UPDATED ON AUGUST 2ND, 2019
What is Chronic Pain?
Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Once the source of the pain is gone, the pain goes usually away. But chronic pain is different in that you can experience pain for weeks, months, or even years after the initial cause is gone. Doctors often define chronic pain as any pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months or more. Pain lasting this long can have serious effects on your day-to-day life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2016 that 20.4% of U.S. adults (50 million) had chronic pain and 8% (19.6 million) had high-impact chronic pain (pain that frequently limits life or work activity). Both were more common among adults in the following groups:
- living in poverty
- used to be employed but are no longer working
- less than a high school education
- without health insurance
- living in rural areas
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons that adults seek medical attention. It’s linked to:
- restriction of mobility and the ability to work and do daily activities
- opioid addiction
- anxiety and depression
- poor or reduced quality of life
In Europe, chronic musculoskeletal pain affects more than 1 in 4 elderly people, in Australia it’s estimated that half of older people have chronic pain, and in the U.S. it’s estimated that 80% of nursing home residents suffer from chronic pain.
Common Causes of Chronic Pain
The most common causes of chronic pain are:
- back pain (from slipped or bulging discs, spinal stenosis, fractures, soft tissue, ligament, or tendon damage; and structural deformities such as scoliosis or lordosis)
- headaches (from tension headaches, eye strain, migraines, and cluster headaches)
- joint pain (from osteoarthritis, bursistis, tendinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and repetitive strain injuries)
- nerve pain (from sciatica, diabetic neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, postherpetic neuralgia, and trigeminal neuralgia)
Treatment of Chronic Pain
If you are living with chronic pain, you may understand the feeling of despair and hopelessness. The thought of the pain never ending is real. Chronic pain wears on your nerves and oftentimes creates additional problems such as anxiety and depression. The most common method of dealing with pain involves taking a medication such as a narcotic.
What is CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of more that 120 compounds called cannabinoids. A cannabinoid is a diverse class of chemical compounds that acts on the cannabinoid receptors in the body. The most famous is THC (tetrahydracannabinol), the cannabinoid that makes people high when they use marijuana. CBD doesn’t make you high; in fact when it’s taken with THC it reduces the high from the THC. CBD is now the subject of more academic research due since the FDA approved Epidiolex as the first CBD-based drug for the treatment of two forms of epilepsy. Other studies have found CBD to show promise in the treatment of many disorders, including:
Since the Farm Bill passed in 2018, the door has opened wider for both physicians and the general public to have another option for pain management as the U.S. has access to hemp-derived CBD.
Can CBD Treat Chronic Pain?
A study published in the National Institutes of Health reviewed studies conducted between 1988 and 2007 and concluded that CBD was effective for pain management without adverse side effects. The main reason why CBD is supported in the treatment of chronic pain is due to its ability to suppress inflammatory neuropathic pain by targeting certain receptors throughout the body. In addition to reducing pain, CBD was found to be anti-emetic (prevents vomiting and nausea), produces apoptosis (cell death) in malignant cells, inhibits cancer-induced andiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels). The study also stated that CBD has neuroprotective antioxidant qualities, and looks to be effective in the treatment of insomnia and multiple sclerosis.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers were able to identify a specific component in CBD, which shows CBD to be “an ideal glycinergic cannabinoid that can be used to treat chronic pain without causing aversive effects.“ These findings may be able to be applied to future studies in order to develop a new generation of glycinergic cannabinoids to treat chronic pain. The other important discovery from this research was how glycinergic cannabinoids are unlikely to cause a drug tachyphylaxis (tolerance) unlike narcotics. This means people suffering from chronic pain would no longer need to be concerned with becoming physically addicted to using CBD as part of their treatment plan.
Additionally, CBD can be used to help motivate patients suffering from chronic pain. In a study published in 2017 by Frontiers in Pharmacy, CBD was found to indirectly affect the reward system. Since pain involves different regions of the brain, it impacts emotional processing. CBD was found to have a positive impact on the psychological aspects of chronic pain “presumably because of pain relief or reduction of pain aversiveness.” CBD can help manage almost all symptoms associated with chronic pain.