In the words of the great comedian David Mitchell – “There is nothing funny about back pain.” Back pain is an epidemic, currently affecting far more people than you’d expect. There are numerous commonly used methods of treatment for back pain, some tried and tested, and others far too invested in yoga, but is it possible we’re all missing one?
Could we be using CBD oil to treat back pain?
What is Back Pain?
Back pain is any kind of continuous pain felt in the back, usually located in the lower back area, known as the lumbar. This pain can be anything from mildly annoying to cripplingly agonizing, so much so that the Global Burden of Disease Study discovered that lower back pain causes more global disability than any other condition. (http://ard.bmj.com/content/73/6/968, The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study)
You’ll find that everyone and their grandmothers will have their own recommended cure for back pain, including postural changes or even funky forms of meditation.
Despite all these often-lauded treatments, however, people continue to suffer from constant lower back pain. More people than ever before complain of persistent lower back pain, so what can we do as a society to somehow deal with this back pain epidemic?
Conventional Medications That Treat Back Pain
Aside from your friends’ wise grandmothers and their ever-so-helpful advice, there are a variety of conventional medications you can use to treat back pain. These can be simple, over the counter medications, but can also include more specific, prescribed medications recommended by your doctor.
By far the most frequently used are simple over the counter (OTC) pain killers – also known as analgesics. These medications, such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen or just regular Paracetamol, all serve to limit the sensation of pain felt by whatever is causing your back pain.
These medications work by targeting the pain receptors in your central nervous system, essentially telling them to stop sending so many pain signals so as to limit the sensation of pain.
Thankfully non-addicting, these medications do nothing however to actually treat whatever is causing the pain. As they simply eliminate the symptom and not the source, they are not recommended for long-term use, as you’ll simply be just pushing the pain away without actually treating the root cause.
Another problem with any medication that only reduces pain sensation is that it is usually systemic; this means that it doesn’t just alleviate the pain felt in your back, it affects your entire body. While it is usually nice to not experience pain, it can sometimes be helpful to know when you’re doing damage to your body.
You might not want to experience back pain, but knowing you’re getting a headache or that you’ve stubbed your toe could be very useful information.
Some common OTC painkillers do also act as an anti-inflammatory, which can help if the pain is focused around inflammation due to a recent injury.
This class of medication focuses around the opioid receptors to produce numbing effects. The most famous of these drugs are things such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Fentanyl, which all provide an extremely large amount of pain reduction, but also carry the tremendous risk of addiction. Roughly 115 people in the US alone die every single day as a result of opioid overdose (CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality. CDC Wonder, Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2017. https://wonder.cdc.gov.), so make sure you only take precisely what is prescribed by your doctor.
Just like painkillers, they don’t really do anything to actually deal with your problem, instead just making you feel better. This can be useful for short-term coping, but it’s highly recommended to avoid in the long term.
Not quite good enough.
Muscle relaxants, as the name implies, work by forcing your muscles to relax and not clench – this is especially useful if the source of your back pain comes from periodic muscle spasms or a particular type of injury. The ideal when taking muscle relaxants is to only take it for a few weeks as a stopgap to deal with the injury or root problem.
The main problem is the side effects, notably constipation and drowsiness. Who wants to deal with that constantly?
Believe it or not, antidepressants can actually help with back pain. Strange though it may seem, specific types of low-dose antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants (like Amitriptyline) can actually help deal with neuropathic pain. The doses are kept low so as to not suffer the actual antidepressant effect, but it requires near constant use to deal with chronic pain – this means it becomes just another drug you’re forced to take every day, as well as the continuous risk of suffering an antidepressant effect.
The Big One: Cortisone Injections
For those with utterly monstrous, continuous, chronic pain, there is the option to take cortisone injections. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication, so it numbs feeling in the epidural space around your spine. This makes the pain go away almost entirely, but it only works a few months at a time, requiring repeated hospital visits.
Plus, you have to get stabbed by a massive needle. Not exactly ideal.
Recent Studies on CBD & Back Pain
The idea that CBD oil could have a beneficial effect on your back pain might seem strange, but CBD oil affects your body in a number of ways that can benefit those with serious back pain.
For starters, there is the way in which CBD oil affects the Endocannabinoid system. This system, named for the Cannabis plant that led to its discovery, is all about the regulation of your health and homeostasis.
What this means, simply, is that CBD oil interacts positively with the very system that is responsible for keeping you in good health.
In a clinical review conducted by the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research Society*, researchers delved into why cannabis and CBD help mitigate pain. For starters, both THC and CBD affect the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, which can affect one’s appetite, mood and, most significantly, pain sensation.
However, CBD has one specific effect that THC lacks. In a recent study conducted by Carrier et al., (Carrier EJ, Auchampach JA, Hillard CJ. Inhibition of an equilibrative nucleoside transporter by cannabidiol: a mechanism of cannabinoid immunosuppression. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:7895–900. [PMC free article] [PubMed]* CBD was discovered to promote the signalling of the adenosine receptor, A2A. It does this by inhibiting a direct antagonist of adenosine, allowing CBD to directly reduce inflammation.
All this simply means that, in the proper dosage to your body weight, CBD oil has the ability to help reduce inflammation in your body. A great deal of back pain is caused by some form of inflammation within the human body, so CBD oil certainly has the potential to help a lot of people.
In a further study entitled ‘Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain*, conducted by Ethan Russo, he looked at the pain relief aspects of both THC and CBD, attempting to compare them and resolve what blend of the two would be preferable for medicinal treatments.
During a study comparing a CBD-rich medicine Sativex with THC extracts, as well as a healthy placebo comparison, Russo concluded that the presence of CBD in Sativex was extremely crucial to allow the subject pain relief.
This study demonstrates that, while THC does have properties that allow the subject to feel an alleviation of pain, it’s the CBD within strains of Cannabis that encourage the body to naturally suppress pain all on its own.
Combining CBD’s natural pain suppressant properties with its positive reaction with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD has immense potential to help out a great variety of people with serious back pain.
One of the biggest limitations of cannabis use for medicinal purposes is the stigma associated with its use, as well as its usual illegality.
The fact that there exists a non-psychoactive, non-addicting, and ultimately harmless component of cannabis is often not realised by many people.
CBD oil has been proven to facilitate the body’s natural healing, help reduce inflammation with regular use and even act as a significant pain reliever without the same nasty side effects often associated with taking analgesics. Alongside this, you don’t have to deal with any of the psychoactive effects associated with THC.
Back pain is a condition that, sadly, many people suffer from for a variety of reasons. There isn’t one concrete reason or cause for each type of back pain, so there’s no way to entirely pin down one cure or treatment.
CBD oil most certainly has the potential to deal with back pain – it reduces inflammation, helps with pain and even provides a number of other general health benefits.
If you suffer from back pain, consider CBD oil as an alternative to regular medicine or yet another expensive chiropractic session.
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