Research Suggests CBD Pain Relief is a Myth

by Denis Storey
March 27, 2024 at 11:05 AM UTC

New research challenges CBD’s effectiveness in reducing chronic pain, suggesting it could be a waste of money and potentially harmful.

Clinical relevance: New research challenges CBD’s effectiveness in reducing chronic pain, suggesting it could be a waste of money and potentially harmful.

  • The study finds that CBD products lack consistent dosage, might contain harmful extra ingredients, and offer no significant pain relief.
  • A meta-analysis reveals a link between CBD and increased rates of serious adverse events, including liver toxicity.
  • The authors urge regulatory authorities to address deficiencies in CBD products, including incorrect labeling and possible contamination, emphasizing the need for stringent regulation and consumer vigilance.

CBD evangelists suffered a setback this week with new research that calls into question one of the ingredient’s major selling points.

A paper in the April issue of The Journal of Pain contends that there’s a distinct lack of evidence that CBD products reduce chronic pain. The authors even go so far as to charge that “taking them is a waste of money and potentially harmful to health.

The University of Bath spearheaded the research.

A Wave of Legalization Fuels CBD Growth

CBD use in the United States jumped 50% over the past four years, according to research appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association late last year. That translates into about one in five Americans who conceded that they’d tried it in some form in 2023.

Despite a dearth of scientific support, consumers have flocked to CBD products to address several issues, from chronic pain to anxiety to insomnia.

But this latest study suggests that those looking for pain relief might be better served if they looked elsewhere.

“CBD presents consumers with a big problem,” Bath University’s Centre for Pain Research Professor Chris Eccleston, who led the study, explained. “It’s touted as a cure for all pain but there’s a complete lack of quality evidence that it has any positive effects. It’s almost as if chronic pain patients don’t matter, and that we’re happy for people to trade on hope and despair.

Study Exposes Absence of Evidence

The researchers found that:

  • A lack of dosage regularity. CBD products sold directly to consumers include a wide range of actual CBD – from none to much more than advertised.
  • Extra ingredients. CBD products can include extra ingredients, some of which can be harmful and even illegal in some places. These chemicals can include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.
  • No relief. The researchers examined multiple randomized controlled trials investigating a possible link between pain and pharmaceutical-grade CBD. And all but one of them showed no positive results. In fact, CBD performed no better than placebo at relieving pain.
  • Harmful side effects. The paper included a meta-analysis that exposed a connection between CBD and increased rates of serious adverse events, including liver toxicity.

Methodology and a Call to Action

The team, which also included researchers from Oxford and the University of Alberta in Canada, combed through research related to CBD use for pain relief that appeared in scientific journals up to late 2023.

The research team analyzed 16 CBD randomized trials using pharmaceutical-supplied CBD. These trials covered a dozen different pain states, using a variety of delivery methods, and varying dosage amounts –  between 6 and 1,600 mg. The studies also spanned multiple treatment duration periods, from a single administration to as long as 12 weeks.

“Current evidence is that CBD for pain is expensive, ineffective, and possibly harmful,” the authors write. “There is no good reason for thinking that CBD relieves pain, but there are good reasons for doubting the contents of CBD products in terms of CBD content and purity.”

More than a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pushed for a new regulatory pathway for CBD. But aside from the 2018 Farm Bill that opened this Pandora’s Box, Congress has done little to address the issue. The study’s authors argue that this should change.

“Regulatory authorities should also take note of the considerable deficiencies existing in the products sold, especially the incorrect labeling of many products, and possible contamination with psychoactive compounds,” they wrote. “Based on the evidence, there is a long way for the regulatory authorities to go to achieve this, and regulatory systems should be in place for this. Ultimately, it may be down to individuals to complain.”

Further Reading

Cannabidiol for Treatment-Resistant Anxiety Disorders in Young People

A Case of Psychosis in an Adolescent Male Using CBD

Medical Marijuana: What Physicians Need to Know

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