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

CBD 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.

To clarify, I don’t go to an apothecary or sniff essential oils to cure a cold…but I did own a pair of Chacos once.

I am not a super fan of western medicine either. Which often tries to cover up a lack of sleep, nutrition, and exercise with medicine.

I fall somewhere in between. I strongly encourage all-natural cures, 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, and hopefully for you too, 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 like 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 then .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 on 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, so there is no guarantee that the product you purchased doesn’t contain a higher amount of THC to make it illegal.

What I’ve concluded is that no one is getting busted for CBD. Furthermore, 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 when it comes to 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?

My biggest question was on the effectiveness of CBD and for what conditions. Looking around, you will find that it’s pumped as the treatment for everything, including cancer.

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

Beyond that, there remain a lot of questions.

For many, and me included, anything treated as a panacea for all human ills raises red flags. But you can come to grips with it 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. 

A 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 it’s the ability to manage physical pain.

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 was shown to reduce localized pain in rats following surgical incision (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 to 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, 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 being 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.

Still No Answers?

So after reading all of this, what’s the answer?

I believe there is a good bet that CBD does help decrease pain, but there remains a ton of questions.

To drive this all home, I had to stand a lot while working the event.  It’s not an athletic endeavor of epic proportions, but at the end of the day my feet were barking.  Despite dosing CBD all week during the event through the samples I was given, I was still 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 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. Fortunately, with the quickly changing laws around cannabis, research and money are being pumped into the area fast.

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

Just because it comes naturally doesn’t mean it can’t have adverse effects. For example, cyanide is found in many foods.  Enough pot has been smoked to safely say that CBD will not kill you, but the regulation of receptors in the body can change by taking things, which can affect the natural control in the body. Caffeine and sugar are two examples of natural things that can cause some real issues in the body 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. And at this point, I don’t think there is enough data to say it’s worth putting yourself into debt to fund your CBD cure. 

In conclusion, if you’ve been struggling with a pain issue, have the funds, and not in a job that will drug test you (or at least you should 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.

Happy healing! Shoot me an email at matt@crossoversymmetry.com if you have any questions or feedback.  

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