Can CBD Help with Back Pain?

Study findings suggest that CBD has pain-relieving properties that could be beneficial for the approximately 31 million Americans suffering from back pain.

As one of the most common reasons for doctor visits and disability, back pain is likely something you or someone you care about has had to deal with. U.S. patients spend approximately $50 billion every year on back pain treatments, ranging from medications and physical therapy to surgery. Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants like hemp and marijuana, has demonstrated pain-relieving properties that may prove beneficial if you’re looking for back pain relief.

Affecting about 80 percent of adults at least once in their lifetime, back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sharp, sudden discomfort so intense that it makes it hard to move. It can be difficult for doctors to identify why back pain develops because there is a wide range of potential causes.

Back pain can:

  • Start abruptly after you have an accident or try to lift something heavy
  • Be related to a bulging or ruptured vertebral disc pressing on a nerve
  • Be caused by arthritis (joint inflammation)
  • Develop over time with age-related changes to the spine like intervertebral disc degeneration
  • Be related to skeletal irregularities like scoliosis, or skeletal-related conditions like spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, or radiculopathy
  • Have an underlying cause like osteoporosis, endometriosis, kidney stones, tumors, infections, or fibromyalgia

Much of the time, low back pain is acute. This means that it lasts just a few days to a few weeks and eventually resolves on its own with self-care efforts like heat or icing the painful area and/or light stretching. Acute back pain problems are typically related to a disruption in the way that the spine and its intervertebral discs, surrounding muscles, and nerves fit together.

Other times, back pain can be chronic, which means that it persists for 12 weeks or longer. Chronic pain remains even after an injury or another underlying cause of the pain has been treated and healed.

Traditionally, back pain is treated with a combination of treatment methods, which could include:

  • Heat or ice pads
  • Light activity like walking
  • Core strengthening exercises and physical therapy
  • Traditional medications like over-the-counter pain relievers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and topical pain relievers

In severe cases, back pain may require surgery to deal with musculoskeletal injuries or nerve compression that’s causing the pain.

What Research Says About CBD for Back Pain

Clinical studies investigating the efficacy of CBD for back pain are lacking. However, researchers have determined that CBD interacts with the receptors of your body’s native endocannabinoid system, a complex signaling network responsible for regulating a wide variety of systems, including pain and immune response.

By interacting with the receptors, cannabinoids like CBD could trigger the endocannabinoid system to elicit pain-relieving effects. Studies also indicate that CBD reduces neuropathic pain by interacting with 5-HT1A receptors, which regulate the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with pain processing in the peripheral nervous system.

While there isn’t enough data on CBD’s effects for specifically back pain,a large number of preclinical and clinical trials have found strong evidence of CBD having anti-inflammatory properties and being effective at treating other types of pain.

For example, 2008 research review that looked at studies on CBD for chronic pain that were conducted between the late 1980s and 2007 concluded that CBD was beneficial for pain management without adverse side effects.

A 2004 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial comparing the pain-relieving effects of CBD only, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) only, and a combination of CBD and THC in 34 patients with previously untreatable chronic pain found that all three cannabinoid mixes improved control of pain and quality of sleep.

Cannabinoid products containing both CBD and THC have also shown to be effective for treating pain. In 2007, researchers found that a CBD and THC mouth spray effectively reduced neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis. A 2016 animal study found that four days of CBD treatments reduced inflammation and pain in rats with arthritis.

Additionally, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) includes documentation on its website that acknowledges CBD as a possible option for managing chemotherapy-related pain.

Clinical research investigating CBD’s effects on back pain are needed, but the findings related to CBD’s potential role for pain management so far are promising.

Learn More About Cannabinoids like CBD for Pain

Many patients now prefer cannabinoid products to traditional prescription drugs for treating their pain. This summer, a study found that 92 percent of pain patients prefer medical cannabis products to opioids. Another found that pain patients who incorporate medical cannabis into their therapeutic routine are able to reduce their traditional drug intake.

You can find more information on the studies looking into the benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids for treating pain by visiting our education page.