Of all the conditions that both doctors and patients still have difficulty understanding, pain is a big one.
Millions suffer from chronic pain conditions every day. There are more pharmaceuticals being developed and taken than ever before, but we still don’t have an exact method for monitoring pain levels or the effectiveness of pain relievers; however, as more researchers and doctors continue studying pain and finding alternatives to addictive opioids, cannabis is emerging as a popular pain treatment tool.
Plenty of people already use cannabis to treat pain. Some studies have confirmed that smoking cannabis can reduce certain types of pain, and it’s becoming more common to see people who frequently endure pain using cannabis and cannabis-based products. In these cases, the treatment often involves both of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, THC and CBD; however, CBD, or cannabidiol, can also reduce pain on its own.
So, to give you a quick overview of the facts, here are five things to know about using CBD to treat pain.
1. CBD may treat both acute and chronic pain
Everyone is familiar with acute pain. Acute pain is a signal from your nervous system alerting your body that something’s wrong. Chronic pain, which you may or may not have experienced, is the same kind of signal, only recurring over extended periods of time rather than as a brief experience.
Although more research needs to be conducted, scientists currently believe CBD may relieve pain by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a network of chemicals and receptors found throughout the body that affects a wide range of processes, from mood regulation to cell life.
Because CBD increases the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate, both of which may play a role in pain regulation, it may in turn be able to reduce both acute and chronic pain.
2. CBD combined with THC definitely reduces pain
Right now, there’s more available research involving pain and THC, or the combination of THC and CBD, than there is on pain and CBD alone. That’s likely because THC is still better known than CBD, and because THC and CBD are known to have complementary medicinal benefits through the “entourage effect.”
A 2018 study looked at how the cannabis-derived pharmaceutical Sativex, which contains equal parts CBD and THC, helped cancer patients treat their pain. The researchers found that the combination of both cannabinoids did relieve some of the patients’ pain.
3. CBD may be a safe compliment to opioids
In addition to demonstrating that THC and CBD combined can treat pain, the 2018 Sativex study also showed an interesting pattern involving opioids.
Most of the patients in the study had also previously been prescribed opioid-based pain relievers as part of their cancer treatment. Researchers saw that the patients living in the U.S. experienced greater benefits from Sativex than non-U.S. patients. They hypothesized that these increased benefits may be a result of the U.S. patients taking fewer opioids than the non-U.S. patients.
Since CBD is not addictive, there may be opportunities for people treating pain with opioids to use CBD as a safe, complementary pain reliever. Additionally, patients who can’t tolerate opioid therapy may benefit from CBD.
4. CBD may treat root causes of pain, like inflammation
Studies have shown that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties. CBD does this by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, which, among other things, regulates immune responses and can trigger or reduce inflammation.
By indirectly engaging with the ECS, CBD can reduce and possibly prevent inflammation. This can play a role in pain treatment for conditions that either involve painful swelling, like arthritis, or can be exacerbated by swollen joints and limbs, like diabetes.
5. CBD could be especially helpful for joint pain
As part of their study, the researchers reviewed a survey of patients with fibromyalgia, arthritis, or neuropathic pain, who all used cannabis for their pain. More than half the patients in each group reported “almost complete overall pain relief.”
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