What can’t CBD do? You’ve likely seen countless news articles, podcasts blog posts, Insta stories, and celebrity endorsements for CBD. Devout users sing praise about CBD’s seemingly magical (and natural) healing properties. The multipurpose botanical can reduce stress and anxiety, promote healthy sleep, lower blood pressure, and relieve pain. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is interested in the uses and healing power of CBD. Many claim CBD is a life-changing addition to your wellbeing routine that helps you live your best life, including those of us who are living with pain.
Let’s talk about pain - and what you can do about it!
Pain is, well, a pain. Many of us live with some form of daily pain. Whether it’s an old sports injury, a chronic long-term illness, arthritis or a bad back, we wake up each morning ready to face the day while carrying around an old friend who just won’t go away: pain. One study found that a whopping one in five adults (20%!) in Europe suffers from chronic pain. If living with pain isn’t hard enough, treatment and management do not come cheap. Unfortunately, indirect and direct costs for pain management costs an estimated 441 million EUR each year. On an individual level, as a result of living with pain, one may become depressed, struggle to sleep, or avoid social events. A portion of the population living in pain can have downstream effects on a society. For example, overall, the workforce is less productive and efficient.
Types of pain
We have all experienced physical pain in one form or the other. Pain is loosely categorised into two broad categories - chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain is short-term, can really hurt and is in many instances, fixable. For example, breaking your arm in a ski accident, or spending most of the COVID-19 lockdown working on your sofa hunched over a laptop. It’s no surprise that you’re hurting after rag-dolling down a mountain face or spending eight hours a day in the same shape as a banana. Chronic pain is, unfortunately, sometimes a bit more ambiguous or hard to pinpoint and long-term. Chronic pain is sometimes associated with conditions such as nerve pain, cancer and arthritis. This type of pain can be particularly stressful on your body over an extended period. There are, of course, shades of grey between these two types of pain as well. Here’s a further breakdown of acute and chronic pain.
- Happens quickly
- The cause is generally known
- Short term and goes away in a maximum of six months
- Stops when the underlying cause has healed
- Responds well to medication
- Can develop over time
- The cause is sometimes unknown
- Lasts for six months or longer
- May continue even after an underlying injury has healed or occurred with no known underlying condition or incident
- Doesn’t respond well to medication
How to deal
To get on with life, those suffering from both chronic and acute pain often take painkillers. There are a variety of types and kinds of pain relief medications that work in different ways. We’ll take it from the top and start with the strong stuff, painkillers that in most countries require a prescription. These are generally derived from opioids and are called opiates or narcotics. You may know some of the most popular varieties sold under the names OxyCotin and Percoset. Opiate painkillers include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (OxyCotin)
These types of painkillers can be rather hardcore, for lack of a better term. They’re often prescribed after surgery, for cancer patients or when no other weaker painkillers suffice. Opiates work by stopping pain signals travelling through your nerves to your brain. There are many drawbacks to opioids. They’re addictive, and you can experience withdrawal symptoms. You have to slowly taper off of opiate painkillers rather than going “cold turkey.” They’re also off-limits if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and are not recommended if you’re trying to conceive.
Despite the drawbacks, opioids are widely available. In the US, a country apparently chock-full of bloody pill-poppers, the use of opioids has become a medical crisis. Prescription rates of opioids are 40 times higher in the US compared to other developed countries. The heavy use of these drugs causes more deaths per year than guns or car accidents. The United States’ northern neighbour clocks in at number two. Canada has the second-highest per-capita use of prescription opioids. On this side of the pond, opioid use is less used compared to other similar countries. Nonetheless, it’s still an issue in the UK and has caused thousands of unintentional deaths in recent years.
In summary, opioid painkillers may pack an extra punch but they come with numerous drawbacks and side effects. These should only be taken when absolutely necessary, with a prescription and under the care of a doctor. Next, we’ll take a look at over the counter painkillers found in your local pharmacy.
Over the counter (OTC) pain relief
Traditional pain relief medications include ibuprofen (branded under the name Advil in the United States) and acetaminophen, which is also called paracetamol (branded under the name Tylenol in the United States). Both are widely considered “safe” and are easily accessible without a prescription in most pharmacies around the world. Both relieve pain, work for similar periods and can reduce fevers. The key difference being they each work differently in your body.
Ibuprofen is a NSAID (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). It’s highest and best use is alleviating inflammation, such as tennis elbow, or muscle soreness after a vigorous workout. It blocks both COX-2 enzymes (associated in signalling to your body both pain and inflammation) as well as COX-1 proteins (part of your stomach lining). Ibuprofen is generally rather well-tolerated but most commonly may cause undesirable side-effects to your stomach and digestion. Paracetamol also reduces pain and fevers. There’s no clear evidence showing how exactly it works, but it’s widely accepted that it affects both COX enzymes and reduces the formation of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are released when you’re injured and are what causes the feeling of inflammation and pain.
While the side effects of both ibuprofen and paracetamol are both less severe compared to opioid painkillers, neither are entirely risk-free. High doses of NSAIDs have been associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, adverse effects to your kidneys, as well as gastrointestinal issues like ulcers and bleeding. All of which are likely to cause you guessed it, more pain. Paracetamol or acetaminophen typically causes fewer gastrointestinal troubles and tends to have fewer associations with allergic reactions. However, when taken for more extended periods (more than 12 weeks) acetaminophen has been shown to decrease haemoglobin, the part of your blood that carries oxygen. Regular intake of higher levels of acetaminophen can cause irreversible damage to your liver. Some more controversial studies claim acetaminophen may dull your emotions along with physical pain.
All things considered, both are gentle enough when taken at recommended doses (you can even take them together for short periods under specific instructions). Still, acetaminophen usually takes the cake for the “safest” option. It’s also more widely recommended for the elderly. Nevertheless, both of these pain relievers can adversely affect some pretty critical body parts such as your liver, kidneys, and stomach. This leads us to explore more natural options with fewer side effects.
Looking at today’s options for pain relief, highly addictive opioids and over-the-counter medications with known side effects, it’s clear we should be exploring alternative, practical choices. Yes, paracetamol and ibuprofen generally work and the side effects typically aren’t that bad, but shouldn’t we strive for something better? Not to mention, the ibuprofen and paracetamol are limited in just how much they can do. Taking higher doses doesn’t necessarily resolve the pain sensations, but as mentioned earlier, can present several problems. When it comes to our daily wellbeing, shouldn’t we all aim higher? In today’s world, we’re so focused on evolving, improving and finding the next “game-changer,” why settle for the status quo when it comes to pain management?
Pain relief 2.0
Recent studies have shown that cannabidiol (or CBD) can be an effective form of pain relief as well, particularly CBD oil. CBD is a naturally derived pain treatment from cannabidiol that offers effective relief for patients without the risk of addiction and potential overdose, or similar side effects as found in ibuprofen or paracetamol. While research around CBD and pain relief is in nascent stages, so far, the results are promising. Unlike opioids, CBD is non-habit forming.
No, you won’t get high
First thing first. No, CBD will not get you high. In the United Kingdom CBD is legal so long as it does not contain more than the allowable levels of THC (which are literally next to nothing) permitted in the UK. CBD is a non-intoxicating molecule found in cannabis. Cannabidiol is often confused with its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These two substances are in some ways quite similar, but ultimately very different. They’re like the Olsen twins of botanicals. THC is psychoactive, meaning that taking it in larger doses can result in the effect of feeling “high” or “stoned.” CBD is also psychoactive but interacts with different receptors in the brain, similar to caffeine or L-theanine, which are found in coffee and tea.
How does CBD treat pain?
Preliminary studies show that CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors system (ECS), immune system and brain. Our response to pain is regulated by different areas in our mind, including ECS. When we’re in pain or stressed, the body releases endocannabinoids and endorphins to regulate and balance our system. Everyone has receptors, which are small proteins attached to the cells in your body. These receptors receive signals (like your mobile phone) from different stimuli. In turn, your cells respond. The response results in pain relief and anti-inflammation effects that subsequently assist with pain relief. CBD and it’s link to pain alleviation has been studied in a number of scenarios including pain caused by cancer, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. So far, research has shown CBD to be effective in pain management with minimal side effects.
According to some independent studies, external cannabinoids one can intake, like CBD, may enhance our body's response to pain by binding to the receptors of our endocannabinoid system. While it’s early days in terms of research studies, there are not just a handful, but 28 clinical studies that confirmed cannabinoids are potent analgesics for chronic pain. These smaller studies are paving the road for larger-scale trials and further development in CBD medical applications.
Here are some more reasons to consider CBD over conventional pain relief
- Acts quickly
- Fewer side effects
- Better symptom management
- A viable option for long-term use
In terms of acute pain relief, CBD shouldn’t be your first-line treatment in the aforementioned ski accident scenario. More practically, CBD can certainly help sore legs after a long successful day on the slopes so you can enjoy the apres rather than book a visit to an osteopath. For an easy comparison of CBD and conventional pain medication to treat muscle soreness, try applying some CBD oil or balm to whatever part of your body is likely to severely ache a day or two after a long gym session. CBD has been shown to significantly reduce the sensation of muscle soreness in these types of scenarios. The direct application to targeted areas can result in superior pain relief compared to taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.
Numerous applications and uses
CBD has a unique ability to address a range of medical conditions from anxiety to epilepsy. It’s been incorporated into treatment regimes for depression, ADHD, rosacea, inflammation, seizures, migraines, nausea, various mental conditions and of course pain relief. CBD is also available in a variety of vehicles. CBD oil is one of the most popular forms of CBD. It’s typically packaged in a compact bottle with a pipette that looks like an eyedropper. This liquid form of CBD makes it easy and convenient use in a variety of ways. For example, by adding a few drops in your morning coffee or afternoon tea. Many prefer to take CBD oil sublingually. You can place a few drops directly under your tongue for maximum speed and effect as it’s absorbed directly into your bloodstream. This intake method results in feeling the impact of CBD quite quickly as it doesn’t have to first travel through your digestive system.
Another way to dip your toes in the CBD pool is through a botanic beverage. Our CBD drinks are infused with other wholesome ingredients such as yuzu, green tea and bitter orange. Our low calorie canned drinks taste great and help you achieve the ultimate homeostasis of energised yet relaxed. It's certainly a better alternative to chugging loads of caffeine and feeling like a wired buggy-eyed squirrel before abruptly crashing into the state of a sleepy koala (for the record they snooze 20-22 hours per day).
Side effects of CBD
CBD is generally extremely well-tolerated across all age groups. In certain situations, some may experience side effects. Here are some of the most common issues.
- Dry mouth - caused by decreased saliva secretion after exposure. This can be mitigated by drinking water before and after taking CBD by orally
- Fatigue - higher doses of CBD can cause fatigue or drowsiness. On the plus side, this can be beneficial if you’re exploring CBD to help with sleep
- Diarrhoea - This has been cited as a side effect but may be attributed to other ingredients in CBD products such as carrier oils
- Liver - Those with liver conditions may be advised only to take CBD in lower doses. CBD, similar to its conventional pain relief counterparts, has been shown to cause liver damage when taken in extremely high doses
Since CBD hasn’t been widely studied yet, it’s currently not recommended for breastfeeding mamas, mums to be and those trying to become a mother to take CBD. For anyone, particularly those with underlying medical issues or if currently taking prescription medications, it’s essential to consult with your doctor before incorporating CBD into your wellness routine.
A natural winner
There is only limited data available but what we have seen shows CBD looks like a promising tool for those managing both acute and chronic pain. While there may be some side effects to taking CBD, it’s important to remember that CBD appears to be safe to take in the long-term. The same can’t be said for opioids and traditional over the counter pain medications. CBD doesn’t get you high, isn’t addictive, and the few side effects that have been cited are minimal and unlikely to cause further pain. Sounds like a natural win.
We created our Take Five CBD Drops to serve as your daily dose of CBD as well as your self-care reminder. Whether you’re taking CBD to manage pain or another issue or simply feel a bit more zen, it’s important to make self-care a habit too. Take Five is a 5% CBD oil and your reminder to carve out some time, step back from the chaos of daily life and just be.