Pain is…a huge pain! Anyone who’s experienced it knows that pain can drain the joy out of living and make daily activities difficult to impossible.
And, repeatedly reported in study after study, upwards of 50% of people — maybe as high as almost 60% of Americans — live with some level of pain on most or all days.(1, 2)
Clearly, we need viable solutions to help manage or mitigate pain so we can reclaim our quality of life. Should CBD be on the roster of pain management options?
Pain is the broad term used to describe sensations of discomfort. Your brain and body may register pain as something’s wrong — like you’re hurt or ill. You can have pain anywhere you have receptors and nerves to convey or interpret pain signals.(3, 4)
Pain is a shifty little beast. It can present itself as a steady phenomenon, piercing, throbbing, searing, pinching, prickling, stabbing, burning, and so on. You can feel sore and achy or like you’ve been chucked into a baling machine.
And, pain also has a range of intensity and duration — meaning it can be anything from an intermittent pesky nuisance to totally debilitating and persistent.
It can be helpful to categorize the different types of pain. Doing so can facilitate describing it, getting treatment, and understanding its impact on your body.
While there are other ways to group pain types, these four buckets are commonly used:(5)
Pain can be either acute or chronic.
- Acute pain comes on quickly and only lasts for a relatively short while (less than six months). There’s a direct cause — like a cut, burn, injury, surgery, etc. — and the pain severity lessens over time as the root condition heals.
- Chronic pain is the kind that’s ongoing or long-term. Sometimes this breed of pain persists even after its underlying condition has healed; sometimes there’s no identified root cause.
Pain is often labeled as nociceptive or neuropathic.
- Nociceptive pain is due to tissue damage. Accidents, inflammation, illnesses, and medical treatments are some common sources of tissue damage that lead to pain.
- Neuropathic pain is nerve pain related to damage or dysfunction of the nervous system. This type of pain often seems to pop up, not linked to anything specific like getting hurt at the gym. Diabetes can triggers neuropathy.(6)
The “duration” and “classification” tags aren’t mutually exclusive. So, a person could have acute neuropathic pain, chronic nociceptive pain, etc.
Modern medicine has many approaches to alleviating pain. The exact techniques and treatments depend on your health needs, though.
Some go-to therapies include:(7)
- Physical therapy, massage, and chiropractic adjustments
- Stimulation (e.g., with a TENS machine)
- Lifestyle changes (e.g., losing weight)
Nowadays, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) methods may be part of your care plan. (And sometimes CAM modalities — which can be gentler on the mind and body — are used as an adjunct therapy or in place of medications or surgery.) Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and counseling are examples of CAM pain management tactics.(8)
This is a good segue to discussing CBD for pain relief (as CBD would probably be deemed a CAM option).
According to a 2022 survey by Forbes, 60% of American adults use CBD for its purported ability to quell pain.(9)
Listen to the marketers, and you’ll get a resounding “Yes” screamed in your face. Science takes a more measured stance. The common-sense answer probably is somewhere in the middle and very dependent on your personal situation.
So far, the FDA has only approved pharmaceutical CBD as an adjunct therapy for the treatment of a few special and rare seizure disorders. As such, in the United States, CBD alone isn’t approved for the treatment of pain.
A combination medication (that contains both THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio) was approved by Health Canada. Canada allows this prescription drug for certain types of pain — specifically central neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis and cancer pain that doesn’t respond to opioids.(10)
While everyone likes to dwell on the advantage of CBD for pain, it’s not without risk. "CBD can interact with other important medications like blood thinners, heart medications, and immunosuppressants… Also, more information needs to be gathered about its safety for the elderly, children, those who are immunocompromised, and pregnant and breastfeeding women."(11)
CBD could be a powerful weapon in your pain-fighting arsenal. There are many upsides to CBD:
- It’s not a habit-forming or psychotropic substance so you won’t become addicted or get high from it (though you can get CBD products with THC in them and those may give you some level of buzz…).
- It’s well-tolerated by most adults.
- It frequently has fewer and less severe side effects than mainstream pharma alternatives (like opioids).
- It’s often cheaper and more accessible than conventional treatments.
- It has a host of potential wellness boosts in addition to pain-busting.
- It’s been shown to help people cope with a variety of pain types and pain-inducing conditions!
Let’s dig into that last “pain point” a little deeper. Armed with info, you can make a better decision — with the aid of your doctor — as to whether or not CBD has a place among your pain management weaponry.
What does the science say about how effective CBD is at snuffing out aches and pains? Research indicates that CBD is effective at pain management for:(11,12)
- Back pain
- Inflammatory pain
- Better sleep
- Knee and joint pain
- Headaches and migraines
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Multiple sclerosis
As always, more studies and high-quality human trials are still needed. Every shred of new data could help to further bolster these initial findings and gain insights into long-term effectiveness and safety outcomes associated with CBD for pain.
All in, CBD can help neutralize pain by:(12)
- Preventing it from happening in the first place by reducing pain signals
- Preventing it from happening in the first place by mediating underlying or ancillary health concerns
- Desensitizing us to its presence or intensity
- Addressing causes of underlying or ancillary health concerns
- Encouraging the body to return to homeostasis (functional balance)
- Improving mood and mindset
- Facilitating better sleep
How’s CBD do this?
Earlier, we scratched at the biology of pain. As you may recall, pain is the result of messages passing between receptors and nerves and being interpreted by the brain and body.
Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) extends throughout your head, torso, limbs, and organs. Its receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids are present in your central and peripheral nervous systems. The components of your ECS are thought to play a key role in the mechanics and management of pain.
When CBD is introduced to your body, it collaborates with your ECS to disrupt pain signals. Its interaction with the receptors is what leads to the analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, and antioxidant effects CBD is reputed for.
CBD also partners with the ECS to help address underlying issues — such as inflammation, bone health, or metabolic factors — as well as secondary problems that arise from having pain. This is where CBD’s ability to soothe stress and anxiety comes in. And we all know too well the vicious cycle physical, mental, and emotional pain can go in.
Each person’s system and symptoms are unique. So, you may have to experiment a bit to find the CBD product(s) and routine that works for you.
Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind, though:
- Consistent (e.g., daily) use of CBD may be more effective for chronic pain.
- Ingested forms of CBD, which disperse throughout your system, are likely better for widespread or internal pain.
- Topicals and transdermal CBD could serve you well if your pain is limited to one area and is temporary.
- Different CBD formulations take effect and last for different amounts of time. For example, CBD tinctures and water solubles may be faster-acting than gummies. But CBD gummies may circulate in your body for longer. It’s a tradeoff.
- Consider a full- or broad-spectrum CBD to take advantage of the entourage effect, which may enhance pain relief and overall wellness support.
- Layering CBD products may be an option. For example, a CBD softgel plus CBD cream for back pain may be the dynamic duo you’ve been seeking.
- Consult with your doctor. Make sure CBD is okay for you to use given your personal health profile, medications, etc.
And, a word to the wise. Remember that many CBD products on the market are not yet regulated. While the FDA’s been reticent to evaluate CBD’s health benefits, it has found (through testing) that many products contain different levels of cannabinoids (CBD included) than were claimed by the manufacturers. So, only consider products with lab tests (COAs) that confirm the CBD product’s content.
Pain takes many shapes, as does CBD. Perhaps that’s why they may be a good pair.
Existing research in animal studies suggests that CBD can be an effective component of a pain management plan. And anecdotal wisdom validates its effectiveness in many people.
CBD can work with your body to undermine pain causes, triggers, and exacerbators that result from injury, illness, etc. More high-quality scientific studies on humans are needed to understand the long-term effects of CBD for pain and why many people have beneficial CBD experiences while others don’t.
If you’re interested in giving CBD for your pain a go, we suggest you first check in with your healthcare provider. Assuming it’s okay, opt for premium CBD oil products that come with a COA and match your needs and preferences.
CBD has been reported in animal studies and by humans to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which can ease pain.
Cannabidiol collaborates with your body’s endocannabinoid system to disrupt pain signals and to help address underlying issues such as inflammation.(12)
Can’t say exactly. Each person’s symptoms and biology are different. And different CBD formulations and dosing regimens yield different results. You may have to experiment a bit to find the CBD product(s) and routine that works for you.
- Yong, RJ, et al. (2021). Prevalence of chronic pain among adults in the United States. Pain.
- Upham, B. (2021). More Than Half of Americans Live With Pain According to Report. Everyday Health.
- (2018). Pain and how you sense it. MyDr.com.au.
- (2022). The Good, the Bad and the Strange of Physical Pain. Pfizer.
- Santos-Longhurst, A. (2018). Types of Pain: How to Recognize and Talk About Them. Healthline.
- (2021). Peripheral Neuropathy. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- (2021). Pain Management: Painkillers, Chronic Pain, Pain Relief, Nerve Pain. Cleveland Clinic.
- (2022). 10 ways to reduce pain. NHS.
- Shafik Boyaji, MD. (2020). CBD for chronic pain: The science doesn’t match the marketing. Harvard Health.
- Silva, L. (2022). How To Use CBD To Help Manage Pain. Forbes.
- Cherney, K. (2017). Using CBD Oil for Pain Management: Does It Work? Healthline.
- Lutz, J. (2020). The Empowered Pain Patient’s Guide to CBD. Practical Pain Management.