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CBD for Back Pain: Can It Help You?

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Written by Tim Kalantjakos

It’s easy for the millions of low back pain sufferers across the US and the world—a reasonably skeptical audience in one of the most oversaturated markets in healthcare—to automatically dismiss each “back pain breakthrough” as it surfaces.

The research into CBD for back pain, however, may be enough to build some (more) staying power in the near and distant future.

The evidence says CBD can interfere with low back pain, directly and indirectly, by improving inflammation, pain, sleep, and the cognitive issues that accompany chronic cases.

Beyond the research, anyone looking to benefit from the use of CBD for back pain has to appreciate circumstances that can affect their success with the supplement, like whether or not their condition is chronic, what triggers flare-ups, and so on.

First, let’s cover the science—then, best practices.

CBD Oil for Back Pain: The Direct Approach

Though it’s a far more complex issue than product advertisements within the healthcare consumer sphere give it credit for, back pain of all types and causes can at least be characterized by some level of pain and/or inflammation.

Depending on what caused the back pain and many other factors, both pain and inflammation can be transmitted by different kinds of nerve fibers and pathways.

Multiple studies have suggested cannabidiol as an effective intervention for both pain and inflammation in participants affected by low back pain, MS-related pain, sciatica, and much more. 

cbd for pain and inflammation

How CBD Intercepts the Back Pain Response

Many low back pain sufferers struggle with sciatica, a “neuropathic” or nerve-associated pain problem characterized by shooting pains down the hip and leg.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, emphasize the interactions between CBD and glycine receptors as an indicator of CBD’s possible therapeutic potential in the case of neuropathic pain, i.e., sciatica.

Glycine receptors are known to promote “nociceptive regulation at the spinal level,” says the study, meaning that they can help mitigate the effects of that zapping, tingling pain that low back pain sufferers frequently report.

Most notably, using CBD oil for back pain increases the potency of these receptors without intoxication or tolerance-building

Another review published in the Journal of Opioid Management by anesthesiology and chemistry department faculty at Louisiana State University, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego found that topically applied CBD provided significant pain relief for a broad class of back pain patients including lumbar compression fracture recoverers.

In other words, through glycine receptor action and mechanisms that the scientific community has yet to uncover, CBD can address neuropathic pain in multiple contexts: post-surgical, idiopathic (cause unknown), and more.

CBD and Lower Back Inflammation

In the vast majority of cases, low back pain isn’t just pain; inflammation can be just as dominating of a presence, if not more.

Just like the different kinds of pain that can affect the lumbar spine region, inflammation can feel slightly different among low back pain sufferers.

This is partially because dysfunction, disease, and/or malformation of the spinal joints themselves (arthropathies) can cause low back inflammation, as well as conditions like spondylitis, spinal stenosis, and a slew of equally wordy analogs. 

However your lumbar spine and/or superficial tissues arrive at this inflamed state, you may be able to benefit from the use of CBD oil for back pain as well as inflammation. 

An academic article authored by Medical University of Bialystok (Poland) Department of Analytical Chemistry researchers describes multiple ways in which CBD can inhibit both acute and chronic inflammatory responses, including interactions with “transient receptor potential” channels, immunity-focused proteins called cytokines, and other structures/substances that support the inflammation response.

In English, this means that using CBD for back pain can influence our immune systems at multiple points to suppress the inflammatory response, an attribute that has earned this handy cannabinoid a nod or two from the psoriasis crowd.

The mechanisms just listed go far beyond the more straightforward explanation of CBD’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system, a set of receptors and chemicals in the brain designed to interact with the body’s naturally produced CBD-like chemicals for inflammation, pain, sleep, and mood regulation.

Both of these inflammation-fighting approaches have proven themselves especially vital for chronic back pain sufferers. They often find themselves stuck in a prolonged immune response, which reaps plenty of harmful effects on multiple systems throughout the body. 

CBD Oil for Back Pain: The Indirect Approach

Remember how we said, “Low back pain isn’t just pain?”

Unfortunately, it’s not just pain and inflammation, either.

The brain takes pain very seriously in that it devotes much of its processing power to prioritizing the resolution of pain above other essential processes, which makes sense.

In other words, when you’re in pain, whether it’s a constant or isolated issue, cognitive performance in areas not immediately related to ridding yourself of the pain can suffer.

For example, it’s harder to remember what you had for breakfast yesterday when your brain is busy putting out fires on the pain and inflammation front. The longer you suffer from low back pain, the more “fog” or mental sluggishness you may experience, as people with fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis can also attest to. 

Pair this with the sleep impairments often associated with chronic back pain, and you have a downward spiral.

Thankfully, using CBD for back pain may also ameliorate both of these problems.

CBD and Brain Fog

Researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia concluded in a systematic review published in the Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews that “CBD improves cognition in multiple preclinical models of cognitive impairment.”

One of these models included “neuro-inflammatory” problems, a category that brain fog fits into nicely because it is labeled as a problem of inflammation affecting brain tissues.

In other words, CBD was demonstrated to alleviate neuroinflammation in several kinds of patients (meningitis, sepsis, and cerebral malaria were all mentioned), and since this inflammation contributes significantly to brain fog, it is showing promise in this application as well.

cbd for cognitive impairment

CBD and Sleep

A University of Pennsylvania article reviewing the effects of cannabis and cannabinoids on several aspects of sleep highlights the role of THC and CBD extract Sativex in the case of chronic pain sufferers experiencing sleep disturbances.

Sativex is normally used to address muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, but according to this finding, it also improves sleep quality (but not duration) for chronic pain sufferers with sleep impairments.

Since anxiety and PTSD can strongly influence sleep quality and duration, a topic we cover in our article about CBD and sleep disorders, the use of CBD to reduce anxiety can transitively address sleep impairments as well.

These connections are still relevant in the case of using CBD for back pain, as chronic pain sufferers especially can easily fall victim to this cascading effect when anxiety sets in.

Best Practices

It’s often our impulse as healthcare consumers to focus on the product first, but in the case of CBD oil for back pain and many others, you can’t make a truly informed decision until you understand the basic physiology of back pain.

More specifically, it’s important to understand the physiology of your back pain, since it can result from connective tissue problems, vertebral misalignments, referred pain from organ dysfunction, damaged muscle tissue, and much more.

Self-assessment is helpful to an extent, but if the pain is consistent and more than a 2-3/10, it’s always advisable to seek out a licensed healthcare professional.

In your discussion with the specialist, make sure to note how progressed your back pain is—is it acute (a day or two past), sub-acute (a few weeks up to 2-3 months), or chronic (6 months or more)?

It’s also vital to determine before using CBD for back pain what the cause of your back pain is, if any can be found.

Finally, low back pain can sometimes cause hypersensitivity of the skin as a side effect of the overtaxed nerve fibers in the area, which can affect your tolerance when using CBD cream for back pain.

Finding the Right Brand, CBD Form, and Dose

It should go without saying that you should only use products from well-reputed brands like CBDistillery, Charlotte’s Web, and other industry leaders.

If your skin can handle CBD cream for back pain, many low back pain sufferers prefer that route for its targeted and potent effects, but orally ingested, sublingually ingested, and vaporized CBD may all impart the anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-regulating) effects mentioned above.

Monitor your doses, monitor your response, and incrementally adjust until you’ve reached the optimal level of pain and inflammation relief.

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