude drugs of abuse like opioids. Simultaneously, a growing body of evidence supports the use of medical cannabis as an adjunct to or substitute for prescription opioids to treat chronic pain.

In clinical settings, cannabinoids co-administered in conjunction with opioids have been shown to enhance greater cumulative pain relief as well as reduced use of opioids and associated side effects. Since cannabinoids appear to antagonize several side effects of opioids, an opioid-cannabinoid combination may become useful in the long-term management of pain. In addition to this, cannabinoids have been shown to prevent the development of, tolerance to and withdrawal from opioids. With millions of Americans suffering from opioid-dependency, this is compelling evidence that supports increasing safe access to medical cannabis and CBD products.

CBD has even been used as a substitute for opioids to manage pain in fibromyalgia patients. The University of Michigan Health Lab conducted a study that focused on nearly 900 patients with fibromyalgia who used CBD to get more insight into how useful these products are to these patients. The study found that more than 70% of people with fibromyalgia who used CBD products actually substituted CBD for opioids and/or other pain medications. Of these participants, many reported that they either decreased or stopped taking opioids and/or other pain medications as a result of substituting with CBD.

While more research is necessary to study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management, exciting research and animal studies point to the therapeutic effects of CBD for chronic pain and inflammation. Because CBD can be consumed in a variety of ways, clients looking to try CBD to manage chronic pain symptoms have a variety of options to choose from: from topicals and tinctures to edibles of all varieties. Try different products and doses to determine what works best for you.

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