The entourage effect also accounts for the terpenes 13 that can differ between various strains of marijuana and contribute to the plant’s effect. Some recent research points to the beneficial effects of this compound (think aromatherapy).
Our body’s endocannabinoid system is composed of three main components:
Be Aware of the Entourage Effect
Specific conditions that may be helped by CBD include:
7. De Gregorio D, McLaughlin R, Posa L, et al.Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain. 2019;160(1):136-150.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND CBD: HOW IT WORKS FOR PAIN AND PAIN-RELATED SYMPTOMS
But it is important to be cautious if you are taking other medications or substances, like alcohol. Specifically:
For pain relief, he recommends a dose of 15mg THC (0.0005 oz) to 15 mg CBD. In his experience, doses of THC less than 15 mg generally don’t provide pain relief. Doses may be increased if necessary, best guided under a doctor’s orders, to achieve pain relief without unacceptable side effects.
Read more about CBD Oil and its risks on our sister publication.
Approval by the US Food and Drug Administration has, so far, been limited to synthetic or pharmaceutical-grade components of cannabis. In June 2018, the agency approved Epidiolex (GW Pharmaceuticals) — a high CBD, low THC whole-plant alcohol extract — for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients age 2 and older. FDA has also approved Marinol (AbbVie) and Syndros (Insys Therapeutics), which both contain dronabinol, or synthetic THC. Both are indicated for weight loss associated with anorexia and HIV. Marinol is also indicated for severe nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, as is FDA-approved Cesamet (Meda Pharmaceuticals). Cesamet contains the active ingredient nabilone, which has a chemical structure similar to THC.
Herbs, Oils, and Edibles, Oh My!
Be sure to talk with your doctor about the right dose and route of administration before taking any prescribed of dispensed medical cannabis product for pain relief or related symptoms. Note that Medicare does not cover the product; check with your insurer for other program coverage.
Dr. Bearman is also the co-founder of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, and a board member of Americans for Safe Access – a national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research,and of Patients Out of Time – a Virginia-based nonprofit that works to educate all disciplines of healthcare professionals, the legal profession, and the public about medical cannabis. It’s also important to know that dispensary cannabis is not regulated by the FDA so what you get in one state, or at one time, may be different from another.
For those with concerns about the psychogenic effects, he recommends starting with a one-to-one ratio of THC to CBD for chronic pain. “I usually suggest that people start with 7.5 mg [which, using a standard unit converter amounts to 0.003 oz.] of THC and 7.5 mg of CBD, three or four times a day,” he told Practical Pain Management. “I tell them that the most likely effect is that (a) it’s not going to make their pain go away, and (b) they’re not going to get high.”
Strains of cannabis may come with names like Purple Diesel and Blue Sky. While the term “strain” is commonly used by dispensaries, medical cannabis users and even physicians, it’s not a term used for plant nomenclature. 9 A strain name may come from a grower, producer, processor, or dispensary. A 2018 study out of Washington state found that commercial Cannabis strains fell into three broad chemotypes (chemically distinct plants that otherwise appear indistinguishable) that were defined by the THC:CBD ratio. 10
See also, a 2019 blog on PainDr (managed by Jeff Fudin, PharmD, PPM editor-at-large) on hemp use and drug screenings).
If you or someone close to you is considering trying CBD, I would recommend Dr. Robert Shmerling’s advice about the dos and don’ts in choosing an appropriate product. Until there is high-quality scientific evidence in humans, it is difficult to make a recommendation for the regular use of CBD in chronic pain management.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Cannabis (most commonly obtained from the Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa plants) has three major components: cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. While there are over a hundred different cannabinoids, the two major components are tetrahydrocannabional (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Historically more attention has been paid to the psychoactive (euphoric “getting high”) component of the cannabis plant, THC; there have been fewer scientific studies on the medical use of CBD, a non-psychoactive component of the plant.
CBD is emerging as a promising pharmaceutical agent to treat pain, inflammation, seizures, and anxiety without the psychoactive effects of THC. Our understanding of the role of CBD in pain management continues to evolve, and evidence from animal studies has shown that CBD exerts its pain-relieving effects through its various interactions and modulation of the endocannabinoid, inflammatory, and nociceptive (pain sensing) systems. The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors that interact with our own naturally occurring cannabinoids. This system is involved in regulating many functions in the body, including metabolism and appetite, mood and anxiety, and pain perception.
The bottom line: Don’t make CBD your first or only choice for pain relief
Finally, there is anecdotal wisdom, when experiences by patients and health professionals have positive results. While the experience or medication could be beneficial, that doesn’t mean it is going to work for everyone. That’s because each and every person is unique, and what works perfectly for one patient could have no effect on another patient. This is especially true for pain, where many other factors (our mood and stress level, our environment and other medical conditions, and our previous experiences) can affect the perception of pain. Please be careful, and keep in mind that some of these incredible-sounding testimonials are merely marketing materials meant to lure consumers to buy more products, as the CBD market is expected to hit $20 billion by 2024.
Given its promising results in animal models, along with its relative safety, non-psychoactive properties, and low potential for abuse, CBD is an attractive candidate to relieve pain. Unfortunately, there is a lack of human studies about the effectiveness of CBD. However, there is an abundance of commercial advertisements about the magical effects of CBD, and it is frequently presented as a cure-it-all potion that will treat everything including diabetes, depression, cancer, chronic pain, and even your dog’s anxiety!
In fact, the FDA has issued several warning letters to companies and individuals that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain CBD. The FDA has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD the manufacturers had claimed they contain.
Given the ongoing challenges of chronic pain management coupled with the consequences of the opioid epidemic, pain management practitioners and their patients are searching for effective and safer alternatives to opioids to alleviate pain. With the legalization of marijuana in many states and resulting cultural acceptance of this drug for recreational and medical use, there has been an increased interest in using cannabis for a myriad of medical problems, including pain.
Given the rapid change in the legality of cannabis coupled with the increased appetite for something new, and driven by unprecedented profit margins, the advertising for cannabinoids in general and CBD in particular has gone wild. The FDA is very clear that it is illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement. And it warns the public about its potential side effects, as it’s often advertised in a way that may lead people to mistakenly believe using CBD “can’t hurt.” CBD can cause liver injury, and can affect the male reproductive system (as demonstrated in laboratory animal studies).