CBD for Pain and what is inflammation?
Let’s chat about the proposed many CBD for pain benefits. “Inflammation” is a very common term used to describe a wide number of disease processes and the problems that some diseases present. A common example we all understand is the swelling that occurs after a spider bite.
You feel an immediate pain when bitten, but there isn’t a break in the skin, there isn’t much obvious at all. However, over time the swelling and redness starts, the immune system responds by producing radicals. Radicals in biology are most often based in the chemistry of oxygen, and are referred to as reactive oxygen species (ROS). The important thing to know about free radicals is that they are missing an electron and will take it from other molecules nearby.
This leads to a change in that molecule’s structure. Some common consequences of free radicals are mutation, protein breakage and swelling.
The radical is just the beginning of the problem, because when it takes an electron from a nearby molecule, this begins a chain reaction where the next molecule that gets its electron taken becomes a radical and will take an electron from the next one, which takes from the next one… This is called the free radical chain reaction, and it will continue until an antioxidant is encountered.
Antioxidants are unique molecules with distributed electrons that travel long distances through conjugated bonds. Think of conjugated bonds as the supply line for electrons that allow flexibility across a molecule.
When an electron is pulled from one end of an antioxidant, the others in the structure can blur out the loss of just one electron because the conjugated bond allows the electrons to move in from other areas and compensate for the loss. When you see a series of single and double bonds in a molecule, you can imagine the electrons are actually “hopscotching” among those. Most of the colorful fruit pigments such as carotenoids, betalains and anthocyanins have these conjugated bonds, and it makes them good antioxidants.
In the chemical structure of beta carotene below an electron can move all the way from one end of the structure to the other on the conjugated bond system, which is delocalized this plant pigment is orange in color.
Unfortunately, many people are not eating food that gives a surplus of antioxidants compared to calorie intake.
This is mostly because our diets are depleted of these through processing and storage. The kinds of calorie-dense foods we choose also lead to less and less antioxidant in the diet. This has led to a general trend of inflammation among most people eating the standard American diet (SAD), which, sadly, has been exported to the rest of the world with frightening results.
As calorie intake increases and antioxidant levels don’t, more free radical chain reactions are a consequence. Every radical can now damage many molecules and every calorie burned creates a proportional burden of free radicals.
Cannabinoids including CBD and THC have conjugated bond systems. Both of these have been recognized as antioxidants for more than two decades.
“The neuroprotection observed with cannabidiol and THC was unaffected by cannabinoid receptor antagonist, indicating it to be cannabinoid receptor independent. Previous studies have shown that glutamate toxicity may be prevented by antioxidants.”
Inflammation, antioxidants and NSAIDs
Antioxidants are different from the anti-inflammatory medications (Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs- NSAIDs) that most people are familiar with. These medications belong to a class of drugs that include aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. These are all inhibiting enzymes (COX enzymes) that catalyze free radical formation.
These drugs are like stopping an arsonist, while antioxidants have a more broad mechanism of action like stopping all “fires” regardless of the cause.
This may be the reason why there is a well-known synergy between NSAIDs and CBD. They work together to reduce the total level of inflammation and can be especially effective when applied topically to the places where the inflammation is occurring.
Stopping arsonists (NSAIDs) while also investing in firefighting (antioxidants) is a good combined strategy. Some people have side effects that prevent their use of NSAIDs, and for them, CBD can offer some real relief from the cause of the pain that is not readily achieved any other way.
Stopping the Perception of Pain
While inflammation is often the root cause of pain, there are other ways to change the perception of pain. Opiate drugs like morphine and other similar compounds do not actually treat the cause of pain; these instead change your perception of pain to make it less urgent or worrisome.
This is similar to the strategy of not looking at the check engine light in the car. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy for dealing with pain, but it isn’t a preferred method compared to the elimination of the cause of the pain.
CBD and THC act both as antioxidants which solve the inflammation problem at the root of the pain. These also act within the brain to moderate the perception of pain through emdocannabinoid receptors. An excellent review of the science surrounding pain perception and cannabinoids can be found here.
This dual role of cannabinoids can be confusing, since these are paired effects that work in conjunction with one another. A good way to discern whether pain relief is from antioxidant or cannabinoid receptor effects is to use the CBD topically and measure the speed of the pain relief as well as the global effect.
For example, if you rub CBD topically on one hand and the pain relief is rapid, but does not occur in some other area such as foot pain… Then it is likely mediated via the antioxidant effects of cannabinoids. As the CBD reaches the brain and nervous system it then dampens the perception of pain even further.
Topical Targeting of Pain
Because CBD has a lipophilic nature (it has an oily structure) it penetrates skin well and can be especially helpful for pain from inflammation that is local, such as in a hand or the back.
Topical application of antioxidants for pain relief is a technology in its infancy, as most of the products used are taken orally. Oral consumption carries many drawbacks, especially when the pain you feel is only in one particular part of the body. For many of the topical applications of CBD and other antioxidants, the amount you would need to take orally to achieve relief will be much greater than the amount needed if applied directly to the origin of the pain.
Immune Modulation by CBD
Immunity is often a source of inflammation, and autoimmunity is a very common cause of many pain and inflammation conditions, whether the person who experiences it has ascribed the immune system’s over-activity to their discomfort. CBD has been found to change the immune system’s function and down regulate the attack of the immune system upon the body.
With many causes of autoimmunity, there are often distinct locations where the damage occurs. In these circumstances, the inflammation caused by the immune system can be tacked on two fronts. The cannabinoid system receptors can down-regulate the immune system attack, and the direct antioxidant functions of CBD can dampen the actual attack, which makes this a two-pronged system for limiting this mechanism of inflammation.
When scientists study problems like inflammation and CBD, their job is to carefully divide the different factors.
One study may find that the cannabinoid receptors mediate the function of the molecule and they prove it using clever systems like genetic knockout mice or antagonists of the receptor.
Another study may find a separate mechanism, like the antioxidant effects of CBD using the same tools. This makes it difficult for a layman to see what “the” cause of the beneficial effects is. As with most things in life, “the” effect is actually a summation of different effects.
As users of this wonderful plant, we get to do our own experiments and discern what is really happening through careful observation and experimentation.
With the sudden proliferation of CBD products, it has become more and more difficult to see through the different applications and forms of CBD. We have taken the time to craft products that use the CBD in a conservative and thoughtful way.
Our directions to users are crafted through a careful understanding of how you get the most for your money and the greatest impact for the trouble you take.