How Does CBD Treat Pain?
Updated: Mar 3
You’ve probably heard that cannabidiol (CBD) is great for treating pain, but what types of pain, exactly? And how does it work?
There are two types of pain that CBD effectively treats: neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Neuropathic pain is created when the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate turns neurons on in the central nervous system (CNS). Inflammatory pain is similar, but it goes beyond just the neurons. If cells in your body become damaged due to an injury or chronic illness, your body wants to get those damaged cells out of there! To do that, the body promotes inflammation to stimulate apoptosis, AKA the death of those damaged cells. Inflammation by itself is meant to be a good thing — it prevents possible cancerous cells and promotes optimal functioning. But if the inflammation becomes chronic, it creates inflammatory pain, which creates ailments such as arthritis, headaches, cramps, muscle aches, and even some autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.
To reduce inflammation in the body, CBD inhibits glutamate release as well as other inflammatory agents. Unlike CBD, other anti-inflammatory drugs work by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 receptors, which can create a risk of developing gastrointestinal (GI) issues or heart attacks. Paired with other natural supplements such as magnesium glycinate, curcumin, and Omega-3’s, CBD is a great choice for managing neuropathic and inflammatory pain. There have also been studies that have shown CBD and THC have the potential to be 20x more potent than NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. However, it is important to note that CBD can interact with other medications, and it is still new to the field of health and medicine, so if you’re thinking about supplementing with CBD, speak with your doctor first. Read the full article by Katarina Kostovic below.
Pain, when used as an umbrella term, is more vast than the Pacific Ocean. Using CBD to treat pain can be effective only under the pretense that the type of pain is well-understood and properly diagnosed.
Most of us have crossed paths with the loud, piercing, cuss-worthy persona of acute pain: an elbow dings the edge of the table or a pinky toe that has found the bed frame yet again at 3 a.m. Other types of pain produce less shock value but are no less odious in nature.
For the sake of this article, I’ll simply go into the types of pain that CBD has shown to treat effectively: neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
Types of pain
CBD treats neuropathic pain like Cinderella’s foot fit the magic shoe—a blissful, but unexpected, union. Neuropathic pain is largely created and sustained due to the glutaminergic system, which is a major excitatory neuronal pathway. Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for turning neurons on, which is great, sometimes.
Inflammatory pain is related to neuropathic pain, except it is not limited to neurons. Examples of inflammatory pain include all types of arthritis, a few autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and simple conditions like headaches, cramps, muscle aches, and pains.
For humans, communication is key, not only interpersonally but also molecularly. Problems arise in paradise when cells become damaged due to injury or chronic illness. When the body senses this damage, it cranks inflammation to HIGH and begins pumping inflammatory agents on its cells.
The point is to promote death of the damaged cell, otherwise called apoptosis. Our bodies don’t enjoy malfunctioning cells and would prefer that they throw in the towel—this is important in ridding ourselves of possible cancer and maintaining optimal functioning. However, when this becomes a chronic condition, it is named inflammatory pain.
How CBD works for pain
CBD inhibits glutamate release and other inflammatory agents, which makes it ‘neuroprotective’ and excellent at dulling the prickling, tingling and burning sensations that neuropathic pain is characterized for. CBD can be used as a supplement to help manage neuropathic pain, alongside other natural supplements such as magnesium glycinate.
Pain due to inflammation is not as easily characterized as other types of pain, mostly because its origins of pain vary and so does the experience. On the bright side, CBD is good at calming inflammation, no matter what the root cause.
The anti-inflammatory mechanism of cannabidiol is unique to cannabis. It doesn’t work like other anti-inflammatory drugs by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2 receptors, which means you don’t run the risk of developing gastrointestinal ulcers or heart attacks, hooray! Some studies have shown that cannabinoids (CBD and THC) are up to twenty times more potent anti-inflammatory agents when compared to NSAIDs (eg. ibuprofen).
When taken regularly alongside other natural anti-inflammatory supplements (eg. curcumin, Omega-3), CBD can provide systemic relief of inflammation. Usually taken three times per day, dosing at each interval depends on your unique needs. Typically patients start with 0.5 mg per dose and increase until maximum relief.
Cannabidiol can be an effective, non-psychotropic alternative to THC when used correctly. However, we are still in the infancy stage of incorporating CBD into health and medicine, so it is important to consult your physician when contemplating the use of CBD to treat pain.
It’s important to remember that CBD, like other nutraceuticals, can interact with medications.
The takeaway? CBD isn’t effective in treating all types of pain—for that reason, it’s important to understand your pain: does it worsen with the weather, cause swelling, or is it persistent and stabbing? If you feel that you experience inflammatory or neuropathic pain, talk to your doctor. CBD supplementation could be right for you.