My Attempt at a Clear and Unbiased View of CBD for Treating Pain

My Attempt at a Clear and Unbiased View of CBD for Treating Pain

CBD is floating around everywhere as a natural cure for just about any ill.  I’ll go ahead and clear this up first (and it will be discussed later), CBD is found in marijuana, but it won’t get you high.

However, it does tout other benefits that are worth looking into, such as pain management. And as a company that delivers exercise programs to help people get past their shoulder, back, knee, or hip pain, I was interested to know more.

I don’t go to an apothecary or sniff essential oils to cure a cold.  But I also get frustrated with western medicine for its attempt to cover up poor sleep, nutrition, and exercise with medicine.

I fall somewhere between “au natural,” and the “show me evidence” camps.  I strongly encourage a natural approach, but I’m skeptical and believe they are often oversold as a miracle cure. 

So this week, I set out to answer some questions for myself about the all-powerful CBD that is sweeping the nation.

What is CBD? Along with some other interesting things…

CBD stands for cannabidiol. As mentioned earlier, it’s a primary ingredient in the marijuana plant, but it doesn’t activate the same receptors in the brain as THC.  THC is a chemical in marijuana that makes you high.

When you dig deeper, TCH and CBD have a fascinating relationship in the body that’s difficult to navigate. They seem to work with each other as a system of checks and balances. Thus many “purists” will argue that isolating these chemicals by themselves, and not alongside the many other associated compounds in the whole plant, is not the best way to do it…man.

But for this article, we’ll stick to the isolated form of CBD since that’s what’s legal.  Well, sort of.

The legal status of CBD is confusing at best. I assumed, based on its widespread distribution, that it’s completely legal, but that’s not the case. 

Through the Farm Bill passed in 2018, CBD derived from hemp, which contains less than .3% THC can be grown legally. But according to the FDA, adding CBD to food or drinks is still illegal.

Then on the state level, there is the rapidly changing landscape regarding the legalization of marijuana and it’s derivatives, so the place that you are standing changes the legal status as well.

Also, no one measures the quality and purity of CBD products.  Thus, what you purchased may contain an amount of THC to make it illegal.

Furthermore, if it’s truly straight CBD, it’s innocent enough.  You could take a dose before driving, conducting surgery, or even flying a plane, and no one would know the difference. 

Although, the FDA has been pretty outspoken about its legal status regarding selling it as a cure for medical disorders. 

It could also cause problems if your job requires drug testing, massive doses, or unknowingly taking a product with an elevated level of THC, which could mean trouble.

What are the Benefits?

It’s currently pumped as the treatment for everything, including cancer.  My biggest question is about the effectiveness of CBD and for what conditions.

It’s shown to be a promising treatment for epilepsy, which there is an FDA-approved drug called Epidolex. To dig deeper into this, read the story about Charlotte Figi, which made national news back in 2013. 

Beyond that, there remain a lot of questions.

For many, myself included, anything treated as a panacea for all human ills raises red flags. But you can come to grips with it by knowing a bit about human physiology.  If you can influence the function of a regulatory system, like the nervous system or immune function, you can have a wide-ranging impact on many conditions. 

Unfortunately, the role of CBD in the body is not entirely understood, but there is some research to support it as a treatment for several things. For example, as a cure for anxiety and depression. 

2011 study in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, showed that CBD helped calm people down with social anxiety disorder when public speaking. 

And in a study using rats, CBD was able to increase serotonin levels quickly, which is a brain hormone commonly called the “happy chemical” and is the most common target for anti-depression drugs.

Although, I am most interested in the effects of CBD and its ability to manage physical pain, as it’s widespread among the fitness community for getting to your next workout faster and for curing injuries.

Will CBD Cure Your Pain?

The pain pathways are complex. We’ve already shown that CBD may help reduce anxiety and depression, which would go along with managing pain on some level, especially when it comes to long-term pain issues (ref).

But, specific to our wheelhouse, for pain in the body related to injury or tissue damage, many athletes want to know if a few doses of CBD will get them back to competing faster.

CBD reduced localized pain in rats following surgical incisions (ref). It helped reduce sciatic nerve pain in rats as well (ref).

These data look promising, especially if CBD could take the place of opiates, whose addictive and harmful effects are well known, accounting for about 130 deaths daily due to overdose (ref).

There is good evidence that the combination of THC and CBD helps manage pain through their interaction with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Currently, drugs containing both of these compounds are available for treating painful conditions such as multiple sclerosis and types of arthritis. Along with this, there are many testimonials on the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating these painful conditions.

But CBD, in its isolated form, doesn’t bind to these receptors. 

In fact, for the CB1 and CB2 receptors (the most abundant cannabinoid receptors in the body), CBD has a weak affinity and either blocks them or even causes an opposite reaction to that of THC.

It’s still possible that CBD may influence the cannabinoid receptors via an indirect mechanism, like increasing the amount of something else that binds to them.  It’s more likely that any direct benefits of CBD are via other mechanisms, of which there are many, and requires a solid background in biochemistry to even partially understand.  If this is your jam, there are plenty of references to check out in this article.

The conclusion is that CBD does indeed interact with many pain-mediating pathways that work peripherally (such as NSAIDs) and in the nervous system (such as opiates), with minimal documented side effects. But it is still uncertain to what degree CBD will be effective.

What is the Answer?

I had first first-hand experience with CBD while working at an event.  It’s not an athletic endeavor of epic proportions, but after standing all day, my feet were barking.  Meanwhile, I dosed CBD all week via the samples at the show, but I didn’t feel any less sore.

Maybe I didn’t take a strong enough dose? Or perhaps those gummies, while delicious, were not the best form? Maybe my type of pain, more of muscular fatigue, was less affected than, say, a neuropathic type of pain, like sciatica. 

And I’m sure we could come up with several other reasons.

All this to say, it needs more research, especially on humans.  This is happening fast due to changing cannabis laws and an increase in money from the industry.

Is CBD Worth a Try?

It’s safe enough to conduct your research, but there are important points to make with that as well. 

Based on the many people who smoke a lot of pot, I can safely conclude that CBD won’t harm you.  But just because it comes naturally doesn’t mean it can’t have adverse effects.   

The regulation of receptors in the body can change and affect the natural control of the body.  Caffeine and sugar are two natural things that can cause noticeable issues when consumed in excess.

Secondly, it’s not exactly a cheap solution. My research landed on roughly $20 for a sample of “quality” CBD drops.  At this point, there isn’t enough data to put yourself into debt to fund your CBD cure. 

In conclusion, if you struggle with pain, have the funds, and don’t have a job that will drug test you (or at least you understand the implications), trying CBD is worth a shot.  But just like the pharma industry, if you’re trying to cover up poor habits, you’re not effectively solving your problems.

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