Can CBD Oil Relieve Aches and Pains?
You’ve seen the advertisements. You’ve heard someone you know touting the benefits of CBD for pain relief.
But what do we really know about CBD and pain?
CBD has shown some promise in early studies as a pain reliever. However, while many people say they’ve seen benefits from taking CBD, the science is anything but conclusive. That’s in large part because there are very few high-quality human studies on CBD and pain.
Here’s what we do know.
What is CBD oil?
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis plants. Cannabis contains hundreds of these cannabinoids. The most prominently known are THC and CBD.
Whereas THC is known for its intoxicating effects (the “high” from cannabis), CBD does not share this effect.
CBD products are in a gray area in the United States. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the farming of hemp and sale of hemp-derived products. (“Hemp” is a legal classification referring to cannabis that contains very low levels of THC – less than 0.3% of the plant’s weight).
However, at the same time, the FDA has stated that it is illegal to market CBD in food, drink, or when labeled as a dietary supplement. This is because the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits an ingredient from being sold in a dietary supplement when it is already an active ingredient in a prescription drug. In the case of CBD, it is the active ingredient in Epidiolex, a drug approved by the FDA for treatment of seizures.
Is it effective for pain relief?
To put it simply, there are not yet enough high-quality human studies to conclusively evaluate CBD’s efficacy in treating pain.
But as one 2020 review noted, “[s]ince the early 2000s, clinical trials involving CBD for the treatment of chronic pain have shown effects ranging from placebo-equivalent to highly effective.”
This includes a 2003 study on 24 patients suffering from pain due to several conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Its authors found that pain relief associated with a whole-plant CBD extract was “significantly superior to placebo.”
It also includes a 2020 study following 400 patients in New Zealand who sought CBD for chronic pain treatment. The patients self-reported statistically significant improvements to pain, depression, and anxiety symptoms–with positive side effects of improved sleep and appetite.
A 2020 study on 131 chronic pain patients found that 53% of patients reduced or eliminated their use of opioids within 8 weeks of using CBD-rich hemp extracts. Almost all of them (94%) reported quality of life improvements such as better sleep, and reported statistically improvements in pain symptoms according to one diagnostic—but not a second. The study did not include a placebo (or control) group.
As shown in these examples, many of the existing studies on CBD and pain involve relatively small sample sizes and self-reported patient results.
Complicating matters further, existing studies on CBD all examine different formulas and formats of CBD. Many studies use a 1:1 formula of CBD and THC. Others use pure CBD, or CBD isolate. And finally, others use a whole-plant or “full-spectrum” CBD extract. Studies also differ in whether the CBD is ingested, applied topically, or inhaled.
Our clinical understanding of CBD and pain is very much in its early days. Beware of messaging or marketing that claims otherwise.
Is it safe?
While the benefits of CBD oil have not been adequately confirmed through clinical study, it is widely believed that CBD oil poses minimal risk to most people.
The World Health Organization stated, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of abuse or dependence potential… to date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”
If you’re thinking of trying CBD oil, it’s always recommended to first consult your doctor or a medical professional—especially if you have a medical condition or take prescription drugs.
CBD can cause some minor side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, and drowsiness. It can also interact with certain medications.
Finally, it’s important to purchase CBD from trusted and verified sources. A 2020 study by the FDA found that less than half of CBD products contained within 20% of the CBD stated on the label. It’s best to buy only from well-reviewed brands that publish lab tests verifying the purity and potency of ingredients.
The bottom line
We’re still in the early days of cannabis and CBD research.
At this point, there is no conclusive data to support or guide the use of CBD oil for pain relief. There are indeed studies that indicate promise, but more research is required to verify and elaborate on their findings.
That isn’t stopping people from giving CBD a try. A 2019 survey by the Arthritis Foundation found that of the 2,600 people surveyed, 79% were currently using, had used, or were considering using CBD as a means to manage their arthritis pain.
Studies have found that CBD is generally well-tolerated in humans, and tends to have few side effects. If you’re curious about trying CBD for pain, talking to your doctor is a great place to start.