Can CBD for Back Pain Provide Relief?

By Mary Sauer
Benjamin Wedemeyer, Unsplash

Around the world, lower back pain is the leading cause of disability. According to the American Chiropractic Association, it is so common that as much as 80 percent of the population will experience it at some point in their lives. Recently, researchers are looking at how using CBD oil for back pain could become an alternative treatment option.

Types and Treatments of Back Pain

Typically, back pain is talked about as being acute or chronic. Acute pain resolves quickly, either with rest or treatment. Chronic back lasts for more than 12 weeks and effects. Twenty percent of people who report back pain have chronic back pain.

Treatment of back pain can be complex, involving management of pain using ice and heat, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and even surgery.

Developing a treatment plan for back pain takes into account the severity of the pain and it’s the root cause. Most often, treatment of back pain includes one or a combination of a variety of approaches.

Hot and cold packs can be used to provide relief from pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. While bed rest used to be a common approach to managing back pain, it is now believed that reducing physical activity could make back pain worse. Instead, stretching and strengthening exercises are often a part of treatment for low back pain. Physical therapy may be an appropriate choice for certain cases.

Medication is also used to manage back pain. The most commonly used medications include anti-inflammatory medications, aspirin, and acetaminophen. In some cases, opioids may be prescribed for a short period of time.

Use of medication to treat back pain isn’t without risk. Long term use of anti-inflammatory medications is associated with the development of ulcers, heartburn, and fluid retention. The use of opioids for pain management is certainly concerning because they are habit-forming drugs.

Lastly, a surgery called a spinal fusion procedure can be used as a last resort for managing back pain. In this procedure, two vertebrae are fused together with the hopes of reducing pain. Even though to rates of this surgery are rising in the United States, it is not a generally recommended approach due to risk of complications and the low success rate of the procedure, according to Harvard Health.

“Chronic tension is a major problem for the nation and discomfort from tension in the back may be the most common type,” explains Phillip Blair, MD, (Colonel USArmy retired) a family physician and advisor for Elixinol. “Many authorities tell us America is doing too much surgery compared, for instance, to the UK that does less than one tenth of the procedures.”

CBD Oil for Back Pain

Because of the concerns associated with long-term use of over-the-counter and prescribed medication, along with the low success rates of back surgery, interest in alternative pain management options in increasing. CBD oil has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and may show promise as an alternative method for managing back pain.

In 2012, a study published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD was effective in the suppression of both inflammatory and neuropathic chronic pain in mice. Their findings suggest that CBD could be a safe and effective method for managing hard-to-treat chronic pain.

Although more research needs to be done including human subjects, a small study in 2017 was published in the Journal of Pain Research that observed improvement in chronic pain over the course of 12 months. In this study, the dosage was THC and CBD combined. This complicates the research since THC is the psychoactive property of marijuana and isn’t legal in many states.

A 2020 study published in Neurology concluded that cannabinoids could be effective for pain management, but that more research needs to be done on larger studies with better controls.

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Should I Use CBD for for Back Pain?

Since there CBD oil has been found to be safe for consumption, there is no harm in trying it as a pain management technique. Although there are some side effects associated with CBD, including a change in appetite, drowsiness, and diarrhea, they are mild and may be eliminated completely with dosage adjustments.

Given the difficulty associated with treating chronic pain and the severe side effects associated with more conventional treatments like surgery, opioids, and over-the-counter drugs, CBD oil are worth a try.

“CBD is not addictive or habit forming,” explains Blair. “Because of the way it works it cannot cause respiratory depression if used with strong medication, but it may allow reduced dosages of those medications and the many adverse consequences. That means strong medications can be reduced or avoided entirely in many cases.”

A doctor who is educated on CBD oil and how to find the appropriate dosage can help you decide if using CBD to treat pain is right for you. In his professional practice, Blair suggests beginning with the recommended dosage on the product label and increasing from there until relief from back pain is experienced.

“For some, I recommend as much as 200mg CBD per day in divided servings,” he says. “Greater than that amount does not seem to provide any extra relief.”

Lastly, Blair points out that conditions like chronic back pain are often accompanied by other health problems.

The journal Spine listed the most common comorbidities of chronic low back pain as anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. In addition decreasing discomfort associated with back pain, CBD can help improve the symptoms of these co-occurring conditions.

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