Is CBD Helpful for Pain Management? Examining the University of Bath Study

Is CBD Helpful for Pain Management? Examining the University of Bath Study

This week, a University of Bath study hit the news with the surprising conclusion that CBD doesn’t improve chronic pain management. And yet, 71% of Britons who take CBD do so for pain management. Are all these people wrong?

The burden of chronic pain

Chronic pain is a major issue that threatens people’s life quality and overall well-being. Some 28 million people in Britain suffer from chronic pain: that’s almost 43% of the British population. It’s no wonder these people are looking into ways to alleviate their pain and make it more manageable.

Chronic pain can touch upon all aspects of life. It can be difficult to work and many people find it hard to meet their professional expectations. Chronic pain also impacts people’s social lives as it stops them from going out, meeting friends, and being part of the community. In addition, it limits people’s ability to exercise and live life to its fullest. That’s why people who live with chronic pain often experience frustration, anger, and even depression.

The options for pain management

What are the options for pain management? Mostly NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which aim at reducing the inflammation that usually causes pain and hence relieve pain. Unfortunately, many people feel that these medicines don’t their expectations: they come with side effects, require ever-increasing dosages, and may be ineffective.

As pain management becomes a pressing issue for people with chronic pain, there is an urgent need for new medical solutions. CBD has become widely available in the last ten years. Research has expanded on its potential, especially its anti-inflammatory properties. If CBD truly manages to control and minimize inflammation, then patients should see the results in their quality of life immediately. But how much do we know about CBD for pain management?

CBD for pain management: how researchers think it works

CBD interacts with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). The way this works is that the ECS is responsible for regulating and managing many bodily functions like appetite, mood, temperature control, inflammation, and pain perception. The last two features are the most interesting in our case.

CBD manages to ‘talk’ with the ECS and appears to make it work more effectively and more productively. When, for example, there is inflammation somewhere in the body, the ECS is responsible for getting it back in balance and reducing the inflammation. How does the ECS do that? It sends the so-called endocannabinoids—cannabinoids produced by the body—to address the problem. If the ECS can’t do that, then the inflammation persists and pain becomes a permanent feature.

CBD mimics, in many respects, one of the two human cannabinoids. There is speculation that CBD could strengthen the work of the human cannabinoids and work with them but so far there is no proof of that.

Findings about CBD for pain management

Because pain and chronic pain are such widespread issues, a lot of attention around CBD has focused on establishing its potential effectiveness in helping with pain. Apart from anecdotal evidence that CBD is effective, researchers are looking into scientific evidence.

Reviews that support the view that CBD can help with pain management

A 2021 survey found that “72% of participants with fibromyalgia substituted CBD for pain medications” and “70 to 94% of reported substitutions resulted in stopped or reduced use of medications”. Those who benefited from CBD claimed it improved their health far better than their conventional medication did, reported improvements in “health, pain, memory, and sleep,” and overall enjoyed a better quality of living.

A review that checked 15 studies on CBD and pain management found that in 12 out of the 15 studies, the findings “indicated pain reduction ranging from 42% – 66% with CBD […].” Only 3 out of the 15 studies found no effects on pain management.

Another review from 2022 concluded that “some observational and clinical studies lead to CBD’s effectiveness and safety in chronic pain; however, the evidence is not strong enough to obtain a proper recommendation.”

A further study from 2020 also showed that CBD has analgesic effects, although its anti-inflammatory properties were still undetermined.

Findings that are still inconclusive

Some other reviews are inconclusive. A 2020 review found that “CBD treatment did not significantly reduce measures of pain, however there was consistent improvement in patient-reported quality of life and quality of sleep.”

Further research showed that people with mild pain symptoms didn’t show improvement when taking CBD. However, those with “moderate to severe pain symptoms reported improvement in their pain” when taking CBD for three months.

Studies that conclude CBD makes no difference

And yet a very recent research from the University of Bath concluded that CBD doesn’t improve pain management. The research concluded that “cannabidiol (CBD) products have varying amounts of CBD, from none to much more than advertised.” They also found that “CBD products may contain other chemicals than CBD, some of which may be harmful.” Finally, “fifteen of the 16 RCTs were negative: no greater pain-relieving effect for CBD than for placebo.”

Why so many opposite findings?

When we look at such inconclusive data, it’s easy to get lost and confused. So, let’s check two very opposing findings. How can we understand research findings?

The first thing to notice is that the University of Bath research points out something that we often mention in this blog: there is no oversight over the CBD market and many CBD products fall short of quality controls.

This is a well-known problem. For example, a review by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis revealed that only 38% of CBD products tested were within 10% of the advertised CBD content and one product contained no CBD at all. Some of the products tested contained traceable levels of THC which is illegal. Solvents and heavy metals also were detected in a few CBD products; although these levels were below the permitted daily dose, they were still above the food industry standards.

Therefore, the researchers at the University of Bath are identifying a real problem. However, the findings regarding the effectiveness of CBD with regards to pain management are more troubling. With so many clinical trials and reviews being ambivalent or inconclusive, how are we to explain that?

Many kinds of pain

Pain takes many forms. Most conditions cause some kind of pain: migraines, headaches, muscle pains, joint pains, arthritis, osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain, cramps, inflammatory pain, and cancer pain are just a few types of pain.  

As mentioned above, CBD appears to help people with fibromyalgia switch from conventional medicines to CBD; the majority of these people witnessed improvement with CBD.

A test on mice confirmed that CBD is effective in migraines, especially in preventing migraine from developing.

On the other hand, randomized controlled clinical trials have shown that CBD appears to be ineffective with musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis.

Could it be that CBD is more effective in some types of pain sources rather than others? Perhaps our ECS is more active in certain areas of the body, which CBD can target, and less active in others.

While it’s unclear how the University of Bath researchers picked the studies they examined, it is clear that we need more definitive research findings to be fully sure about how effective CBD is in managing various kinds of pain, including chronic pain.

The importance of using high-quality CBD products

One thing that is clear from the University of Bath study is that the quality of CBD products varies wildly, which is why we always suggest you prefer reputable and trusted brands. CBD products should display their Certificate of Analysis (CoA) to show the content of CBD and other cannabinoids as well as the presence or absence of heavy metals and other unwanted chemical compounds. Even small details matter: amber jars that protect the content from sunlight are better than transparent ones and show that the manufacturer cares.

Stay away from manufacturers who claim that CBD cures all types of illnesses, diseases, and conditions. While CBD may help in a variety of ways, it is only used medically in specific kinds of children’s epilepsy. People making wild claims are simply trying to make a sale based on wishful thinking.

Also, hemp tends to suck heavy metals and chemicals out of the soil, so organic CBD is typically better than conventional one because it’s grown without pesticides.

CBD and pain management

Despite the University of Bath studies, most research suggests that CBD may be a helpful partner in the fight against chronic pain and other types of pain. However, it’s not a panacea. Things are further complicated because there is insufficient research into dosage, whether CBD may be only helpful for specific kinds of pain, and its interactions with various medications.

In the absence of such data, use your common sense and judgement to see whether CBD can help you. Keep track of how you feel once you start taking CBD, especially if you increase or decrease the dosage or change the brand or consumption method. This can tell you how your body reacts to CBD and whether a particular consumption pattern fits your lifestyle and body better than others.  

And, of course, check out CBD oil reviews and our list of the best UK CBD stores to be sure that the CBD you purchase is as pure and effective as possible.

Nicholas C. Rossis

Nicholas Rossis, PhD is a specialized, NSF-trained writer who has written hundreds of posts on CBD and nutritional supplements. His work combines critical acclaim with the analysis of the latest news, studies, research, and legal developments in the world of CBD, providing readers with valuable data and insights.

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