Benefits of CBD for Chronic Pain

Dr. Tony Tran

Dr. Tony Tran

Doctor of Chiropractic
iSpine & Sports​

The Benefits of CBD for Chronic Pain

When it comes to relief for pain, particularly chronic pain, finding a solution that doesn’t include side effects which hinder daily function and responsibilities can be a challenge. More and more people are turning to cannabidiol (CBD) for the pain relief they seek without the negative consequences frequently associated with opioids and other varieties of painkillers, including detrimental physical effects and addiction. Many of those who use CBD oil make enthusiastic claims about the efficacy of the compound for managing chronic pain, but is it as effective as these claims make it out to be?

Yes, probably. Although scientific research on the analgesic effects of CBD is young, preclinical evidence supports the use of CBD for pain therapy.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting longer than three to six months; however, it’s better defined as pain that persists for longer than it should. In contrast, acute pain usually lasts for long enough to notify the body of possible tissue damage, and then typically, it progressively resolves itself as the injured body part heals.

Anyone can develop chronic pain, with an estimated 20 percent of adults suffering from the condition in the United States. People develop chronic pain in the following ways:

  • Chronic pain may arise from an initial injury;
  • Chronic pain may have an ongoing cause, such as illness; or
  • Chronic pain may have no clear cause.

There are numerous other health problems that commonly accompany chronic pain, including decreased appetite, fatigue, mood changes and sleep disturbances. It can also limit a person’s ability to move, reducing flexibility, strength and stamina. Since it can hinder participation in important and enjoyable activities, it’s common for people with chronic pain to experience depression and personality changes.

How is Chronic Pain Treated?

The goal of chronic pain treatment is to minimize pain and improve function, so the person can resume day-to-day activities. There are many pain management options; however, some are more effective than others. Whatever the treatment plan, it is important to remember that chronic pain usually cannot be cured, but it can be managed by finding the right treatment options for the individual patient.

Chronic pain management is complex, usually requiring multifaceted treatment approaches. However, the most common ways to manage chronic pain are:


  • Medications
  • Acupuncture
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Nerve blocks
  • Surgery
  • Psychotherapy
  • Relaxation therapies
  • Biofeedback
  • Behavior modification
  • Self-management programs for chronic pain


Standard treatment approaches can be powerful and effective in some people. However, when it comes to chronic pain management, it isn’t one-size-fits-all and many people find that adding complementary or alternative therapies provide additional relief.

Currently, popular alternative therapies include acupuncture, massage, meditation, tai chi and aqua therapy. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for chronic pain patients to look to CBD for additional relief as well.

What is CBD?

There are multiple compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant, known as cannabinoids, responsible for its health benefits. To date, researchers have identified 70 to 120 active cannabinoids, including CBD, in the plant. Although CBD is a cannabinoid compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant, it does not induce psychoactive effects like the other major cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it’s responsible for the high associated with marijuana use. However, when a person treats their pain with CBD, they won’t experience the stereotypical euphoria and high associated with recreational marijuana use. This is because CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t have mind-altering effects.

Just because cannabidiol doesn’t make a person high, doesn’t mean it’s less effective. In fact, researchers have discovered that the pharmacological activity of CBD is like THC, meaning each cannabinoid has similar beneficial effects on animals and humans. Particularly, CBD effects the synthesis, release and action of several classes of neurotransmitters in the same way, including dopamine and serotonin.

CBD is available in a variety of different forms—not just oils—including pills, gummies and liquid teas or smoothies. All CBD products contain less than 0.3 percent of THC—with some containing 0.0 percent THC—so CBD pain therapies will not make a person feel high.

How Does CBD Relieve Pain?

Chronic pain is one of the most commonly cited reasons for using medical cannabidiol, according to a recent survey. But, how does it work to relieve pain?

Although scientists are still determining exactly how CBD reduces pain, according to the review article Cannabinoids and Pain: New Insights from Old Molecules, pre-clinical animal studies have significantly added to our understanding of the mechanisms of cannabinoid-induced pain relief and how it can be used for pain management. For example, CBD may affect the body’s system of cell-to-cell communication, the endocannabinoid system, that influences how people experience pain, or it may improve brain functions like mood and memory that influence pain perception and coping skills.

What’s the Effect of CBD on Chronic Pain Relief?

CBD is becoming increasingly common in the treatment of pain; this development is based on preclinical and human experimental research showing that CBD is an effective pain reliever.

Here is a rundown of some of the current research on CBD’s pain-relieving qualities:

  • According to the study Cannabinoids Suppress Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain by Targeting α3 Glycine Receptors, CBD can lessen chronic neuropathic pain (nerve pain) and inflammation without causing tolerance in rats.
  • According to a study published in the European Journal of Pain, CBD may relieve chronic arthritis pain. In the study, arthritic rats given topical CBD for four days significantly reduced joint swelling and signs of pain without adverse side effects.
  • Recent meta-analyses of clinical trials studying the use of cannabinoids in chronic pain have shown that CBD exhibit analgesic activity, especially in neuropathic pain.

Thus, the evidence from current scientific research supports the use of CBD in the treatment of chronic pain in adults. Additionally, CBD has these pain-relieving properties with no adverse side effects. In these studies (as well as in self-report data), people tolerated CBD-based treatments very well—only reporting mild to moderate side-effects.

What Chronic Pain Conditions Are Managed CBD-Based Treatments?

CBD-based treatments are used to treat numerous health conditions associated with pain, including:

  • Digestive pain and nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraine and headaches


In addition to treating primary pain conditions, cannabidiol is effective for managing some of the secondary symptoms of chronic pain such as anxiety and eating problems.

Benefits of Using CBD to Manage Chronic Pain

In addition to the pain-relieving properties of cannabidiol, it can also be used to manage secondary symptoms of chronic pain. There are some amazing benefits of using CBD to manage chronic pain, including:

Muscle Relaxation

Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors in muscle tissue play a role in the communication between muscle groups and the neurons controlling them. This means that cannabinoids—such as CBD—play a part in muscle contraction and relaxation.

For example, in Cannabinoids in the Management of Spasticity Associated with Multiple Sclerosis, the researchers demonstrated that cannabinoids may be beneficial in managing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, particularly spasticity and pain.

Decreases Pain Hypersensitivity and Improves Sleep

Pain hypersensitivity can cause secondary mood and sleep disorders because the nerves stay in a constant fight-or-flight state. Unfortunately, insomnia can intensify pain. This leads to a vicious cycle for people with chronic pain conditions. Since the body never gets to complete its natural healing process during rest, it’s never given the chance to alleviate some of the pain—whether it is caused by arthritis, fibromyalgia, muscle injury or other type of chronic pain.

However, CBD has neuroprotective properties that encourage sleep, and in turn, improve the intensity of the pain.

Depression Relief

People with chronic pain are three times more likely to suffer with depression. It can have a devastating effect on person’s sense of self when they can no longer work or engage in the activities or social engagement they once loved. Just like with sleep, mind and body are interconnected, and depression can magnify the pain or vice versa.

As stated above, CBD triggers the release of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters which can ease feelings of depression. Chronic pain patients without depression have better outcomes and experience less pain.

Reduces Fear of Being Touched

Being touched can cause intense pain for someone with chronic pain—likely due to a phenomenon known as central sensitization. This can cause people to avoid body contact. Since CBD targets neurons in the central nervous system to reduce intense feelings of neuropathic pain and encourage positive feelings, it can make a person more receptive to touch.

Reduces Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a major factor in some of the most challenging diseases of our time. It can cause severe pain and tissue damage. Several studies indicate that CBD offers pain relief by both short-term and long-term anti-inflammatory improvement.

Living with chronic pain can be extremely challenging, especially before finding the right treatment. And for some people who regularly experience pain, CBD-based therapies have shown great promise as an effective method of managing pain that may help improve the quality of life.

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