Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is quickly entering the mainstream. A recent Gallup poll found that 14 percent of Americans have at least tried CBD in some form — for pain management, anxiety reduction, and improved sleep. Studies have shown that CBD-use is generally safe, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved CBD as a treatment for seizures associated with some rare forms of epilepsy, demonstrating its growing acceptance.
In the wake of the opioid crisis, some medical professionals are beginning to embrace CBD products like the ones made by Kentucky’s Green Remedy as a safer — and more effective — pain management tool. “CBD is more of a natural alternative with a very wide margin of safety,” says Matt Dawson, M.D. “It doesn’t have the liver toxicity effects of Tylenol, the negative gut lining effects of ibuprofen, or the addictive potential of narcotics.”
Better for pain
CBD is all-natural, one of more than a hundred compounds produced in the cannabis sativa plant. It has no intoxicating effects but engages with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps to regulate a long list of bodily functions including sleep, appetite, and memory. CBD can relieve pain by binding with cell receptors that are part of the ECS.
“CBD works on the receptors — tiny proteins attached to your cells,” explains Randy Barrett, M.D., founder and president of North Pittsburgh Pain Physicians and North Pittsburgh Anesthesia Association. “They receive signals, mostly chemical ones, from different stimuli and help your cells respond. This response creates anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects that help with pain management.”
Dr. Barrett’s experience with CBD has been positive. “In my practice, patients have reported significantly better sleep, less pain, less anxiety, and an overall better experience post-surgery.”
Taylor Bright, Ph.D., the co-founder and president of biotechnology startup TEC Biosciences Inc., agrees. “CBD works on pain in multiple ways,” Bright explains. “If you have an acute injury (a broken bone, for example, or a muscle-belly tear), CBD can help by managing anxiety over the injury and promoting sleep and appetite to help with recovery. For chronic pain, CBD is more effective as this type of pain is now better understood to not be directly related to a structural defect, but a combination of perceived threat, anxiety, and learned behavior. CBD can help with all of these conditions by restoring the balance of the endocannabinoid system which regulates a host of biological functions.”
CBD offers a long list of benefits over traditional pain medicines, especially opioids. “Traditional medications often only work using opioids, which can be addicting,” notes Dr. Barrett. “Traditional medications also have a host of side effects as well, including nausea, and constipation. Furthermore, these opioids do not help with anxiety, sleep, and or stress.” In contrast, CBD offers “reduced stress and anxiety, improved sleep, less nausea, and overall better well-being.”
Dr. Bright stresses the importance of sleep in pain management. “A major benefit of CBD is that it can help manage sleep,” he says. “CBD can both help get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Additionally, better sleep management can help with healing, thus reducing pain.”
One more advantage that CBD has over opioids and other medicines is its holistic range of benefits. “Long-term benefits of CBD include keeping the endocannabinoid system in balance, which helps numerous biological systems including inflammation, neurological signaling, gut-health, and appetite,” notes Dr. Bright.
As some traditional pain treatments like opioids have proved to be potentially harmful, CBD is making its case as the safe, effective choice for the future of pain management.