Scientists are still trying to determine how CBD oil might alleviate pain. However, there’s some evidence that cannabidiol may affect the body’s endocannabinoid system (a complex system of cell-to-cell communication). Along with contributing to brain functions like memory and mood, the endocannabinoid system influences how we experience pain.
When taken orally, CBD has poor bioavailability. Topical CBD application to localized areas of pain appears to provide more consistent levels of CBD with less systemic involvement.
So far, much of the evidence for CBD oil’s effects on pain management comes from animal-based research. This research includes a study published in the journal Pain in 2017, in which scientists observed that treatment with topical CBD helped thwart the development of joint pain in rats with osteoarthritis.
Another study, published in the European Journal of Pain in 2016, found that topical CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling and measures of pain and inflammation in rats with arthritis.5
In a report published in Pediatric Dermatology in 2018, scientists reported three cases of topical CBD (applied as an oil, cream, and spray) use in children with a rare, blistering skin condition known as epidermolysis bullosa.6
Applied by their parents, all three people reported faster wound healing, fewer blisters, and improvement of pain. One person was able to completely wean off oral opioid analgesic pain medication. There were no adverse effects reported.
Chronic Neuropathic Pain
While very few clinical trials have explored the pain-relieving effects of CBD oil, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2018 examined the use of a variety of cannabis-based medicines and found they might be of some benefit in the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain.7
A type of pain triggered by damage to the somatosensory system (i.e., the system responsible for processing sensory stimuli), neuropathic pain often occurs in people with conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
In this report, researchers reviewed 16 previously published studies testing the use of various cannabis-based medicines in the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain and found some evidence that cannabis-based medicines may help with pain relief and reduce pain intensity, sleep difficulties, and psychological distress.
Side effects included sleepiness, dizziness, and mental confusion. The authors concluded that the potential harm of such medicines may outweigh their possible benefit.
However, it should be noted that the studies used a variety of cannabis-based medicines (e.g., inhaled cannabis, sprays, and oral tablets containing THC and/or CBD from plant sources or made synthetically), some of which are more likely to result in these side effects than products without THC.