Dealing with pain on a daily basis can be a nightmare.
What’s even scarier are some of the side effects that pain medications can give you.
But don’t worry:
Cannabis is now legal in Canada, which means natural pain relief is almost in your grasp.
Here I want to discuss whether the hype around CBD for pain is actually worth getting excited about.
I’ll share my own personal experience and explore CBD’s potential for treating and controlling pain and inflammation.
My First Experience With CBD
I wouldn’t object if someone called me a fitness freak:
I’m pretty obsessed with health and fitness.
But I would much rather be identified as a pretty good triathlete instead.
Yes, I should have prefixed triathlete with “amateur”. Let’s just say I am working on the transition.
If you know a bit about competing in a triathlon, you’ll know how demanding the sport is on the body. I am usually quite beat after a day of training, and getting my body to fully recover is quite an ordeal.
To cut a long story short, I’ve found CBD to help me a lot with the pain associated with long distance training.
My wife Sara is actually the one who introduced me to CBD.
She has found great success using it to treat her skin, to relieve stress, and to improve her sleep.
I had been researching natural therapies to help my body recover faster from the soreness and inflammation I experience after training. So I was super interested when I came across CBD, and I’ve been on a mission to learn everything I can about it.
In terms of my “fitness career”, it helps that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has now removed CBD from its list of banned substances. So I should still be covered if ever I decide to test my triathlon skills on a pro level.
But here’s the truth:
At first wasn’t sold on the idea, and struggled to associate cannabis with health and fitness, let alone athletic recovery.
But now I believe, as it gets more mainstream, CBD will become an essential health supplement, much like the way we take vitamin C.
Sara is more drawn to CBD’s benefits for skin care, which as her research has shown, hold much promise. My dad has also reported great success using CBD oil to control his arthritis.
But CBD’s appeal goes far beyond its benefits for physical therapy and skin care.
We will get to that.
First, let’s slow it down and get the basics out of the way:
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD is a cannabinoid that’s found in hemp and cannabis, and in trace amounts in many other plants.
Though it is only one of the 120 cannabinoids in cannabis, CBD accounts for 40 percent of the plant’s extract. Another, which deserves mention and is the reason for the notoriety cannabis has attracted, is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces that euphoric high, or intoxicating effect responsible for the cannabis plant’s infamy.
CBD, for its part, will not make you high and has in fact been proven to actually reduce the potency of THC, though you would have to take it in high dosages.
It is for its medicinal benefits, however, that CBD is attracting all the attention it is getting, and for a change, ensuring cannabis is talked about more positively.
The views are changing south of the border too:
A patent for the US government’s Department of Health and Human Sciences states that cannabinoids have antioxidant and neuroprotective properties, which opens scope for use in treating Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological ailments.
There is a growing body of evidence that’s also proving CBD to be effective in treating and controlling symptoms in, among other ailments:
- Epileptic Seizures
- PTSD Related Fear
- Psychotic Disorders
Solid scientific evidence is still needed, but there is also growing scope and research conducted to validate CBD’s effectiveness as a more holistic treatment for such psychological conditions as fear of public speaking and panic disorders.
How is CBD Administered?
What’s so exciting about CBD is it can be used to treat and control so many conditions. So you would hope that it could be made into different types products.
Well, it is.
Depending on what you want it to do for you, CDB can be:
- Taken orally as a capsule or tincture.
- Sprayed on the affected area as an oil spray.
- Topically applied as a skin cream.
- Drunk as a health drink.
- Eaten as a gummy.
And to reiterate, CBD will not get you high as a kite. So you shouldn’t worry about about cannabis’ famously mind-altering effects.
As I have already admitted, at first I questioned all this excitement around CBD. You could be doing the same right now:
Is CBD a Viable Alternative to Conventional Medication?
The common concern people have with prescription medicine is that it tends to cure symptoms and not the actual person.
In some cases prescription drugs come with side effects that can actually be life threatening.
And in the case of high strength pain killing prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Opana, and Morphine, there is a real risk your body can develop an unhealthy dependence on them. You can end up addicted to them, even when using them as prescribed.
Just as worryingly, prescription drugs are also routinely abused, mostly by people looking to “get high”. In America, estimates put the number of prescription drug abusers at around 7 million people a year.
On the other hand, complementary alternative treatments, such as CBD, are praised for their more holistic effect in controlling pain. The belief is these are natural, thus healthy, therapies that help the body heal itself.
Why This Sudden, Frenzied Interest in CBD for Pain?
CBD’s medicinal properties are not a recent discovery. The cannabis plant’s pain relieving potential has been known for centuries.
In fact, the Indians have been using cannabis as a medicine for different ailments from as far back as 1000 BC. The plant was only introduced in the West in the early to mid 19th century where its medicinal properties were quickly exploited.
Pharma companies were actually developing cannabis based drugs until the early 20th century when recreational use (and abuse) of cannabis peaked and soon grew into an epidemic.
The widespread abuse led to restrictive laws that banned production and distribution of cannabis and discouraged further scientific study.
It has been slow going since then, which explains why, until recently, there hasn’t been enough scientific evidence proving the efficacy of CBD as an effective treatment for common ailments.
But now there is a growing body of research that shows CBD oil to be an effective therapy for controlling pain and symptoms in some chronic illnesses.
In America, the FDA recently approved Epidiolex, the first ever cannabis/hemp based drug. Clinical tests have proven that Epidiolex – a 98% purified, oil based CBD extract – to be effective in treating epileptic seizures.
So things are progressing very well.
We will look at what available research there is about CBD’s efficacy for controlling different ailments. But first lets’ quickly review inflammation:
Let’s Cover What Inflammation Actually is, So You Can Better Understand How CBD Can Help
Inflammation is actually an important part of the body’s immune system.
It is a process where white blood cells and substances they produce release chemicals into the body to help it heal after tissue damage, as well as to defend the same tissue against infection by bacteria, viruses, and other toxins.
However, inflammation comes with some discomforts, which include pain, redness, fever, headaches, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
All these associated effects are to be expected and should last a couple of hours or, in the case of acute inflammation, a few days.
But there are instances where the inflammation symptoms are subtler but persist for much longer – months to years. Or, the body may constantly raise false infection alerts, which cause the inflammation process to start where it is not needed.
This type of inflammation is known as chronic inflammation. It is unhelpful to the body and will actually weaken it.
Sufferers of such chronic diseases as arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease are especially susceptible.
Note also that there are other, more common causes of chronic inflammation, such as smoking, poor diets, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise.
Now, I know what you might be thinking:
Why Not Just Use Available Prescription Drugs?
There is one major weakness with most over-the-counter inflammation drugs – most of them work well only when treating acute inflammation.
Repeated use, as when when used for chronic inflammation, will cause problems like kidney damage and ulcers, which respectively can lead to internal bleeding and a heightened risk of heart attacks.
In extreme cases, drugs used in chemotherapy and narcotic pain relief may be used.
But the list of potential side effects alone is enough to scare you off using them. You could end up dealing with addiction and hair loss, among other serious side effects.
Many Would Rather Avoid Opioid Painkillers
Even those who turn to opioid painkillers only do so because of a lack of alternatives. Where they have a choice many would rather avoid taking such strong medication.
A case in point is NFL players who have to deal with the constant pain from sore backs, pounding headaches, and stiff knees the sport inflicts on their bodies.
Finally free from the league’s tough stance on medical marijuana, and tired from taking opioid painkillers and their many side effects, retired NFL players are turning to CBD to not only help reduce their opioid dependence but to manage the pain as well.
Aren’t There Other Alternatives?
Following a more healthier diet helps and is always encouraged.
But quite clearly, in the case of chronic inflammation, this is likely only going to boost your immune system. On its own, changing your diet is not an effective treatment.
And it is this constant search for an effective treatment for inflammation that hopefully comes with less, or more tolerable side effects that has led us to CBD:
CBD as a Treatment for Pain and Inflammation
To understand how CBD works as an anti-inflammatory it may help us to look at how it affects the body’s nervous system, precisely its effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is basically how the body responds to interaction with the different cannabis compounds. Here we look at the CB1 and CBD2 receptors in the brain.
CBD1 receptors have the ability to identify with THC compounds in cannabis and control things like memory, perception, sleep, and mood. As we have said, it is THC compounds that produce that euphoric, stoned feeling commonly associated with cannabis.
For their part, CBD2 receptors work on the immune system, which means they control our ability to perceive pain or threats to our general health.
CBD, for its ability to stimulate and calm the immune system and to, thus, control excessive (unnecessary) inflammation, has emerged as a more sustainable treatment for chronic inflammation.
The compound’s effect on the immune system is also the reason it has been suggested as a more effective treatment for immune system related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, atherosclerosis, and hypertension.
There is need for further, more careful study of CBD’s effectiveness in treating all these conditions. Now that cannabis has been legalized here in Canada, we should see increasing investment in research and development around CBD.
But even as legalization was happening, there was already quite a bit of research happening:
What the Research Says About the Efficacy of CBD Oil for Pain and Inflammation
There is no denying that cannabis as a drug does have something of a bad reputation. It is certainly one of the world’s most abused drugs.
But that bad rep has clouded people’s judgement as to the cannabis plant’s medicinal potential.
You could also say the legalization of cannabis use itself in Canada is a way of trying to stop its illicit trade and starve criminal enterprises of one of their most dependable sources of revenue.
But we are more interested in the cannabis plant’s medicinal properties. And available research, although still quite limited at the time of writing this, already shows great potential.
CBD is Safe to Use
Before looking at CBD’s efficacy for treating pain and inflammation, we should already feel reassured by the fact that CBD has been proven to be generally safe to use.
Again, there is need for more research here as the safety of CBD has only been conclusively verified for the treatment of epilepsy.
CBD’s safety has been correlated with side effects commonly associated with prescription drugs for the same condition. Its own set of side effects were found to be comparatively fewer and more manageable.
CBD is More Effective for Pain Relief than Heavy Prescription Medication
In medicine there is a phenomenon known as the placebo effect.
This is defined as the psychological hope that a certain medication will cure a condition a person is suffering from. And it is mainly because of the placebo effect that drugs are vigorously blind tested before they are approved for prescription.
Research is ongoing, but a recent study that was done concluded that people who have previously been on opioid painkillers found CBD to be more effective. Study participants also reported that cannabis had “no unwanted side effects”.
This proves that with further, focused research, CBD may soon emerge as a more effective alternative to prescription pain medication.
CBD has Potential for Treating Alcohol Related Liver damage
Alcohol abuse is serious problem in Canada.
This CBC report paints a troubling picture, referencing a report that revealed that in Canada alcohol is responsible for more hospital admissions than heart attacks.
Among these alcohol related hospital emergencies are cases of alcohol poisoning and liver damage due to chronic alcohol abuse.
In a more encouraging development, this study found that CBD has potential as a therapeutic treatment for alcoholic liver diseases. That’s great news!
On a more general note:
CBD Has an Effect on Our Perception of Pain
There are ongoing, planned studies, and others already concluded, such as this one on CBD’s effectiveness in improving recovery after brain damage.
But perhaps what’s more exciting for the body of medicine as a whole is a finding that shows CBD’s possible effect on our perception of pain. This broadens the scope of CBD as a source of treatment for more diseases than have been researched so far.
Though it is important to reiterate that most of the studies we have cited have mostly been done on rats and will need more comprehensive clinical trials on human subjects, this still paints a exciting future for CBD.
And again, in mitigation, CBD research has for long been restricted by legal regulations. Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, we should see more investment and more CBD products approved for medicinal use.
We have already discussed this, but we should still answer the question:
Doesn’t CBD Come With Its Own Side Effects?
There would be something quite remiss with this article if we didn’t stress the possible discomforts from using CBD therapy.
While generally well tolerated, CBD can cause such negative side effects as:
- Irregular Appetite
The question though is, do the many noted benefits of CBD therapy offset the said side effects?
And, when looked at in a comparative context against side effects from using prescription medication – like addiction and ulcers, would CBD be a more preferable treatment route?
We can cite this study, where 90+ percent of the 2,987 cannabis users studied, who had also previously been on opioid pain medication, agreed that using cannabis had enabled them to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers they were taking.
Not only that:
The study’s subjects also strongly agreed that using cannabis on its own was more effective in relieving pain.
In another study published in 1980, which investigated the potential side effects of CBD on epilepsy patients, findings were that CBD was well tolerated. The 15 epilepsy patients and eight healthy, control volunteers showed no side effects or signs of toxicity.
In fact, CBD is thought to be so safe to use that the more severe cases of discomfort after CBD use are usually a consequence of using poor quality CBD products than actual side effects.
Where Can I Get CBD Products?
We are pleased to say this question is the subject of our current research.
Though still largely within the range of Complementary Alternative Medicine, CBD oils, gummies, and topicals are a form of medication, which require careful investigation before we can make recommendations on specific brands.
Again, at the time of writing this, legalization here in Canada has only recently taken effect, which means there are still grey areas where regulation is concerned.
As regulation gets clearer we are hoping that CBD products will get classified as natural health products under Health Canada’s guidelines. This will widen distribution and make CBD products more accessible to more consumers.
The Future is Exciting for CBD
We accept that since the CBD industry itself is still quite young, product choices are still limited.
However, we are encouraged by the level of interest and investments we have already seen so soon after cannabis was legalized here in Canada.
On the same note, we are hoping that going forward the quality CBD products on the market should not only improve, but that issues like misleading product labelling will also meet a quick end.
With all the cautions sounded, I have products that I have personally used with great success. I will be reviewing these in the near future.
I intend to be as thorough as possible in my reviews to avoid recommending brands that will turn out to be unreliable.
Wrapping up, it is clear that the future of CBD is exciting and we want to be a big part of it!