CBD products do not relieve pain and are potentially harmful, study finds

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There is no evidence that CBD products reduce chronic pain, and taking them is a waste of money and potentially harmful to your health, according to recent research led by the University of Bath in the UK.

CBD (short for cannabidiol) is one of many chemicals found naturally in the cannabis plant. It is a popular alternative medicine for treating pain and is available in stores and online in the form of oils, tinctures, vapors, topical creams, edibles (such as gummies), and soft drinks.

However, according to the study, consumers would do well to stay away from these products.

“CBD presents a huge problem for consumers,” said Professor Chris Eccleston, who led the research at the Bath Pain Research Centre. “It’s touted as a cure-all for pain, but there’s a complete lack of high-quality evidence that it has any positive effects.”

He added: “It’s almost as if chronic pain patients don’t matter and we’re happy for people to trade in hope and despair.”

For his study, published in The diary of painthe team, which included researchers from the universities of Bath, Oxford and Alberta in Canada, examined relevant research on using CBD to treat pain and published it in scientific journals until the end of 2023.

They found:

  • CBD products sold directly to consumers contain varying amounts of CBD, from none to much more than advertised.
  • CBD products sold directly to consumers may contain chemicals other than CBD, some of which may be harmful and some of which may be illegal in some jurisdictions. These chemicals include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.
  • Of the 16 randomized controlled trials that have explored the link between pain and pharmaceutical grade CBD, 15 have not shown positive results, and CBD is no better than placebo for pain relief.
  • A meta-analysis (which combines data from multiple studies and plays a critical role in evidence-based health care) links CBD to increased rates of serious adverse events, including liver toxicity.

Medical vs non-medical CBD

In the UK, medicinal cannabis is the only CBD product that is subject to regulatory approval. It is sometimes prescribed for people with severe forms of epilepsy, adults with chemotherapy-related nausea, and people with multiple sclerosis.

Non-medical CBD is freely available in the UK (as well as the US and many European countries) as long as it contains negligible amounts of THC or none at all. However, CBD products sold on the retail market are not covered by the trading rules, meaning there is no requirement for them to be consistent in content or quality.

Most CBD products purchased online, including popular CBD oils, are known to contain very small amounts of CBD. In addition, it may be illegal to possess or supply any product, as there is a good chance that it will contain prohibited amounts of THC.

chronic pain

An estimated 20% of the adult population lives with chronic pain, and patients are often desperate for help to relieve their symptoms. It’s no wonder, then, that many people reach for CBD products despite their high price and lack of evidence of their effectiveness or safety.

Dr Andrew Moore, co-author of the study and former senior pain researcher at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Division of Anesthesia, said: “For too many people with chronic pain, there is no medication that controls their pain. Chronic pain can be horrible. , so people are highly motivated to find pain relief by any means. This makes them vulnerable to the wild promises made about CBD.”

He added that health regulators seem reluctant to act against false claims made by some CBD product manufacturers, possibly because they don’t want to interfere with a booming market (the global market for CBD products was estimated at $3 billion by 2021 or 2.4 billion pounds and is projected to reach US$60 billion by 2030 or 48 billion pounds), especially when the product for sale is widely considered harmless.

“What this means is that there are no protections for consumers,” Dr Moore said. “And without a compensatory body to keep CBD sellers in check, the false promises made about CBD’s pain-relieving effects are unlikely to slow down in the coming years.”

The authors of the study call for chronic pain to be taken more seriously, and consumer protection to become a priority.

“Untreated chronic pain is known to seriously impair quality of life and many people live with pain every day and for the rest of their lives,” Professor Eccleston said. “Pain deserves investment in serious science to find serious solutions.”

More information:
Andrew Moore et al, Cannabidiol (CBD) Pain Products: Ineffective, Expensive, and Potentially Harmful, The diary of pain (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2023.10.009

Provided by the University of Bath

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