According to the American Academy of Pain Management, approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 experience frequent back pain. The suffering that they experience is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall effects of back pain on society as a whole. As reported by the American Chiropractic Association, roughly half of all working Americans miss work due to back pain at some point, accounting for approximately 264 million lost work days per year. Indeed, low back pain alone costs Americans upwards of $50 billion in health care costs per year—and that figure is closer to $100 billion when lost wages and productivity are taken into account.
As widespread and problematic as back pain clearly is, there is surprisingly little definitive information out there about the hows and whys behind it. Up until fairly recently, in fact, treatments for chronic back pain primarily involved medications that bring about many unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. Lately, however, a great deal of promise has been shown in treating chronic back pain with cannabidiol. Better known as CBD, this compound of the cannabis plant appears to interact with certain receptors in the nervous system, and it shows promise in terms of reducing chronic pain and the inflammation that is often behind it.
Read on to learn more about CBD for back pain, including what current research is showing and the types of products that are currently available.
Back Pain: An Overview
Second only to upper respiratory illness as the top reason that people visit doctors, as reported by the Cleveland Clinic, lower back pain—and back pain in general—is the bane of many people’s otherwise happy existences. Despite this, many gray areas remain in terms of the mechanisms that cause chronic back pain, and many commonly prescribed treatments miss the mark or cause even bigger problems for patients.
Possible Causes of Back Pain
Back pain is defined as pain that occurs anywhere in the back. It may consist of shooting or stabbing pains; muscle aches; pain that radiates down the leg or pain that worsens when lifting, bending or walking.
One of the defining features of chronic back pain is the very fact that it often develops without a discernable cause. Some potential causes of back pain include:
- Bulging or ruptured discs—the “cushions” that act as shock absorbers between vertebrae in the spine—which then compress nearby nerves
- Ligament or muscle strain, which can trigger painful spasms
- Skeletal irregularities like scoliosis, which causes the spine to curve to one side
- Arthritis, including osteoarthritis of the lower back or spinal stenosis, which causes a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord
- Osteoporosis, which makes vertebral bones brittle, porous and prone to painful compression fractures
The Pathophysiology of Back Pain
As noted above, the pathophysiology of back pain is typically indeterminate; in fact, this is considered to be a defining feature of chronic back pain according to the Cleveland Clinic. Back pain that originates from the radicular spine—i.e., pain that travels directly along the spinal nerve root and away from the spine, as with sciatica—can often be traced back to mechanical issues like disc herniation or compression. Things like edema and inflammation often come into play in such instances too.
Otherwise, however, back pain may originate from a number of sites—and it isn’t necessarily limited to the vertebral column. Nearby tendons, muscles, ligaments, fascia and other tissues may become torn, stretched or contused from things like whiplash, torsion and heavy lifting, and this can lead to chronic back pain as well.
Current Treatments for Back Pain
Current treatments for back pain are mediocre at best. For acute back pain, or short-lived back pain, over-the-counter medication is often enough. Common options for treating chronic back pain, which is defined as back pain that continues for at least three months, include:
- NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs—including naproxen sodium and ibuprofen—are available over the counter and in prescription doses, and they sometimes offer relief. However, ongoing use can cause unpleasant side effects.
- Topical treatments – A number of ointments, creams and salves are available to provide back pain relief.
- Muscle relaxants – Muscle relaxants may provide short-term relief, but they also cause side effects like sleepiness and dizziness.
- Narcotics – Medications that contain opioids, like oxycodone, may be prescribed for very limited periods of time. Due to the high risk of dependency and many unpleasant physical side effects, however, they are not generally recommended for the treatment of chronic back pain.
- Injections – Particularly for back pain that radiates down the leg, injections of cortisone or numbing medication may provide relief—but only for a few months at a time at best.
Studies Suggest CBD Treats Back Pain
Because CBD is a compound of the cannabis plant, which has largely been illegal in the U.S. up until very recently, very few legitimate studies have been performed through the years regarding its efficacy with treating pain in general and back pain in particular. However, that is starting to change as marijuana legalization continues to spread through more and more states. A few examples of studies that have shown promise in terms of using CBD for back pain include:
European Journal of Pain – July 2016 – Relief for Rats with Arthritis
In the paper “Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis,” which was published in the European Journal of Pain in July 2016, researchers applied CBD gel to rats who had been identified to suffer from arthritis. Over the course of four days, increasing doses of the gel were administered. The study concluded that the treatment reduced inflammation and overall pain in the rats’ affected joints, which strongly suggests that CBD for back pain in humans could be a viable treatment option.
Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management – February 2008 – Review of Efficacy of CBD for Overall Pain Management
In “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain,” which was published in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management in February 2008, researchers reviewed studies from the late 1980s and 2007 regarding the use of CBD for the treatment of overall pain management. The researchers concluded that CBD appears to be an effective method of pain management without adverse side effects.
Current Neuropharmacology Review – July 2006 – CBD as a New Therapeutic Approach for Pain Management without Adverse Side Effects
Finally, in “Role of the Cannabinoid System in Pain Control and Therapeutic Implications for the Management of Acute and Chronic Pain Episodes,” which was published in the journal Current Neuropharmacology in July 2006, researchers reviewed the existing literature regarding the roles that the cannabinoid system assists in both chronic and acute pain. As noted in the conclusion of this paper, the results are promising, and they suggest that there may be “new therapeutic approaches to avoid central nervous system side effects” through treatments that affect the cannabinoid system. As you will see below, CBD appears to have a distinct effect on this system, which may be why CBD for back pain is emerging as a viable treatment option for so many people.
CBD for Back Pain: What are the Mechanisms Behind It?
To understand why CBD appears to hold so much promise for back pain, it is important to have a clear understanding of what CBD is and how it affects the central nervous system. Technically known as cannabidiol but usually abbreviated to CBD, it is just one of more than 500 different compounds that are found in the cannabis plant. Some of these hundreds of compounds interact with certain chemical receptors in the human central nervous system. One of them, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has long been the best known to people because of its psychoactive effects—it is the compound that provides the “high” that marijuana users often seek. CBD acts in many of the same ways as THC, but there is one big difference—it is non-psychoactive and therefore will not get you “high.”
Interestingly enough, part of the central nervous system has been named the endocannabinoid system precisely because it consists of chemical receptors that respond to neurotransmitters that are known as endocannabinoids. The body naturally produces its own endocannabinoids which act on these receptors to affect and regulate a number of processes and functions. Unfortunately, the nervous system’s endocannabinoid system is not very well understood just yet. However, it is believed that this system regulates things like appetite, memory, sleep, mood and, most importantly in terms of CBD for back pain, pain.
Here’s where things get even more interesting: certain cannabinoids that are found in the marijuana plant are very similar to the endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by the brain. More importantly, they appear to act on the same receptors that naturally occurring endocannabinoids do. Unfortunately, due to the long-time illegal status of marijuana, the cannabis plant and its compounds have been largely ignored by the scientific and medical communities for years. Now that the plant is being decriminalized across the country and world, however, more definitive research is underway—and the results for things like CBD for back pain are genuinely promising.
Due to the dearth of research historically, the scientific community remains largely stumped as to how CBD modulates the endocannabinoid system of the human body. More is known about how THC works, however. The compound appears to attach to the same receptors that interact with naturally occurring, internal endocannabinoids. Research is showing that CBD works similarly, but its interactions may be a bit subtler.
Under normal circumstances, endocannabinoid-signaling molecules are broken down by naturally occurring enzymes in the body. CBD appears to interfere with the actions of those enzymes, which may explain the “dampening” of certain neurochemical processes—including many that are directly linked to pain. Of course, CBD doesn’t just hold promise for the treatment of pain. Because it acts on a number of different enzymes and receptors, including those for serotonin, it may also hold promise for the treatment of things like anxiety. As you will learn below, it also appears to act on receptors or enzymes that reduce inflammatory molecules that occur due to bacterial infections and tissue damage—and inflammation has long been linked to chronic back pain problems.
How CBD May Reduce Inflammation
To truly understand the potential promise of CBD for back pain, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of what inflammation is and its role in a healthily functioning human body. Contrary to popular belief, inflammation is not something that should be avoided at all costs. In fact, it is a crucial cellular process that is used by the body to protect it from things like parasites and infections. When inflammation occurs, white blood cells essentially “quarantine” the affected area, flooding it with toxic chemicals that destroy whatever infection or invader that has developed. This is why even a minor scratch or scrape is initially red and even a bit swollen to the touch; the body’s natural inflammatory process is at work helping you to heal, and that is typically a good thing.
Like so many otherwise beneficial processes, however, inflammation can go awry—and it often does. In fact, many in the medical community believe that inflammation may be the root cause of the vast majority of human diseases. Inflammation becomes a problem when it becomes chronic, or ongoing. When it doesn’t end within an appropriate timeframe, toxic chemicals continue to pour in to the affected area. Over time, they begin to overwhelm and damage otherwise healthy cells and tissues. When this occurs in the cardiovascular system, chronic inflammation may present as heart disease. When it happens in the brain, chronic inflammation may lead to serious neurodegenerative diseases. When it develops in the joints, it may present as arthritis.
In the back, then, inflammation can trigger chronic pain in a number of ways. Arthritis of the spine, which is known as spinal stenosis, involves the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord. This narrowing can affect nearby nerves, leading to chronic pain. Osteoarthritis of the lower back is another common problem whose roots typically stretch back to an inflammatory response of some kind. Issues affecting ligaments, muscles and other tissues in the back can also trigger chronic inflammation and, by extension, chronic pain.
Studies Show Promise Regarding CBD and Inflammation
Several studies and reviews have shown promise with regards to CBD as a treatment for inflammation. The “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain” paper, which was cited previously, showed that the cannabis plant’s anti-inflammatory properties are roughly 20 times those of aspirin and roughly double those of prescription hydrocortisone, prompting researchers to state that there was “reason to be hopeful” in terms of using compounds like CBD for anti-inflammatory purposes.
A 2013 study from China, which was published in the journal Pancreas and titled “Anti-inflammatory role of cannabidiol and O-1602 in cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis in mice,” showed that mice who were injected with CBD experienced significant anti-inflammatory effects. Another study, which was published in 2011 in the journal PLoS One and titled “Cannabidiol Reduces Intestinal Inflammation through the Control of Neuroimmune Axis,”investigated the effects of CBD by examining intestinal biopsies. The study, which was performed by researchers from the University of Naples in Italy, showed that CBD “markedly counteracted” inflammation in mice. The abstract for that paper concludes with “Our results therefore indicate that CBD indeed unravels a new therapeutic strategy to treat inflammatory bowel diseases,” which strongly suggests that there is indeed reason to be hopeful about CBD for back pain.
Discover the Therapeutic Benefits of CBD for Back Pain with CBGenius
If you suffer from chronic back pain and are tired of subjecting yourself to remedies that don’t work at all or that work but cause really unpleasant side effects, it may be time to explore the benefits of CBD for back pain. Due to the explosion in the popularity of CBD as a therapeutic treatment for many types of pain, however, it can be tricky to find a reliable source. Headquartered in Colorado, CBGenius develops and provides a broad array of CBD products, including everything from CBD oils to CBD lotions, vapes and even bath bombs. Unlike many companies that distribute such products, we strive to make CBD available to everyone by minimizing the end-user cost while maximizing quality. Most of all, CBGenius strives to spread and discover knowledge regarding CBD in the hopes of providing safe, therapeutic alternatives to common treatments for back pain. Learn more about our company and browse our vast lineup of top-quality CBD products by visiting our website now.