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CBD Oil for Pain: Does It Work?

The popular hemp extract has delivered dramatic, life-changing pain relief for many people—without the issues associated with opioids.

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Treating Chronic Pain with CBD

After spending 25 years in the army, Nichole Taveres-Gibbs was medically retired with a disabling brain condition. It all started with severe migraines, and then an MRI revealed that she was suffering from Chiari malformation, a structural brain defect that affects balance.

After undergoing surgery, she remained in severe pain. Prescription pain medications were the only available treatment, and she took opioids for the next three years—at less than the prescribed dose for fear of addiction. But although she was taking 23 pills a day, the unrelenting, debilitating pain continued.

And then, her doctor suggested trying CBD. It helped so much that five months later, Taveres-Gibbs opened a store that sells only hemp-derived CBD products to help others get relief. Although she still walks with a cane, Taveres-Gibbs no longer needs so many pain pills and has taken back her life. And she isn’t alone.

Others who have experienced pain relief from hemp-derived CBD range from champion athletes to Hollywood celebrities. For some, CBD soothes aching feet on the red carpet, relaxes a tight neck on a Broadway stage, or improves a golf swing on the PGA tour. For others, it puts a new lease on life by calming chronic, debilitating pain that used to turn every day—and many nights—into misery.

Did You Know?

Most chefs view CBD in drinks and food—from appetizers to main dishes to desserts—as the top two dining trends, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 What’s Hot Culinary Survey.

What Is CBD?

CBD is found in both the hemp and marijuana plants, so it sometimes gets confused with marijuana or raises concerns about getting “high” or “stoned.” But CBD has no such effect. Another ingredient in marijuana, THC, is the psychoactive one.

In supplements and topical products sold outside of marijuana dispensaries, CBD comes from hemp plants, which naturally contain only trace amounts of the psychoactive THC. By law, hemp plants must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, and some supplements are made in a way that leaves zero THC in the finished product.

How CBD Relieves Pain

Researchers once believed that CBD worked by binding with specific receptors: CB1 and CB2. But now, it’s become clear that this isn’t its mechanism of action. Rather, it seems to balance our endocannabinoid system.

This system influences inflammation, nerves (which transmit pain), brain health, immune function, mood, and other processes. Our bodies naturally make endocannabinoids—some people’s more than others—and CBD contains similar substances that help to restore endocannabinoid balance.

Along with CBD, the hemp plant contains other compounds that influence the endocannabinoid system in a beneficial way, often referred as the “entourage effect.” Some “full-spectrum” CBD supplements include other hemp ingredients for this reason.

CBD Research Results

The widespread popularity of hemp-derived CBD is a relatively recent development, and research is catching up with demand. So far, animal studies and small human trials have found that CBD relieves arthritis and other pain, and more than 190 new studies of CBD are underway.

In the past, human pain-relief trials tested CBD only from the marijuana plant, which was combined with the psychoactive THC. The focus was on THC, with the belief that it was the key pain reliever, but that’s not the case.

Researchers at Syracuse University, in New York, recently reviewed 40 years of research—including more than 1,800 American and European studies—on marijuana that contained mostly THC. Of these, they scrutinized the best 18 studies, which followed more than 440 adult participants. They concluded that THC didn’t reduce the intensity of pain. In addition to inducing a “high,” THC slightly increased pain thresholds and made pain feel less unpleasant and more tolerable.

In contrast, researchers at McGill University in Canada identified CBD as the real pain-relieving ingredient. Their conclusion: Given that CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive, and potentially dangerous, effects of marijuana, it’s a safe alternative to opioids and other drugs for chronic pain, including back pain, sciatica, diabetic neuropathy, and pain related to cancer and trauma. In short, it’s an all-round pain reliever.

How Much CBD to Take

There is no standardized dose, and CBD effects vary from one person to another. As a rule of thumb, low doses seem to work best for pain relief.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends taking 5–10 mg of CBD, twice daily, and gradually increasing to 50–100 mg daily, if needed. Topically, CBD in creams and lotions can be rubbed on painful areas.