CBD effectively reduces multiple kinds of pain
One of the newly-emerging uses of CBD is in the treatment of pain from a number of sources, including injury, neuropathy, cancer, and some chronic diseases. The physiological applications are enormous and wildly under-researched. However, each passing week comes with the announcement of a new discovery about its potential in any of 50 fields of medicine, from immunology to neuroregulation. One role that is being pursued with aggression is that of a pain-reducer, or anti-nociceptive. Much is understood about the way that the human body perceives pain and discomfort.
How does pain work?
Unlike most neurological phenomena, pain originates in the body rather than the brain. Therefore, several important steps in the process of recognizing pain take place in the body and the spinal column rather than in the brain.
Pain originates in specific nerves in the skin and some other organs of the body called nociceptors. They respond to heat, pressure, or certain chemical stimuli that can have adverse effects on the system and subsequently send a signal to the brain.
Any signal from these particular nerves is perceived as negative and painful.
The endocannabinoid system is deeply involved in the regulation of pain sensitivity and perception. In the peripheral nervous system it modulates the excitability of the nerves that sense pain. In the central nervous system it modulates the parts of the brain which respond to painful stimuli and determine the proper response to the pain. If either of these immensely complex processes are disrupted in any way, endocannabinoid deficiency occurs and pain perception is negatively affected.
Because the ECS has such a vital role in pain perception and sensitivity, CBD and other cannabinoids appear to have pain-relieving properties because they modulate and invigorate the endocannabinoid system. By bringing the ECS back to health, CBD is able to relieve pain and promote homeostasis across all of the systems of the body.
Traditional pain management
Traditional opiate-based painkillers work in the part of the brain that perceives pain signals, the thalamus. They work by either making the less sensitive or by mimicking the natural painkillers that the body produces, which block the ability of the thalamus to receive signals of nociception. Activation of the pain-related area, the thalamus, causes the brain to evacuate dopamine from the pleasure system, producing an negative emotion associated with the pain. By extension, deactivation of the thalamus’ ability to perceive nociception (this is what painkillers do) produces large quantities of dopamine in the reward system, making the brain crave more of the painkiller which produced such a good feeling as the opposite of pain. In this way, painkillers are highly addictive drugs.
CBD is different
So how does CBD relieve pain? Imagine a gate in your spinal cord that’s usually wide open and lets any amount of nociception pass through it into the brain to be felt as pain. CBD acts on this gate, among other things, by reducing the strength of signals that pass through it. You still feel the stimulus of pain and are capable of acting on it, but it hurts less, leaving you able to focus on other things and manage the pain better. This only applies to pain felt by nociceptors that are working properly, however.
Sometimes, nerve damage or diseases that affect the health of nervous tissue such as multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia can cause nociceptors to behave differently than they normally would. In these cases, nociceptors send signals to the brain even when there is no painful stimulus, or they amplify the signal to be much stronger than it should be, causing much greater pain.
These are the cases where CBD is much more effective than traditional methods of pain relief, because CBD actually promotes nerve health and homeostatic functioning. Compoundingly, CBD causes an increase in the human-produced cannabinoid anandamide, which has a similar effect as THC and can mitigate some perception of pain, as it does in facilitating the runner’s high. CBD also causes diminished sensitivity of chemical nociceptors by competitively binding to the site where an irritant would bind if CBD were not present. In this way, CBD reduces phantom nerve pain and pain that has no evident cause outside of the body, which can have a huge negative psychological impact on the sufferer.
Relief of cancer pain
Finally, several types of chemotherapy cause nerve cell death to occur. CBD works to block this function by increasing the ability of nerve cells to defend themselves against chemicals that cause the breakdown of cell membranes, like many chemotherapy drugs. Not only does CBD prevent nerve pain from chemotherapy, but it actually adds synergistically to the ability of the chemotherapy drug to promote cell death in the cancerous tissue. Ironically, it achieves this effect by inhibiting in cancer cells the same protective cellular mechanism that it activates within nerve cells.