The month of September has been declared Pain Awareness Month by the World Health Assembly (WHA) – the policy setting forum of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is dedicated to raising public awareness of “issues in the area of pain and pain management.” Pain awareness is an important topic, especially in the UK, where more than 40% of the population are living with pain that has lasted for three months or more (defined as chronic pain), and the percentage goes up to 62% for those over the age of 65.
Mainstream Support for CBD
With people becoming more aware of the harmful side effects of prescription pain medication, what are the options for those living with chronic pain? Recent studies and developments in the field of natural medicine, and in particular CBD, show a number of different applications for the cannabinoid to assist with managing pain perception, as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory. It is an alternative to other pain medications that can be used for the management of everyday painful conditions.
The research is finding mainstream support in organisations such as the WHO World Health Organisation, WADA and several disease associations (such as Arthritis.org). In 2017, the World Health Association recommended that CBD not be internationally scheduled as a controlled substance. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed CBD from its banned substances list, and the Arthritis Foundation has acknowledged that CBD may help in managing arthritis-related pain.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
Your body’s cell signalling system, called the endocannabinoid system, is responsible for receiving signals in your brain and immune system and helping your cells respond. CBD is thought to interact with these endocannabinoid receptors, stimulating a response that creates pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory effects, allowing your body to more effectively manage pain.
Looking at the body of research around CBD (from 1975 to 2018), a 2018 review of the studies looked at neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia, amongst others, and concluded that CBD:
- Is effective in overall pain management
- Doesn’t have negative side effects (a finding that is supported by the WHO)
CBD for Pain Perception
CBD is thought to reduce the perception of pain by reducing the body’s sensitivity to pain. CBD may interact with CB2 receptors, generally found throughout the body in organs, bones, the lymphatic system, glands, and blood vessels. There is still more research needed into the biological processes, but CBD is able to stimulate the CB2 receptors in such a way as to affect the way that the body experiences pain.
CBD as an Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is at the root of a number of diseases and conditions. While inflammation does play an important role in activating your body’s immune response to protect against foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses, extended or extreme inflammation can cause long-term health issues. These concerns include increased production of free radicals in the body, which causes oxidative stress and cause damage to proteins, cells and even your DNA.
CBD works as an anti-inflammatory, pain-controlling agent as it is may inhibit some of the receptors responsible for pain perception as well as lowering the production pro-inflammatory cytokines by the immune system. It, therefore, works in a similar way to medication such as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) and steroidal drugs. But, unlike mainstream medical alternatives, it doesn’t have the same long list of negative side effects, making it an ideal natural treatment option for those struggling with chronic pain.
CBD for Chronic Pain Conditions
There are several trials that cover the potential of CBD to treat rheumatoid arthritis. A 2016 study conducted on rats with arthritis determined that CBD reduced inflammation and overall joint pain with no noticeable side effects.
This is an ongoing area of research, and most of the studies look at CBD paired with THC, not CBD alone, but the results are promising. A 2017 study found that CBD (with THC), leads to lower acute pain, and the pain intensity also decreased. Taking a combination of CBD and THC compounds, the frequency of migraine attacks fell by over 40%. For participants with cluster headaches, there was also a noticeable decrease in pain. Another study concluded that there is a growing body of evidence for the benefits of cannabinoids in the treatment of pain, which may extend to headaches and migraines.
Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and bones, causing a range of symptoms including stiffness, pain, exhaustion and extreme sensitivity to touch. There are a number of theories about what causes the condition, but it is likely due to the way that the brain interprets pain signals. CBD is, therefore, an effective method for managing symptoms of the condition as it may reduce the body’s sensitivity to pain. CBD trials are still ongoing, but cannabis has been linked to reduced pain and stiffness, and significant drops in acute pain, and fatigue.
CBD as an Alternative to Other Pain Medications
Ibuprofen is one of the most common anti-inflammatories on the market, used for treating pain and fever. It’s effective at providing treatment, but may have a negative impact on your gut health and can damage the lining of your stomach. This is different to CBD, which also acts as an anti-inflammatory, but supports gut health and won’t impact your stomach lining.
Opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin are becoming a bigger problem as the use and abuse of these medications is linked to increasing rates of addiction and overdose. Opioids are usually prescribed to manage pain, but they essentially mask the symptoms rather than dealing with the root cause and often lead to addiction in the long-term. The short-term effects are also problematic, causing dizziness, anxiety, irritability, nausea and vomiting.
CBD is being presented as an alternative for managing chronic and acute pain, because unlike opioids (and even THC for that matter), CBD is non-intoxicating and non-addictive. This ties in with recent studies that have shown a decreased reliance on opioids in areas where there is legal access to cannabis.
While more research is needed into CBD and its ability to support those living with chronic pain, there is consensus amongst doctors and researchers that the cannabinoid shows potential for treating inflammation and pain. As the world collectively dedicates a month towards raising pain awareness, there is a lot to get excited about with research showing that CBD may offer a safer, more natural path towards pain relief. In particular, it may help with arthritis, migraine and fibromyalgia-pain, without the negative short-term and long-term side effects.