Understanding pain & inflammation support
Pain is a subjective experience. Some people experience pain as the result of an injury, whereas others live with pain as a chronic companion. Above all, pain is part of the human experience. So why has it been so notoriously difficult to treat?
Chronic pain appears in such varied ways that everyone will experience it differently. There is one shared symptom, however: the disruption of life. Living with pain becomes a burden that takes energy away from important aspects of life, affecting your mood, appetite, and even quality of sleep.
Sleep is especially important to our well-being. Nightly rest allows your body to heal and recharge, giving you a sense of vitality in your days. Pain can be a major disruption. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two out of three people with chronic pain have trouble sleeping. Those with chronic pain from arthritis, acute pain following surgery, or any other type of painful condition can find it difficult both to fall asleep and to sleep soundly through the night. These sleep disturbances play a role in the severity and duration of pain, but studies show they also lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Though pain may be considered a negative experience, it actually exists as an ally. When our skin is burned, when we’re struggling with a headache, or when a muscle is strained, our brains respond with pain so we can address what’s causing it.
Some causes of pain are not so simple to identify though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 million Americans live with chronic pain. An aging population is a factor in these large numbers, but chronic pain appears in many ways and in many people. An estimated 70% of chronic pain sufferers are women and more than six million women live with difficult-to-treat endometriosis. Many other women and men live with fibromyalgia, migraines, or other painful conditions.
Your body’s natural way of dealing with pain is through the release of natural opioids and endorphins. For people with chronic pain, their body simply doesn’t have the endorphin capacity to quell the pain, creating a need for external treatment methods.
Traditional Western Medicine for Pain
The western medical establishment has its quick fix for pain: pharmaceutical opioids. These prescription drugs mimic the feel-good opioids that our brains naturally produce and amplify the effect. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical opioids can lead to dependency and abuse, as it has for 1.7 million Americans. What’s worse, only 58% of sufferers of chronic pain experience pain reduction from these drugs, leaving many with an even larger burden.
In October 2020, one of the drug industry’s biggest corporations pled guilty to three federal criminal charges. In making OxyContin and incentivizing doctors to prescribe it, Purdue is now being held responsible for the nation’s opioid crisis.
The devastating fact remains that opioids are often perceived as the only option for those with chronic pain. Dependence on and abuse of opioids kills 130 people every day. To be able to combat this sort of daily agony that disrupts people’s lives, there needs to be a safe and reliable alternative. Better understanding pain can help us to better understand how it can be addressed in a way that improves overall health.
Navigating Pain Pathways Naturally
There are two things we know for sure: chronic pain is widespread and opioid use is not always the answer. Science is exploring the ways that we can deal with pain by being more aware of what our bodies need to alleviate it.
The discovery of CB1 and CB2 receptors helped to prove that the endocannabinoid system is closely linked with the nervous system, in that both systems share these two receptors. CB1 receptors are prevalent throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems–which work together–and in the spinal cord. These receptors also live throughout the body in tissues and organs.
Since these receptors have such an expansive reach, there’s a strong likelihood that the health of the ECS can have a direct impact on how our skin and tissue experience pain and how often those neurons are fired.
Knowing the dangers of prescription pharmaceuticals, people are returning to the idea of treating chronic pain with cleaner, more natural methods. Modern research into hemp is proving it can be an effective alternative.
A national Consumer Reports survey of more than 4,000 CBD users, conducted in January 2019, found that nearly a quarter used CBD to replace OTC drugs such as Tylenol and prescription drugs, including opioids, sleep aids, and anti-anxiety medications.
The survey found the following:
47% replaced an OTC
36% replaced a pharmaceutical opioid
33% replaced a pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drug
22% replaced a prescription sleep medication
One in three CBD users added the CBD product to their pharmaceutical or OTC regimen
Yasmin Hurd, Ph.D., director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City, said that although there’s a “big controversy” around treating opioid addiction with natural alternatives, she did suggest that CBD can be an attractive option due to it affecting how the brain cells, damaged by opioids, communicate with each other. “Being able to decrease their stress and anxiety response will go very far in decreasing their drug use, so even if we don’t know exactly why CBD is working, if it works on craving and anxiety, that actually is very positive,” Yasmin Hurd stated.
It’s important to note that CBD can potentially interfere with tacrolimus, an immunosuppressive pharmaceutical medication. We advise that anyone looking to supplement their current medications with CBD should consult their healthcare provider first.
Caring for your ECS
National Geographic’s January 2020 issue explored the way pain is both so widespread and drastically downplayed by the medical industry. In studying pain in different subjects, the report uncovered that “painful sensations can be influenced by a person’s emotional state.”
While it may be hard to keep spirits up when pain is present, there are natural ways to boost your body’s happy hormones. It all starts with a well-toned endocannabinoid system.
The ECS is integral to modulating the bliss hormone, anandamide. In doing so, it works to create balance in your systems and will slot in anandamide where necessary. This helps to calm some of those painful sensations.
Some foods may be able to help produce more of these feel-good hormones in your body. High-quality chocolate is a great option for anandamide-rich food that supports the ECS. Paired with phytocannabinoid-rich hemp extract, it can deliver a serious dose of vitality in the face of chronic pain.
The ECS isn’t just responsible for keeping us happy – it may have a direct relationship to the root cause of pain. Researchers are exploring the concept of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) and how it could be the underlying factor in causing pain, especially in cases of irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraines. Medical cannabis has proven effective for these types of pain in many subjects, which could point to cannabinoids as an essential part of our body’s natural balance.
To help keep this balance, doctors and researchers are exploring the importance of toning the ECS through cannabinoids. Dr. Ethan Russo has been a longstanding advocate for the positive effects of cannabinoids on the body, citing their proven effectiveness as an anticonvulsant. Not only that, but research is unveiling that cannabinoids are also potent analgesics, offering both anti-pain and anti-inflammatory properties.
“Many diseases interfere with a balance in a given system,” Dr. Russo said in an interview with Project CBD, “and if we can bring that balance back to where it should be there’ll be improvement in the overall condition.”
He also points out that recreational use of THC has long overshadowed the medicinal effects of cannabis. As knowledge of cannabinoids becomes more accessible, the medical industry is getting to revisit the healing capacity of cannabis.
While THC has been proven to have analgesic effects, the real treasure lies within CBD.
Balancing the ECS
Now that consumers and regulators are looking past the THC-heavy reputation of cannabis, the therapeutic capacity of the plant is coming into focus, and the stigma around marijuana is shedding. In a Brightfield Group study, 90 percent of those surveyed said they would buy CBD-only products derived from marijuana. The study also found that interest and application of CBD is intergenerational. While millennials and Gen X mostly use it to manage anxiety, baby boomers cite age-related inflammation and chronic pain as their motivation to use CBD.
In addition to CBD and THC–both of which have analgesic properties–full and broad-spectrum hemp contains additional cannabinoids and terpenes which can be beneficial against pain. Cannabichromene (CBC) and CBG are the third and fourth most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis, both found to work as anti-inflammatories. CBG in particular has shown analgesic effects that are stronger than THC’s.
Even terpenes may help quell pain. Myrcene, the terpene responsible for cannabis’ unique scent, has its own analgesic properties. Other myrcene-rich plants include hops, rosemary, frankincense, and cardamom.
When shopping for CBD oil, it’s important to always reach for cannabinoid-rich products (not isolate-only products) so that the plant’s natural plant compounds are preserved and available to the ECS.
Nature has many known and surely many unknown analgesic plants. This includes cannabis, but also chili peppers, willow bark, german chamomile, arnica, and lavender. By using these herbs and plants, you can help to tone your ECS and work toward alleviating pain and easing inflammation.
Dealing with pain is not a quick or all-encompassing fix. You should always consult your doctor before you undergo self-treatment.