The mid-2010s were all about holistic wellness. Hundreds of online materials praised all-natural everything. People went nuts for juice cleanses. We swore on our livelihoods that rubbing coconut oil on our scalp would change us for the better. Collagen was what our skin dreamt about. Don’t even get us started on the rise of chia seeds, quinoa, and the ever-so-sacred, millennial hype-food, avocado toast.

There was also a massive spike in natural pain relief methods, dousing our temples with peppermint oil to relieve headaches.

While we may have taken a step back from the absolute holistic craze, there is still interest in all-natural methods for staying healthy, which is great. This is why it’s no surprise that cannabis is at the top of scrutiny. The legalization of cannabis in Canada caused an explosion of interest in the plant’s wellness factors. But what about the science behind it all?

The cannabis plant has a longstanding positive history of health benefits in the medical community. For centuries, cannabis has been used to treat various conditions such as pain and nausea [24]. In fact, the plant is infamous for its ability to provide relief from pain and discomfort. We all know this, but do we know this? Is this knowledge found in scientific facts? Our colleague Max Bezaire, Loyalist College, has the answers.

According to Bezaire’s research, cannabis has several phytocannabinoids that have potential therapeutic benefits. Phytocannabinoids are compounds created naturally in the cannabis plant and interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a part of the nervous system that helps regulate bodily functions. Translation – cannabis is rich in compounds that help regulate human body functions naturally. This is promising information in regard to cannabis acting as a pain reliever. The two most prevalent phytocannabinoids are ∆9-tetrahydrocannabidiol and cannabidiol, aka THC and CBD.

Evidence suggests both THC and CBD have the potential to alleviate pain [25], but there’s more focus on CBD due to its calming nature. CBD, unlike THC, is not psychoactive. This means there’s no ‘high’ feeling upon consumption. An all-natural pain alleviator, without the ‘high’ side effects of THC, is much more user-friendly for the majority. In this paper, we’ll be examining the effects of CBD when it comes to pain relief.

An attractive aspect of using CBD for pain relief is its minimal side effects. When compared to other pain medications, like opioids [26], morphine or oxycodone, and NSAIDs [27] (ibuprofen or naproxen), the risk for unwanted symptoms is low. Thanks to CBD’s non-psychoactive nature [28], patients generally have a more pleasurable experience. There is no risk of getting ‘high’, and there’s a low chance of changes in motor function or memory loss.

A study on the safety of CBD and its effects on the human body was conducted by Bergamaschi et al. The results were positive and revealed that CBD is generally well tolerated and safe in the human body, even at high doses and with chronic use. However, they noted when taken alongside certain prescription drugs (such as medication to treat epilepsy) its effectiveness may alter. This is because of the way CBD and other drugs break down in the body [29]. A separate study by Iffland et al. deemed CBD safe and free of toxic or physiological effects after prolonged use [30].

Research on CBD helping with neuropathic pain is also on the way. Neuropathic pain stems from issues with the somatosensory nervous system, where people experience sensations such as touch, temperature, and pain. Those who live with the condition can find stimuli (like temperature or touch) uncomfortable or even painful. An estimated 6.9% and 10% of the general population struggle with some type of neuropathic pain [31]. As it stands, common treatments are anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and NSAIDs; all of which offer unwanted side effects.

Enter CBD.

The ongoing research on CBD as an effective treatment could be life-changing. A treatment that can reduce pain with little to no side effects will be a game-changer for anyone struggling with neuropathic pain.

But is CBD’s pain-relieving benefits based on speculation?

Not at all.

Pre-clinical trials have investigated the pain-relieving effect of CBD, resulting in promising results. In one study performed on mice, CBD, THC, and morphine combined proved to alleviate neuropathic pain. A control group not given medications was also observed.

The pain was stimulated by partial sciatic nerve ligation. This makes the sciatic nerve more sensitive, thus submitting the rodents to a variety of sensations. The pain endured was assessed by listening to vocalizations and by measuring reaction times to painful stimuli.

Compared to the control group, the medicated rodents showed an improved pain tolerance across all three drug groups. This proved that THC, CBD, and morphine reduced the pain experienced. After 22 days, the THC and CBD group continued to show a higher pain tolerance than the control group. The frequency of vocalizations lessened for all three drug groups compared to the control group, suggesting that the rodents experienced less pain.

Clinical trials with CBD and humans show the same pain-reducing ability as reported with the mice. In a preliminary study carried out by Wade et al., several participants who experience neurological conditions and conditions affecting the nervous system (like chronic neuropathic pain) were divided into testing groups. The groups were subjected blindly to CBD, THC, a 1:1 THC and CBD mixture, and a placebo respectively.

Patients rated their symptoms on a scale of 100, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best. These initial ratings were used as a baseline and were self-monitored on a daily basis. Groups subjected to CBD, THC, and the 1:1 ratio reported reduced pain sensations. The CBD group in particular performed approximately 25 points better than the baseline (up to 54.8 from 30.1). This means their symptoms lessened. The CBD group also performed better than the placebo group (44.5). These findings suggest that CBD may play a part in alleviating pain [33].

CBD is also known to help reduce inflammation. In fact, studies on CBD and arthritic pain have shown promising results. Studies on CBD and arthritic pain have shown promising results as well. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a disease that can be debilitating for some. It’s a very common and painful condition; about 1.2% of Canadians struggle with RA daily [34]. Pre-clinical trials performed on rats with arthritis found CBD alleviated arthritic pain.

In a study by Hammell et al., rats received topical CBD ointment to help with arthritic inflammation in their knees. Throughout the experiment, blood levels were consistently measured. This was to ensure the amount of CBD absorbed through the skin. The experiment proved to be a success. The rats administered with CBD experienced reduced joint swelling and limb posture scores. This means the ointment helped ease the pain that comes with inflammation [35]. While this study has evidence which proves CBD’s potential to reduce inflammation, we need more clinical studies on humans.

At the end of the day, it’s important to know what works for us as individual people. CBD may work wonders for some when it comes to pain relief, and not at all for others. Everybody is different. Be mindful of your needs, listen to your body, and talk to your doctor about whether CBD is right for you.



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