We’re all familiar with pain, and we’re all familiar with pain relief. For most of us, that means popping paracetamol or aspirin. Job done! But while pain relievers such as NSAIDs work, they aren’t without negative side effects—especially if you have to take them regularly.
What if you could relieve pain naturally and effectively without harming your body? That’s what CBD does.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the main medicinal compounds of the cannabis plant. Research has shown that CBD can interact with your body’s own endocannabinoid receptors, which are located throughout your nervous system. The use of CBD to treat pain is becoming more and more popular. One recent survey found that of 62 percent of people using CBD to treat a medical condition, most use it for relief from chronic pain, arthritis, and joint pain. And unlike THC (the other well-known phytocannabinoid in cannabis), CBD is non-intoxicating, which means it doesn’t make you feel high.
How does CBD interact with the body to relieve the pain?
To understand how CBD helps manage pain, it’s important to understand how pain occurs in the body. When our cells are damaged due to injury or chronic illness, our body senses this damage and cranks up the inflammatory response. This means it begins pumping inflammatory agents (chemicals) into its cells.
The point of this is to kill off damaged cells—a process called apoptosis. This is vital for getting rid of potential disease-causing cells and allowing other cells to keep functioning properly. But when inflammatory chemicals are pumped out continually, the result is inflammatory pain.
When CBD binds with the cannabinoid receptors in your body, the effect is similar to that of taking an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) receives and translates signals from cannabinoids. This system also regulates normal bodily functions such as sleep, appetite, immune responses, and pain.
The body produces its own endocannabinoids, a type of neurotransmitter, which bind to cannabinoid receptors in your nervous system. The cannabinoids act in much the same way. By impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity and interacting with neurotransmitters, CBD cannabinoids help to reduce pain and inflammation.
CBD inhibits the release of glutamate and other inflammatory agents, which makes it neuroprotective. This is a term used to describe its ability to dull the prickling, tingling, and burning sensations of neuropathic pain.
A study involving rats showed that when CBD was injected into the body, the pain response to surgical incisions was significantly reduced. Another study (also involving rats) found that taking CBD orally helped to significantly reduce sciatic nerve pain and inflammation. So based on the research, CBD can provide powerful anti-inflammatory effects that reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms.
More importantly, CBD is able to reduce pain without the negative effects associated with taking NSAIDs. Some research even suggests that CBD can help protect nerve cells from damage caused by inflammation or trauma.
Not surprisingly, this means that CBD is now being used all over the world to help manage pain, inflammation, anxiety, and stress disorders. More recently, there’s evidence to suggest that using cannabinoids and opioids together provides greater relief than opioids alone. This could mean a reduced need for taking opiates altogether.
Types of pain CBD can help relieve
Neuropathic pain occurs when the nervous system is damaged or not working properly due to disease or injury. It’s usually caused by damage to the somatosensory nervous system, which arises in the skin, muscles, joints, and fascia.
Neuropathic pain is also referred to as nerve pain and is usually long term. It occurs as a result of many different conditions and diseases, including injury or trauma, stroke, and even amputation.
When CBD is introduced into the endocannabinoid system, it creates positive responses such as neuropathic pain relief. But one of the main benefits of using CBD for neuropathic pain is that it reduces the reliance on pain medication. CBD can be used as a supplement to help manage neuropathic pain, especially alongside other supplements such as magnesium.
Inflammatory pain is similar to neuropathic pain but it is not limited to neurons. Inflammatory pain includes all types of arthritis; some autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis; and acute conditions such as headaches, cramps, and muscle aches.
The cannabinoids in CBD have been found to relieve pain by suppressing proinflammatory cytokines, the chemicals that cause inflammation. In this way, cannabinoids help to dampen down irritation in the gut, colon, smooth muscle, and other cellular pathways. Scientists believe that this could mean CBD can be used as a form of therapy for several inflammatory diseases, particularly those that lead to inflammation of the gastrointestinal system.
CBD may help to relieve two types of muscle pain: stress-related pain and pain from overexertion. Stress-related pain is most often caused by tension from stress, particularly in the neck and shoulders. Pain from overexertion is usually caused by intense physical activity, such as from working out or long fitness sessions.
Like other forms of pain, muscular pain results from proinflammatory cytokines, which are proteins secreted from stimulation. Cytokines are mediators. They are necessary to conduct the inflammatory response to infection or injury and allow healing to occur. But continued production of these proinflammatory cytokines in the body can lead to pain and tissue damage.
CBD appears to reduce the production of proinflammatory cytokines while increasing suppressor cells—with the result of reducing inflammation-related pain. One study showed that CBD is able to turn down the production of certain inflammatory markers, such as those excessively produced in people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Another study published in the journal Pain found that treating rats with CBD stopped pain and prevented further pain from osteoarthritis.
A bonus to using CBD, of course, is that it has been found to promote natural calm and wellbeing in the mind and body. Some research suggests that this is due to its ability to stimulate certain areas within the hippocampus, inducing calmer state. The less stressed you feel, the less inflammation your body is likely to create.
The right dosage of CBD for pain relief
If you want to experience the pain-relieving benefits of CBD, taking the right dose is key—but it’s not one size fits all. You’ll have to do some careful calculating to figure out what works for you.
The lack of human studies on CBD means there’s little conclusive research on just how much you need to experience benefits. What’s more confusing is that CBD comes in a variety of forms: oils, tinctures, creams, lotions, pills, edibles, and so on. Each product has a different level of bioavailability—the amount of active ingredient your body absorbs.
All this is to say that there’s no ‘standard’ dose. And while it’s often just about trial and error, there are methods for finding the right CBD dosage for your pain relief.
- Talk to an expert. Many factors affect your CBD dosage, including body mass index (BMI), your health history, other health conditions, medications you take, and the specific CBD product you’re using. It’s a good idea to see a doctor who understands CBD use.
- Read the label. Products like CBD capsules or gummies provide dosage information on the label. Tinctures and oils are slightly trickier, since the label usually only states the potency of CBD in the bottle, not per drop. Here’s a simple calculation to help you figure out an appropriate dosage based on the strength of a topical product: divide the total CBD content by the number of millimeters in the package. This will give you the amount per milliliter. For example, a 50 ml jar of balm that contains 200 mg of CBD will have 4 mg per ml.
- Use trial and error. Everyone responds to CBD differently. You’ll probably find that you have to adjust your dose a few times before you get it right. Much of this depends on your own biochemistry and the way your liver metabolizes different chemicals. Also remember that you might not see benefits straightaway. Most people have to take a couple of doses before they experience a change in their symptoms. Some may not even see benefits for a few weeks.
- Don’t ignore side effects. If you experience side effects, stop taking the CBD (or at least reduce your dosage). Although CBD won’t make you high, some people may experience unpleasant side effects such as fatigue, lethargy, or even diarrhea. Topical CBD products are less likely to cause side effects, making them more suitable for treating localized pain. In any case, pay attention to the effects of your CBD product and take action if you experience any problems.
With all this in mind, you should then think about the type of pain you’re trying to treat or minimize, and how severe your condition is. Most clinical trials use dosages of 20–1,500 mg per day.
- For a low level of pain, it’s recommended that you start with 5–10 milligrams per day.
- For medium pain, a slightly higher dose of 10–20 milligrams may be sufficient.
- Those in severe pain can try starting with 20–40 milligrams per day.
Remember, a lower dose may be appropriate for those who are more sensitive to cannabis compounds. The higher your sensitivity, the less CBD you’ll need to get the desired pain relief.
Maintain your starting dose for at least 3–7 days. This should be long enough to figure out if it’s the right dose for you. If you’re not seeing benefits, you may want to try increasing your dose. Again, be consistent with each increase; stick to the same dose for at least 3–7 days.
Keep alert for any adverse reactions such as fatigue, dry mouth, loss of appetite, and nausea.
The best products for pain relief
CBD products are currently available in three main types: CBD isolate, full-spectrum CBD, and broad-spectrum CBD.
- CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD. All hemp compounds are removed during processing, leaving only CBD. It’s the best type for those who want a product completely free from THC.
- Full-spectrum CBD contains all the natural compounds of both the hemp and cannabis plants, including THC. The terpenes and other nutrients in full-spectrum CBD work together, producing an ‘entourage effect’ that is stronger than CBD alone.
- Broad-spectrum CBD contains all the beneficial compounds of hemp except THC, so you can still reap the benefits of the entourage effect.
Which products are suitable for your pain relief?
Topical products are some of the most popular forms of CBD for musculoskeletal pain. This can include lotions, creams, balms, oils, and even patches. Topical CBD products can help address pain or inflammation in a specific area of your body, particularly the joints. And since topical CBD doesn’t enter the bloodstream, it won’t have any impact on your body as a whole—just the area you’re applying it to.
The high concentration of cannabinoid receptors on our skin means that there are plenty of cannabinoid receptors for topical products to interact with, providing the pain relief you need.
Topical products are often effective for aches and pains caused by arthritis.
Oral products include tinctures, oils, edibles, and capsules. These are absorbed through the digestive tract, which is slower and can be compromised by stomach acids, meals, and other factors. CBD can also be taken sublingually by holding liquid from a spray or tincture under the tongue (sublingual) for 60 to 120 seconds. This can provide effects within 15–45 minutes. Capsules can work for daily use after an effective capsule dose has been established.
When it comes to managing pain, the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects of CBD may be significantly reduced when taken in oral form. This is because your body breaks down chemical compounds as they move through your digestive system, which can weaken their effect and reduce the amount of CBD that actually reaches your bloodstream.
When CBD is applied on the skin, however, it enters the body transdermally rather than through your digestive system. This means more of it ends up interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system. Whether you’re using CBD for back pain, arthritis, or sore muscles, applying the product directly to that area can provide the greatest possible relief in the shortest possible time.
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