CBD and its products are having a major moment these days, with this powerful marijuana-derived compound making an appearance in everything from oils and tinctures to chocolates and tea.
Shown to be effective in treating conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to insomnia and skin conditions, it’s a versatile tonic that an increasing number of people are adding to their daily health and wellness routines – but one area where it has shown particular promise, and in which it has already won itself a legion of loyal fans, is in the relief of chronic pain.
Anyone who has suffered from back, neck or shoulder pain – or chronic pain of any other kind – will know the impact it can have on their day to day lives – and relying on prescription painkillers is far from the ideal choice as many of them can be addictive.
CBD, on the other hand, is a herbal and legal remedy that can be bought over the counter and used as and when needed, and is a non-addictive alternative that comes with minimal side effects.
Around 62 per cent of individuals who reported using CBD last year to treat medical conditions said they were using it to gain relief from chronic pain, which includes everything from arthritis and muscle pain to migraines, fibromyalgia and even some symptoms of cancer.
If you’re a chronic pain sufferer and are considering adding CBD to your regime, then here’s all you need to know about it – just be sure to consult with your doctor beforehand to rule out any interactions with your current medication.
Why do we feel pain, anyway?
Chronic pain, without the right treatment, can begin to feel like it’s taking over your life – stopping you from doing the activities you enjoy, and forcing you to cancel social occasions you’ve been looking forward to for months. There’s no denying that it’s frustrating, but what exactly is the cause – and why do we feel pain, anyway?
When the nerves responsible for detecting injuries send signals along the spinal cord to the brain, this can result in the aches and pains we feel in certain parts of the body. These nerves are called nociceptors, and when messages from the nerves are received, the brain decides how to react – and unfortunately, it isn’t often favourably.
For example, if you touch a hot surface, a message will travel through a reflex arc in the spinal cord, causing an immediate contraction of the muscles. Because of this contraction, you’ll automatically pull your hand away from the hot surface to avoid a burn. Muscle contraction happens before the message reaches the brain, and when it finally transmits the information to the brain, this is when you feel pain.
When the signals alerting to an injury reach your brain, the brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine which helps to diminish the pain – however, this can only go so far. It isn’t enough to reduce severe pain, and it’s in these cases that medication might be required. This is also the point at which you’ll generally have to choose between prescription painkillers and herbal alternatives, like CBD – and an increasing number of chronic pain sufferers are opting for the latter.
Different types of pain
Pain can be acute or chronic. Typically, acute pain is more severe and short-term than constant, and can be caused by tissue damage in case of an injury, or by diseases and ailments such as gastric ulcers, appendicitis, pancreatitis and many more. Chronic pain, on the other hand, usually ranges from mild to severe, and lasts for an extended period. Usually caused by ongoing illnesses that require consistent treatment, it can often be the toughest kind to deal with due to its relentless nature – and is often associated with autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Even then, pain is classified into one of a few different categories. Neuropathic pain transmits a sensation from the severe traumas to the peripheral nervous system that connects the brain and spinal cord with the body, and can be described as electric shock-like pain, followed by numbness. Inflammatory pain, meanwhile, is an acute or throbbing pain caused by an injury, while central pain, typically caused by tumours, abscesses, infarction and haemorrhages in the brain and spinal cord, ranges from mild to extremely severe and is often described as burning, aching or pressing.
How CBD can help to reduce pain
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is a chemical, active compound extracted from the Cannabis Sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp. CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two the most common cannabinoids found in this plant, but unlike THC, CBD possesses no psychoactive effects, meaning it won’t cause a ‘high’.
Instead, CBD is known to interact with the biological endocannabinoid system via different receptors found all over the human body. This system is involved in different crucial processes, including inflammation, stress, pain, sleep and appetite. ECS is made up of naturally produced cannabinoids called endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that are distributed throughout the brain and nervous system. Cannabinoids like cannabidiol are able to interact with these receptors and activate systems that alter the brain’s perception of pain.
The complex endocannabinoid system is responsible not only for essential bodily functions, but also for maintaining homeostasis in the body. This means that when certain processes are out of balance, it leads to illness, and the body’s natural response to pain. Restoring balance within an organism can help reduce symptoms, including pain, and cannabidiol can also stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters, which in turn helps diminish acute pain, chronic pain and soreness.
A 2018 review looked at studies from 1975 to March 2018 to assess the use of medical cannabis in managing cancer pain, neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia. The review highlighted that CBD was effective for general pain relief without causing negative side effects, making it a suitable and often, preferable choice for sufferers.
Neuropathic pain is common in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, injuries like a herniated disc, and infections like shingles. A systematic 2017 review looked at 11 randomised controlled trials involving 1,219 patients and showed that cannabidiol helps with chronic neuropathic pain in humans.
However, a 2018 review concluded that the promising health benefits of cannabis medicine might be outweighed by its potential harm. Therefore, more research is required to get a greater understanding of the role of cannabinoids like CBD in the management of chronic neuropathic pain, including benefits, risks and ideal dosages.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 12 per cent of the population are suffering from migraines – a neurological disease that causes debilitating headaches, as well as other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, smell, and touch, and tingling or numbness of the face or limbs.
Most small-scale studies have examined the combined effects of CBD and THC as a treatment, including a study that found that the THC-CBD combination decreased migraine attacks and pain associated with it by more than 40 per cent. However, as THC is not legal in the UK, it is absent from the products you will find here – although many users still report promising results using CBD alone.
What forms of CBD products are most suitable for pain relief?
Typically, CBD is most effective when administered in an oil that is placed under the tongue, as it is absorbed via the capillaries and goes directly into the bloodstream, providing beneficial effects more quickly (usually in less than an hour). Inhaling CBD vape juice can also deliver almost instant positive effects, as active compounds bypass the long-term digestive process and enter the bloodstream rapidly through the lungs.
CBD in the form of capsules, and edibles like gummies or tea, on the other hand, must pass through the digestive tract, which often takes from one to two hours, but this slower release also means that the positive effects last longer. Topical products such as a CBD oil bath bomb, creams, lotions, balms and ointments applied to the skin over the painful joint are thought to help reduce inflammation and provide localised relief – so a great choice if you’d rather not ingest anything and prefer to administer to the target area instead.