CBD oil for pain – the benefits of plant medicine for chronic conditions


 | Last revised

Nov, 2022

Nature has a non-toxic, natural solution to assist those suffering from the debilitating symptoms of chronic pain.

CBD has been gaining notoriety for treating chronic pain conditions ranging from neuropathy, back pain, arthritis and pain associated with autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia.

CBD has a demonstrated immunomodulatory effect on the body, meaning that this amazing plant is now being reimagined as a novel anti-inflammatory agent [1].

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain affects up to 3.4 million Australians, and one in 5 adults over the age of 45 is living with a persistent pain condition that fails to resolve within normal healing timeframes.

It is categorised as pain that lasts beyond 3 to 6 months and can range from mild to severe, but the defining feature is that it’s consistently experienced on most days of the week [2].

Common causes of chronic pain

  • Physical injury/trauma
  • Congenital conditions
  • Surgery
  • Excess weight
  • Age-related degeneration
  • Conditions that can cause chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cancer and associated treatments
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Endometriosis
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Migraines
  • Neuropathic (nerve) pain

Chronic pain is a complex response to a variety of stimuli that negatively impacts the body, and can severely limit a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks such as work and socialising.

Furthermore, you may also be surprised to learn that of those diagnosed with chronic pain in Australia, a whopping 44.6% also experience symptoms of anxiety or depression [3].

It’s clear the detrimental effect chronic pain has on both physical and mental health.

Person applying acupuncture needles into a back.

Traditional therapies and treatments for chronic pain

Given the complex nature of chronic pain, there is no single treatment that effectively eliminates all symptoms. Consequently, patients are usually prescribed a variety of physical therapies, supplements and medications to improve symptoms and overall quality of life.

Pharmaceutical medications

Pharmaceutical interventions are the go-to choice for many doctors who are treating chronic pain patients.

Patients may be prescribed a combination of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as paracetamol and ibuprofen and opioid-based analgesics to manage pain.

Physical therapies

Pain patients are also strongly encouraged to undertake some form of physical therapy to improve their condition.

TReatments can involve seeing specialists like chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and exercise physiologists.

These treatments can help to regain mobility, improve strength, assist with weight loss where required, which may aid recovery.

Complementary therapies

Alternative and natural medicine has been growing in popularity in recent years and offers people a natural and holistic approach to healing without the harmful effects of common pharmaceuticals.

  • Complementary pain management can include:
  • Natural anti-inflammatory supplements
  • Acupuncture
  • Reflexology
  • Low-level laser light (LLLT)
  • Energy therapies (Bowen therapy, kinesiology, reiki)
  • Dietary interventions i.e reducing inflammatory foods, sugar, alcohol
  • Naturopathy
  • Plant medicine

CBD for pain relief

The medicinal use of cannabis dates back thousands of years and has been used to treat many medical maladies afflicting humans throughout the ages.

More recently, cannabis has also been backed by clinical and scientific research demonstrating its ability to modulate pain symptoms within the body.

The plant is rich in two specific cannabinoids that are well-known and studied for their pain-relieving powers. While there are over 100 active chemical compounds found in this herb, it is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) which are widely regarded as natural alternatives to pain medications.

THC is associated with a psychoactive response that makes you ‘feel high’ – while CBD appears to modulate inflammation, pain and mood without causing any impairment.

How the Endocannabinoid system works with CBD to relieve pain

The mechanism behind cannabis’ purported effectiveness in relieving pain lies in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Discovered in the early 1990s, the ECS is a collection of cellular receptors that are densely packed throughout our brains and bodies.

These receptors act like traffic lights to control neurotransmitter levels and activity; this, in turn, helps to regulate the activity of whichever bodily function or system may be out of range, whether that is mood, pain, hunger or alertness.

Part of our ECS includes cannabinoid receptors found in certain parts of our body. We have two main types of cannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors are located predominantly in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord).
  • CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system, digestive system, and immune system.

The CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid help our ECS to regulate functions such as:

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Inflammation, including neuroinflammation
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Motor control
  • Temperature regulation
  • Memory
  • Pain
  • Pleasure/reward

How does CBD help relieve pain

While research is still underway to determine the exact mechanism by which CBD reduces pain, there is current evidence to suggest it can work in a number of ways within the body [4].

CBD and THC decrease pain by targeting specific pain receptors in the body while simultaneously allowing more positive sensations to reach the brain.

Both THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory effects.

THC prevents immune cells from releasing inflammatory proteins called cytokines, while CBD is a COX-2 inhibitor and works to reduce inflammation. NSAIDs inhibit the COX-1 enzyme, which can lead to digestive symptoms in many people, whereas CBD only inhibits COX-2, which doesn’t lead to digestive disturbances.

CBD increases muscle relaxation by slowing down electrical signals.

CBD also appears to be effective in relieving anxiety, which in turn may help with the overall relaxation of muscles.

What does the science say about CBD for pain relief?

While quality human trials are still emerging, the research that has been conducted thus far offers promising results for those seeking natural alternatives to heal their bodies.

In 11 trials of 1,219 patients with neuropathic pain, those who took cannabinoids versus pharmaceuticals and/or physical therapy had small reductions in pain scores, improvements in quality of life and increased sleep with no major adverse side effects [5].

A study in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that CBD is effective at reducing Fibromyalgia pain by over 30% in study participants [6].

A study published in 2020 suggests that CBD oil acts as an analgesic and also works to block pain pathways [7]. Furthermore, emerging research suggests that cannabis can be an effective agent to help with opioid withdrawal, giving rise to the plant’s potential to combat opioid addiction.

Two studies presented at the 2022 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons demonstrated that cannabis is an effective treatment for those dealing with chronic musculoskeletal back pain and osteoarthritis.

The two studies also revealed that opioid consumption decreased once patients commenced medical cannabis therapy.

The data demonstrated a significant decrease in the average MME (morphine milligram equivalents) per day after medicinal cannabis therapy, dropping from 15.1 to 11. Additionally, 38.7% of patients dropped to zero MME per day [8].

How do you use CBD oil for pain?

Using CBD oil is a great way for people to reap all the benefits of the cannabis plant in a quick and easy way.

Taking CBD sublingually (under the tongue) is the best way to achieve fast effects as the compounds are absorbed by the densely packed capillaries of your tongue and cheeks and enter your bloodstream, whereas if you swallow the oil immediately, it will be metabolised by the digestive system and can take much longer to feel effects.

Usually, a full-spectrum CBD oil will contain up to 0.3% THC, which is not enough to impair you, but it does work synergistically with CBD and other minor cannabinoids to produce a greater effect in the body.

This is known as the ‘entourage effect’.

The effects of CBD can be subtle, and it’s important to do daily check-ins with yourself to see how you feel before and after dosing with CBD oil.

Taking a high-THC cannabis oil for pain should also be a consideration for those struggling to achieve the therapeutic effect desired.

A new study has found that micro-dosing THC can further reduce chronic pain [9].

How long does it take for CBD oil to work for pain?

Generally, the effects of CBD oil are stated to last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours after onset.

CBD can come in many different forms, this guide gives you an estimation of the onset for each type:

  • Gummies & edibles: up to 2 hours
  • Tinctures/oil (sublingual): 15 to 45 minutes
  •  Topicals: 45 to 60 minutes
  • Vape products: 15 to 30 minutes

Hemp oil for pain

Hemp oil and CBD oil are sometimes used interchangeably however, most commercially available CBD oil products are derived from hemp as opposed to marijuana.

So, whether you call it hemp oil or CBD oil, they both offer the same healing benefits.

The only time you should be wary of hemp oil is when it’s derived from hemp seeds, often just called hemp seed oil.

This product contains excellent anti-inflammatory properties, which are derived from the omega fatty acids contained in hemp seeds. However, this type of product does not contain a therapeutic dose of active cannabinoids like CBD and THC.

Final thoughts

Given the positive scientific literature and anecdotal evidence towards the plant’s therapeutic value, CBD should be offered as a natural legal alternative in treating such conditions.

The other key consideration is that the long-term safety profile of cannabis is far superior to standard pharmaceutical medications, where opioids may further degrade gut health CBD and cannabis can, in fact, help heal the gut as well.

Chronic pain is, well, a pain. The long-term physical and psychological effects are detrimental, as are the side effects of over-prescribed medication. If you are looking for a natural alternative to ease your symptoms, perhaps it’s time to consider incorporating CBD oil into your life.

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1. Prakash Nagarkatti et al, "Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs".
NIH National Library of Medicine.
2. , "Chronic Pain in Australia".
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
3. , "Painful Facts".
Pain Australia.
4. Dr Aviva Romm, "Cannabis for Period Pain: Can It Really Help?".
Aviva Romm MD.
5. Dr. Diane Fulton, "Nature's Most Powerful Pain Relievers".
Green Med Info.
6. Donovan A. Argueta et al, "A Balanced Approach for Cannabidiol Use in Chronic Pain".
NIH National Library of Medicine.
7. Uma Anand et al, "CBD Effects on TRPV1 Signaling Pathways in Cultured DRG Neurons".
NIH National Library of Medicine.
8. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "Medical cannabis can reduce use of opioids in patients with chronic back pain and osteoarthritis, but further study needed".
PR Newswire.
9. , "New Study Finds Microdosing THC Can Reduce Chronic Pain".
Microdosing Institute.


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Disclaimer. While we strive to relay the most factual education available, this shouldn’t replace official medical or legal consultation and recommendation. This is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Happy days.

Hinterland co. Byron Bay, Australia

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