Chronic pain affects one in five people in the United States. Roughly 12% of all prescriptions filled are related to pain relief, and the use and misuse of opioids has become a topic of great concern. As a result, many people are seeking alternative methods for treating pain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-chronic-pain-in-adults
Cannabis has long been used for both recreational and medicinal purposes, one being to relieve pain. In fact, relief from chronic pain is the most common reason patients cite for using medical cannabis. People report varying degrees of success, and effects depend on the type of pain, the intensity, and the patient’s own physiology. But both clinical research and anecdotes support the use of cannabis for relieving certain types of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain and spasticity, the stiffness or tightness that is common in multiple sclerosis.
Two years ago, the National Academies of Science conducted a comprehensive review of the data on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids and concluded that adult patients with chronic pain were more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms with cannabis. Research also suggests cannabis may relieve cancer-related pain, migraines, and fibromyalgia, although more research is needed.
Even less is known about CBD oil–an extract of the cannabis plant that contains cannabidiol but no THC–for treating pain.
Most studies of cannabis for pain were done outside the US, and virtually all were of cannabis in flower form, vaporized or smoked. But the type and route of use can make a difference, and medical cannabis comes in herbal, tincture, oil, and edible forms. In the “real world,” people are consuming cannabis gummies and elixir and using topical cannabis in patches and creams.
The efficacy of CBD oil in pain treatment is not clear. When taken orally, CBD has poor bioavailability, meaning the body absorbs very little of the active ingredients. But applying CBD oil to areas of localized pain may provide more consistent levels of CBD and more pain relief.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting over 50 million Americans. The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease causing joint inflammation, and osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
Several studies conducted over the past few years have demonstrated that CBD oil and other topicals could help treat joint pain and inflammation associated with both RA and OA.
Anecdotal reports from arthritis sufferers also back the benefits of CBD oil for pain, especially older adults. In a 2018 article published in AARP, some patients shared stories of how CBD had helped them. Nancy Giacobbe, a 61-year-old aesthetician from California with arthritis in her hands, applies CBD topicals day and night, and noted in the article that “within an hour, I’m a happy person and can do a full 35-hour workweek.”
Actor Patrick Stewart has also reported relief from using a multipronged regimen of CBD ointment, spray, and edibles for osteoarthritis in his hands. In HuffPost, he stated that he believes “the ointment and spray have significantly reduced the stiffness and pain in my hands. I can make fists, which was not the case before I began this treatment.”
Overall, while more research is needed, topical CBD oil does appear to be effective for relieving pain and inflammation due to arthritis.
Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse who has written for a wide range of publications for healthcare professionals and consumers, including Medscape, The Lancet, Prevention, Scientific American, WebMD, American Journal of Nursing, Frontline, National Geographic, Hematology Adviser, American Journal of Medical Genetics and the Washington Post, among others.