Shots fired: Analysis claims CBD “does not work” for pain

CBD for pain

Cannabis advocates were atwitter when a new study published in The Journal of Pain claimed cannabinol (CBD) has no positive impact on chronic pain patients. The research paper went as far as stating that CBD products are “potentially harmful” in the title.

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A search of scholarly articles about CBD and chronic pain tells another tale. With consistent reports contradicting one another, many on both sides of medical cannabis are wondering who to trust. Unfortunately, the answer is complicated.

The cannabis plant hasn’t gotten as much research focus as other pharmaceutical possibilities, but as legality hints more toward rescheduling, that might change. In the meantime, those interested in cannabis science are voracious for each new piece of data.

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Does CBD alleviate chronic pain or not?

At this point, no matter what studies say, what works for cannabis patients is best. That said, research papers are a drop in the bucket of knowledge, especially the ones about cannabis. The brass tacks of this new article are that there are prominent issues in the space, but they don’t apply to every CBD product on the market.

An analysis of data collected from randomized, double-blind trials published before September 23, 2023, showed that labels rarely depicted purity or dosage correctly.

“We analyzed pain outcomes at any time point, for any painful condition, using any CBD product, at any dose, and by any route of administration,” the study reads.

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Turns out many ingestibles and topicals contain far more or less CBD than advertised. One in five products had less than 90 percent CBD than listed on the label, and one in two had more than 110 percent. There was even proof of up to 100mg THC in 35 percent of topical “CBD-only” products tested.

Safety considerations arose during the systematic review, including potential toxicity due to improperly labeled dosage. The study also cited one woman who possibly contracted a now-cured anomalistic case of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a disorder that causes flu-like symptoms and a rash. Most unsafe stories and adverse effects listed in the research revolve around synthetic chemicals, or ingestion by unsuspecting children or seniors.

The study concluded that CBD can be expensive (true) and possibly harmful (when synthetic or mislabeled). It also said that it doesn’t work. Plainly, just like that, “does not work.” The problem is that numerous studies have said quite the contrary, showcasing CBD product potential.

Studies also showcase CBD safety and efficacy

In 2019, results from a transparent CBD study with opioid pain patients were promising. Almost 100 diagnosed chronic pain patients who had been on prescribed opioids for at least two years completed the eight-week course of hemp CBD oil. In total, 66 women and 31 men took part, 53 percent reduced opioid medications by week eight.

Six people also reduced anxiety medications and either stopped or eased sleep aids. The outcome of the study shows a need for a randomized, placebo trial.

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Another systematic review of CBD showed promising results but also the need for more research on pure, full-spectrum CBD extract. The study concluded that “some observational and clinical studies lead to CBD’s effectiveness and safety in chronic pain; however, the evidence is not strong enough to obtain a proper recommendation.”

Two systematic reviews, two different headlines—the difference being what researchers looked for. While each searched true data and pieced it into a supported conclusion, looking at the big picture means weighing both sides. Based on research cited in the study claiming CBD is unsafe, it seems people’s best bet is to avoid synthetic cannabinoids, use third-party tested products, and aim to consume the most unadulterated CBD possible.

Claiming CBD is “potentially harmful” and “does not work” is definitely click-worthy, but it’s not objectively true. At this juncture, the only way to even begin to understand the science of cannabis is to look at the plant from every side: pro and against.

Currently, there are many unknowns as more researchers gain access to quality products for testing, trials, and studies. The truth is, at this point, nobody knows if (or how well) CBD works. Everyone’s just doing what works best for them.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.