CBD and Pain: A Guide


Studies show that CBD can be used to treat many types of pain.

Leaf Science / NOV 28, 2017

Medical marijuana is often prescribed for pain, and many people are aware that THC can reduce pain. But what about CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most common chemical in marijuana after THC. Many people use CBD for its medical benefits, such as treating epilepsy and anxiety. CBD can also help treat pain associated with a variety of medical conditions.

Scientific studies of CBD for pain have shown that CBD is a safer option with very few side effects compared to other commonly prescribed pain medications such as opiates.

Unlike THC and marijuana, CBD does not have psychoactive effects. This means that people can take advantage of its medical benefits without experiencing any “high”.

Can CBD Help Treat Pain?

Current research on CBD shows that it can be used to treat many types of pain. Some evidence suggests that CBD is most effective in treating chronic and neuropathic pain, while it has limited use in treating short-term pain.

CBD has also been shown to reduce inflammation and the pain that results from it. Here are some of the painful medical disorders that CBD can help treat.


Allodynia is a rare condition where normally non-painful touch or stimulation becomes painful. A 2007 study of 125 patients found that Sativex (an extract containing THC and CBD) was able to significantly reduce pain in patients with allodynia.


Arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease that can result in pain and stiffness. Many arthritis treatments have unpleasant side effects including blood clots and an increased risk of heart attack.

2016 study found that a topical CBD treatment applied to the skin is effective in treating pain and inflammation in arthritis. CBD treatment was also reported to have very few side effects.

Cancer-related pain

2013 study found that treatment with Sativex resulted in a marked improvement in cancer-related pain. Patients also showed improvement in insomnia and fatigue symptoms, and the side effects were minimal.

Another study from 2014 found that CBD was able to reduce chemotherapy pain in mice without negative side effects.

Chronic pain

2007 Italian study found that CBD can successfully reduce chronic pain in rats.

Many scientific reviews agree that CBD can treat chronic pain that is resistant to other drugs, like opioids.

CBD also has relatively few side effects, and most people tolerate CBD medication well, making it an even more attractive treatment option for chronic pain.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a disease where the nerves in the brain and spinal cord become damaged. MS patients can experience both acute and chronic pain.

2013 animal study found that CBD can act as an anti-inflammatory. The researchers concluded that CBD is a promising treatment for multiple sclerosis.

More recently, a UK research team conducted a trial with patients experiencing neuropathic pain from multiple sclerosis. The researchers found that Sativex (an extract containing THC and CBD) effectively treated pain in these patients.

How Does CBD Work to Treat Pain?

Many pain relief medications like Aspirin and Advil are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs work by blocking the activity of certain enzymes which are responsible for inflammation, swelling and pain.

Blocking these enzymes is an effective way to relieve pain, but it can create side effects such as a risk of ulcers, stomach bleeding, heart attack and stroke.

CBD works on a completely different pathway, and this means it has a lower risk of dangerous side effects following long-term use.

CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system, which is found throughout the body. CBD increases levels of the body’s natural cannabinoids, such as anandamide.

CBD can act on vanilloid receptors, and scientists believe this is partially responsible for its pain-relieving effects.

CBD also turns on glycine receptors, which are found on the spinal cord. When glycine receptors are less active than normal, they can cause chronic pain. A study from 2012 found that CBD can treat chronic pain by turning on glycine receptors.

Is THC or CBD Better For Pain?

THC is a more established pain reliever than CBD, due in part to its ability to activate CB1 receptors. THC can help treat many disorders that cause pain, including arthritis, migraines, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and cancer.

While THC is effective, it also comes with psychoactive side effects. Many people do not want to experience a “high” from their pain medication.

CBD has the ability to temper the psychoactive effects of THC. So one way to get pain relief benefits from THC with less of a psychoactive high is to mix THC and CBD.

Sativex is a pharmaceutical drug that has equal parts THC and CBD. Research on Sativex as a therapy has shown that it can successfully treat pain from multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, arthritis and cancer pain, among others.

A combination of THC and CBD (like Sativex) seems to be superior to THC or CBD alone. This is because THC and CBD work together to treat pain effectively while minimizing side effects.


Recent research shows that CBD can effectively treat chronic pain, neuropathic pain, cancer-related pain, and arthritis pain.

CBD acts indirectly on the endocannabinoid system, and also activates other receptors in the body to exert its pain-relieving effects.

CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it can be used safely as a pain medication by many people. This has made CBD an attractive option for doctors and patients who may be concerned about side effects.

More studies are needed, but CBD could someday prove to be a safer and more effective pain treatment than currently prescribed medications.

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