December 9, 2022

CBD: Painkiller or Placebo?

By Denise Mann Health Day Reporter

CBD is all the rage and millions of people are turning to it for a host of reasons, including pain relief.

But despite the popularity and widespread use of CBD, new research reveals that its actual benefits are less clear.

The bottom line? CBD – and your expectations of whether it will help (the “placebo effect”) – may make pain less bothersome, but it doesn’t seem to reduce pain intensity.

“CBD-induced pain relief is not only driven by psychological placebo effects, but also by pharmacological action,” explained study author Martin De Vita, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at Syracuse University, New York. “It’s a bit of both.”

CBD, or cannabidiol, is usually derived from hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant, but unlike THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) – the active ingredient in marijuana – CBD won’t get you high.

In the new study, 15 healthy, pain-free volunteers took part in experiments involving their response to heat before and after receiving pure CBD oil. To distinguish the real effect from the placebo effect, the researchers told the participants that they had received CBD when they were in fact receiving a placebo, or vice versa, and conducted the experiments again.

“CBD and expectations reduced the emotional component of pain, or how ‘unpleasant’ it was,” De Vita said. “Although the sensation of pain was not completely eliminated, participants felt that it was less bothersome.”

The body’s central nervous system has its own processes for attenuating pain based on information about when (temporal processing) and where (spatial processing) pain occurs, he explained. “Waitings alone improved temporal pain inhibition, and both CBD and Waitings improved spatial pain inhibition independently, but not when combined,” De Vita said.

Now researchers hope to examine how CBD affects pain perception in people with different pain conditions, he noted.

The study was published online recently in Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology.

The researchers chose pure CBD oil for the study. “Commercially available CBD products differ in content and purity, so results may be different for different CBD products, depending on what other compounds they may or may not contain,” De Vita pointed out.

Kevin Boehnke, a researcher in the Department of Anesthesiology and Center for Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, agrees.

Buyer should beware when it comes to choosing CBD products. “If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, medical dispensaries often have pure CBD products,” Boehnke said. “If not, choose a brand from a reputable company with a third-party seal of approval that willingly shares its Certificate of Analysis (COA).” This document provides the results of any testing of the supplements, he explained.

Unfortunately, the floodgates are already open when it comes to CBD, and science has a lot of catching up to do, said Boehnke, who was not involved in the new study.

“This is an interesting small pilot study that shows that both placebo and drug effects play a role in how CBD affects pain,” he said. Still, Boehnke warned, this study was conducted on healthy volunteers, so it can’t tell us much about how or if CBD affects people with real pain disorders.

More information

Learn more about the potential risks and benefits of CBD on the US Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Martin De Vita, research fellow, psychology, Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse, NY; Kevin Boehnke, PhD, researcher, Department of Anesthesiology and Center for Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Experimental and clinical psychopharmacologyApril 22, 2021, online

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