Opioids have been used for decades in medical practice as the front line of defense against many different types of pain—not only are they used to treat acute pain, the kind you feel after a surgery or major injury, they’re also routinely prescribed by pain specialists for chronic pain.
The problem with this is that there is scant evidence to show that opioids are helpful in alleviating chronic pain, particularly neuropathic (nerve-based) pain or the intractable pain associated with illnesses like cancer. Not only that, but there is a veritable mountain ofevidence to show that prolonged use of opioid pain relievers can cause addiction and dependence. They can also cause a host of undesirable side effects, ranging from intoxication to constipation to paranoia and anxiety.
With all the evidence of the harmful potential of opioid pain relievers, it’s easy to see why some patients are choosing to trade their pharmaceuticals for CBD. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory, so it works at two levels to target pain. First, it acts on pain perception systems to alleviate the sensation of pain itself. Second, it reduces the underlying inflammation, attacking the root cause of pain rather than just treating the symptoms. Furthermore, CBD carries no risk of addiction or dependence, causes no psychoactive effects, and works with your body’s endocannabinoid system to alleviate pain and other symptoms naturally.
That all sounds nice, but if you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling with chronic pain, you may be skeptical. After all, kicking your prescriptions to the curb in favor of a plant extract sounds kind of…out there. We understand completely, and we want you to make an informed decision, not jump on the proverbial bandwagon. Here, we’ll discuss the science behind the efficacy of CBD for chronic pain, why and how it works, and how it stacks up against the opioid competition. Before we begin, we should note that this article isn’t meant to be medical advice; talk to your doctor if you plan to discontinue your current medication, and make sure you do your researchbefore making such a major decision.
CBD and Pain
CBD is one of over eighty cannabinoids found in cannabis and its close (but non-psychoactive) relative, hemp. Many of these cannabinoids produce pain-relieving effects (which is the main reason our favorite way to use CBD is in the form of a full-spectrum extract that includes not just CBD, but other secondary cannabinoids like CBN, CBG, and CBC) and work synergistically with CBD to alleviate pain and inflammation, among other symptoms. While other cannabinoids help to amplify the effects of CBD, it’s plenty effective on its own—CBD has been studied as an effective treatment for chronic pain, as well as a successful intervention for opioid withdrawal.
CBD is an interesting cannabinoid in that, unlike most members of this class of compounds, CBD does not act directly on either the CB1 or CB2 receptor. Instead, it acts on other receptors within the endocannabinoid system to regulate different systems of the body in different ways, alleviating pain, reducing inflammation, and dissolving tension and anxiety.
CBD At the Molecular Level
The specific biomechanics of CBD’s action on the body are still being studied. However, we do know quite a bit about how it works on pain perception. The site of this action is the TRPV-1 receptor, which is involved in regulating body temperature, inflammation, and pain perception. CBD stimulates this receptor, which in turn reduces inflammation and dulls pain perception. CBD binds to adenosine receptors as well, producing, among many other things, anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the underlying cause of most chronic pain.
CBD also attacks pain from a third angle through the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor. You might be familiar with serotonin, a neurotransmitter (or chemical signal your neurons use to communicate) involved in regulating a host of systems, including nausea, appetite, anxiety, sleep, and—most importantly for our purposes—pain perception and addiction circuits. CBD binds to this receptor, stimulating it to produce pain-relieving effects and calm gastrointestinal issues. It also helps soothe the brain circuitry involved in addiction, helping ease the transition from pharmaceuticals to CBD.
So Which Is Better, Opioids Or CBD?
While further study is needed (the more data, the stronger the results), the study results available today look promising: multiple studies have shown CBD to be effective in treating a variety of types of pain, especially chronic and intractable pain. CBD has been found to be effective in treating the neuropathic pain resulting from multiple sclerosis. his is exciting because, as anyone who suffers from neuropathy can tell you, the intense pain it causes is notoriously difficult to treat, and even heavy doses of opioids aren’t always effective.
CBD not only soothes difficult-to-treat pain in the short term, it’s also effective in the long term. In a study conducted in 2007, researchers found that patients were able to manage their pain (resulting from either MS or chronic nonmalignant pain) with cannabinoids without tolerance (requiring a higher and higher dose to be effective, common to opioids) over treatment programs lasting an average of two years. For anyone who’s had to increase their opioid dose because they quickly develop a tolerance to it, this is big news! CBD allows patients to maintain their same dose for long periods of time, without the risk of addiction or dependence.
Recent studies have shed more and more light on the endocannabinoid system and its role in pain perception and inflammation. The body of literature confirming CBD as a viable and potentially more effective alternative to opioids is growing, especially as interest in CBD as a novel (new to scientific understanding) pain reliever continues to rise. While studies have been conducted using both synthetic and plant-derived CBD, we believe that organically-grown, plant-derived, full-spectrum CBD is the way to go. After all, synthetic cannabinoids are still pharmaceuticals at the end of the day.
A Quick Note About Drug Testing
Much of the data we have about CBD is anecdotal, and its potential impact on drug testing is no exception. There are very few peer-reviewed studies on the subject, and the ones available paint a rather murky picture: avoiding full-spectrum products containing traces of THC can reduce your risk of a false positive, but that may not eliminate the risk entirely. A single study (as yet unconfirmed) suggests that even isolate-based products may not be completely risk-free under certain circumstances.
If you are concerned about passing a drug test, you’ll need to consider this potential risk when deciding whether CBD is right for you. To learn more about the science of CBD and drug testing, check out our article for a more thorough discussion of how to minimize your risk of a false positive.
Studies have shown CBD to be just as effective as, if not more so than, opioid pain relievers, and the evidence continues to mount with each new study. The scientific and medical communities are keenly interested in the applications of CBD to treat both chronic and acute pain, and many patients have found relief through CBD. In one study, nearly 50% of patients were able to discontinue their pharmaceutical regimens completely in favor of CBD. If you’re looking for more information about getting off the pharmaceutical roller coaster and treating your pain naturally, check out our CBD ebook. For more on the different applications of CBD, grab a copy of our free case studies and learn more about how CBD can help you take control of your health.