Does CBD Oil Work For Pain And Anxiety

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CBD and THC are both found in cannabis plants but are very different compounds. Learn more about how each treats pain here. CBD products claim to help with anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain and more. It almost sounds too good to be true. So I conducted my own experiment.

THC vs. CBD for Pain Relief: What’s Better?

People with arthritis and other chronic musculoskeletal pain are increasingly turning to cannabis products for relief from different symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. In fact, a recent CreakyJoints survey of people with arthritis found that more than half had tried marijuana or CBD for a medical reason.

While cannabis plants are complex and different varieties have different chemical compositions, almost all of them contain some combination of two medically important compounds: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is responsible for that “high” that people get from marijuana, which may also play a role in pain relief. CBD doesn’t usually cause an intoxicating feeling, but research suggests it, too, may help ease arthritis symptoms.

These two chemicals both show potential in easing pain, but in different ways. Choosing a product rich in THC, CBD, or both could make a difference in the kind of pain relief you experience — if any. (Here are reasons your CBD product might not be working for you.)

Here’s what experts say about the differences between THC and CBD for pain relief.

How THC and CBD May Offer Pain Relief

CBD and THC activate different cannabinoid receptors in your body that can stimulate or inhibit brain chemicals and cause certain effects.

“We know a lot more about how THC works in terms of the molecular mechanism [than CBD],” says Steve Alexander, associate professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, who researches cannabinoids.

“THC activates certain cannabinoid receptors, one of which is in the nerve cells and the other is in the immune cells. When it activates the one in the nerve cells, it reduces the sensation of pain,” he adds.

The high that THC provides can also play a role in how people experience pain. “A little bit of euphoria can help us not care that we’re experiencing quite as much pain, much in the same way that other pain medications work,” says Angela D. Bryan, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, who has studied cannabis and health.

CBD is much less understood than THC by researchers, although there is anecdotal evidence that it may provide pain relief in some people.

“We’ve got a hypothesis that CBD might have some interference with [the brain chemical] serotonin and some influence on glycine receptors, which may be involved with pain. We think it may do what it does by hitting multiple targets with a fairly light touch,” says Dr. Alexander. “It’s difficult to pick apart — lots of people are trying [to study it], but no one has yet succeeded.”

Researchers have not found much evidence that CBD can offer mental relief from pain. However, the placebo effect may help some individuals experience less pain after taking CBD.

“The human mind is a very powerful thing, and a lot of the ways we experience medication is related to our expectancies about that medication,” says Dr. Bryan.

How CBD Can Help with Anxiety

Scientists suspect that CBD may help relieve anxiety, though. That, in turn, could affect someone’s perception of pain and potentially make them more comfortable. The research is still developing, though, and it’s too early to draw anything conclusive.

“We know that chronic pain patients also have a number of other morbidities, like stress, anxiety, and depression. I’m interested in the possibility that cannabidiol might also have mechanisms by which we can relieve some of those additional problems,” says Dr. Alexander.

That said, CBD may offer pain relief in more physical ways. It seems to show promise in reducing inflammation, which could provide pain relief from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, says Dr. Bryan.

The bottom line: THC seems to have a greater effect on the way the mind perceives pain, whereas CBD may work to ease pain at the local source.

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Which Is Better for Pain Relief: THC or CBD?

There’s no definitive answer to the debate between THC and CBD for pain relief. Cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government — a legal status that limits the kinds of research that can be conducted.

Using the current research available, Dr. Bryan says she believes that a combination of THC and CBD together shows the most promise for pain relief.

“To the extent that we have good data, it’s unlikely that either THC or CBD on its own is going to be particularly effective for pain. It probably needs to be a combination of the two,” she explained. “We’re totally speculating at this point, but the way they work together might be that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties while THC has properties that can help us better cope with pain.”

CBD and THC: Side Effects and Legal Concerns

THC might not be an option for everyone, though. Some people may live in states where THC is illegal; while others simply don’t want the psychoactive effects of the substance. In those cases, it might be worth trying CBD on its own to see if it offers pain relief for you.

CBD isn’t legal everywhere either. And in states where CBD is legal, laws can vary as to how much THC is permissible in CBD products in order for them to be legally sold. Many states in which certain CBD products are legal require them to contain less than 0.3 percent THC.

Before trying either substance, it’s worth considering potential side effects they may cause. Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue, and irritability, according to Harvard Health. CBD can also interact with certain medications (such as blood thinners) and either increase or decrease the concentration of certain drugs in the bloodstream.

THC has its own set of side effects, including sleepiness and lethargy, increased appetite, increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction times, memory loss, anxiety, and mood changes.

“It’s quite likely that individuals will respond to different versions of these cannabinoids, and some may not respond at all,” says Dr. Alexander. “There’s a tendency for anecdotal evidence to highlight the positives of people who do respond [to CBD], which is useful, but it’s difficult to measure the numbers of people who don’t get a lasting benefit.”

If you’re interested in trying CBD or THC to manage your pain, talk to your doctor and experiment to see whether CBD or THC (or both) relieves some pain.

You can also learn more in a new, free course on the health effects of THC and CBD, created by Kent Hutchison, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“Start with low doses and go slowly to find out what works for you,” says Dr. Alexander. “I find it difficult to believe that there is one version of cannabis or CBD that will be best for everyone.” Learn more here about how to find your optimal CBD dose.

What happened when I took CBD for a week to help with my anxiety

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  • CBD products claim to help with everything from anxiety to insomnia to muscle pain.
  • The hype almost sounds too good to be true, so Business Insider’s Benji Jones conducted an experiment to find out how it might help him with his anxiety.
  • Jones took 250 milligrams of CBD oil per day for one week. Mostly, he felt tired after taking the doses, but he did notice a relief from anxiety, particularly during stressful moments of his week.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Steven Phan: You gotta lean back. No, tongue back!

Benji Jones: That’s me, trying CBD at a shop in New York City. Lately, I’ve seen this stuff everywhere: At the local health food store, but also at Urban Outfitters, Sephora, and CBD shops like this one. And if you look at some of the branding, it kind of makes sense.

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CBD products claim to help with everything from anxiety to insomnia to muscle pain. It almost sounds too good to be true. And maybe it is. To find out, I set up a little experiment. For one week, I took CBD three times a day, while tracking my anxiety with a scorecard. I also chatted with an expert before and after to sort through the results. Here’s what I learned.

CBD is a distant cousin of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. They both come from the cannabis plant, but CBD isn’t psychoactive. Meaning it doesn’t get you high. Now, of course, getting high isn’t the only reason why cannabis is popular. People also use it to relieve pain, control seizures, and lessen anxiety. But as researchers like Dr. Yasmin Hurd are discovering, it’s likely CBD, not THC, that’s behind these benefits.

Dr. Hurd: “It can activate some serotonin receptors, and the serotonin system is associated with alleviating anxiety.”

Jones: Hurd has been studying the effects of CBD for over 10 years. And she’s found that it can reduce anxiety in people with a history of heroin addiction. Now, fortunately, I don’t have a history of addiction, but I do see a therapist for chronic anxiety. And CBD could still help.

Dr. Hurd: “Both under normal conditions and in people who have anxiety disorders, enough research has started to show that it does have an anti-anxiety effect.”

Jones: So, back at the shop, I tried all kinds of product. From sweets to lotions and sprays. And while Hurd couldn’t recommend a specific dose for me, she did say that 300 milligrams a day should be enough to feel something. Because participants in clinical trials typically take anywhere from 300 to 600 milligrams. So, those chocolates and sprays? They weren’t going to cut it. Instead, I went for something else.

Phan: The tinctures, right? This is where you really get into the higher-strength things.”

Jones: I decided to err on the side of caution and take 250 milligrams each day, broken out into three doses: 50 milligrams in the morning, 100 milligrams at midday, and another 100 milligrams at night. That way, it wouldn’t hit me all at once.

Jones: All right, today is the day! I have my CBD here. I’m kind of nervous. All right, here we go.

Now, mind you, this was a Wednesday. A workday. Side note: The reason I’m taking CBD this way is that there are tons of capillaries under your tongue. So, anything you put there can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. Whereas when you ingest CBD, like with that chocolate, a lot of it is broken down by your stomach. Which means you probably won’t feel much.

Anyway, several hours later, I took my last dose of the day.

If anything, I just feel extremely tired.

That was the first thing I noticed: that CBD was making me drowsy. Really drowsy. Which Hurd said is a pretty normal side effect at high doses. Though we’re not exactly sure why. But as I discovered the next night, it’s also great for hangovers.

I had some alcohol, and I’m certainly not going to have trouble sleeping. I think I’m going to eat a slice of pizza.

The next morning, I felt…great. And according to Hurd, that’s because CBD also has some anti-inflammatory effects. But what about anxiety, what I was really in this for? Each morning, I filled out the anxiety scorecard that Hurd gave me. It was a rough estimate of my daily emotional state, based on numbered responses to statements like, “I feel at ease.” But day to day, it was harder to figure out whether CBD was helping.

Just walking home on Friday night after three days of CBD, and I’m reporting that I’m mostly just tired and feeling lethargic. Not in a bad way; it kind of feels like I have a warm blanket around me, so I don’t hate it.

But over the weekend, I finally got the relief I was looking for, even more quickly than I had expected.

So, I happened to take CBD right before I had to do something stressful. It’s Sunday, but I had a task that I was not looking forward to. And I took 100 milligrams, and I pretty quickly felt my nerves calming down. And I was like, OMG, this is totally working, which is really great because I’m looking for that quick relief like everyone is.

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Now, of course, this could have been a placebo. I mean, all of this could have been placebo. So, a few days later, I tried it again in a similar high-stress situation.

Not going to lie, I actually feel a little bit more calm. It kind of puts me into a dissociative state, where I’m slowing down a little bit. I actually get physical pain in my heart region when I’m anxious, which I know sounds terrible. But just 30 minutes after taking my 100-milligram dose for the evening, I feel an absence of that. I will say that I’ve also been listening to the “Lion King” soundtrack, so there are confounding variables. But yeah, I feel a lot better right now.

At that point, I had just one day left.

All right, I’m about to take my last dose of CBD! I must say, I’m kind of excited to stop having to take this three times a day. I think part of it is scheduling and remembering. But also, yeah, I’ve also just been so much more tired. I don’t feel like my anxiety was just washed away. I felt like there were a few times where it really helped in certain instances. And, overall, kind of lowered the intensity of how I was feeling because I felt lethargic. But yeah, I don’t want to be tired anymore.

Afterward, I looked over my anxiety scorecards. And sure enough, it showed that I was feeling slightly less anxious on my last day, compared to my first. Especially when I looked at statements like this. Yeah, that’s a big one for me. I wanted to run these results by Hurd.

Dr. Hurd: “How do you feel?”

Jones: Um, to be honest, I don’t feel that different. I think that the biggest change that I noticed is…I was just tired all the time. I feel this kind of slo-mo lethargia that makes me feel, like, a little bit disassociated with reality. And I think that is what made me feel a little less anxious at times.

Dr. Hurd: So, perhaps…taking it at night only might be best because it can make you a bit sleepy, and everyone has a different sensitivity. If you take it at night you get past the initial sedative effects… and then you don’t have to worry about taking other things like caffeine to try to stay awake.

Jones: And what about those moments of instant relief? Was that in my head, or could CBD act that fast?

Dr. Hurd: “Yeah, absolutely. It can act that quickly. For us, in our studies, people did — shortly after getting CBD — report reduced anxiety.”

Jones: But if there was one takeaway from our conversations, it was this:

Dr. Yasmin Hurd: Ironically, even though it’s now this huge fad in our society, we still don’t have a very good handle on how it’s working.

Jones: In other words, we don’t know: what size dose you should take, how, exactly, it changes your brain, or how it impacts different people in different ways. That’s because until late 2018, nearly all CBD was classified as an illegal substance. Which made it really difficult for scientists to study. And while research is starting to catch up… in some ways, it’s too late.

Dr. Hurd: It’s one of the first times in history that the public is determining whether something is medicine, not scientists and physicians.

Jones: As for me, will I continue using CBD? Yes — but likely only for those moments when I need instant relief. Because, while it seems to benefit a lot of people … I’m not yet fully convinced. But also because, this bottle? It costs more than $130! And if I’m going to spend that much, I want to be absolutely sure it works.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on August 20, 2019.

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