What to Know About CBD Oil and Chronic Pain

What is CBD oil, and can it really help reduce pain? Health's medical editor weighs in.

CBD oil is a substance that’s made by extracting a specific compound from cannabis known as cannabidiol. You can ingest it or apply it directly on your skin, depending on the product that it’s in. It may have pain-relieving capabilities, but we’re still waiting for good clinical studies to prove this. It's possible that a few drops of CBD oil can be therapeutic, but we need more info on what it's really useful for. Some research has shown that CBD may be effective for relieving chronic pain, as well as pain associated with cancer treatment and arthritis. It’s not entirely clear how CBD may work to alleviate pain; it may be related to the compound’s anti-inflammatory properties. CBD also appears to activate a serotonin receptor, which may help reduce pain. Much more investigation needs to be done.

Unlike the other main chemical in marijuana, tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol does not get you high. Still, there is some controversy around the use of CBD for a variety of health conditions, even though it doesn’t have the same psychoactive effect that people feel from using marijuana recreationally. For one thing, CBD products aren’t approved by the FDA for any medical condition, so products are not regulated for purity and dosage. CBD oil is also not legal in all 50 states, so if you are curious about trying CBD oil for pain management, first look into the law in your jurisdiction. CBD oil can have side effects, like lightheadedness, and, as with any supplement, it has the potential to interact with medication you’re taking. So work closely with a physician to make sure that you’re using CBD oil appropriately.

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

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