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No Evidence That CBD Products Reduce Chronic Pain, Study Finds

A dropper of CBD oil.
Credit: CRYSTALWEED cannabis/Unsplash
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A new study has concluded that there is no evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) products reduce chronic pain, suggesting that they are not value for money and even have the potential to harm health.

The study is published in The Journal of Pain.

Availability of CBD

CBD is a chemical naturally produced by the cannabis plant. It has rapidly grown in popularity and is readily available in the form of various products such as oils, vapes, creams, soft drinks and edibles.

Patients with conditions such as epilepsy, chemotherapy-related nausea and multiple sclerosis may occasionally be prescribed CBD and it is now increasingly being used as an alternative to pain treatments. However, the researchers from the new study explained there is little evidence to back this up.

“CBD presents consumers with a big problem,” said Chris Eccleston, the senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Bath’s Centre for Pain Research. “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,” he added.

As much as 20% of the European population lives with chronic pain, and sufferers are now reaching for CBD products in an attempt to relieve their symptoms despite their high cost and lack of data on efficacy and safety.

“For too many people with chronic pain, there’s no medicine that manages their pain. Chronic pain can be awful, so people are very motivated to find pain relief by any means. This makes them vulnerable to the wild promises made about CBD,” explained Dr. Andrew Moore, co-author of the study and former senior pain researcher in the Nuffield Division of Anaesthetics at the University of Oxford.

Study suggests CBD is not effective for chronic pain

Researchers in the new study – from the Universities of Bath, Oxford and Alberta – evaluated several issues involving CBD products. Firstly, they found that there is no guarantee that the amount of CBD in a product is as advertised, with levels varying from none to hugely over the stated amount.

Additionally, some products may contain chemicals aside from CBD that could potentially be harmful. This includes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical produced by the cannabis plant. This presents issues for possession and supply as there is a chance some products could contain THC beyond legal levels.

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The researchers also evaluated randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that assessed the effect of pharmaceutical-grade CBD on pain. Of the 16 RCTs they examined, 15 concluded that CBD had no greater effect at relieving pain than a placebo.

Several meta-analyses (a study combining the results of multiple other studies) also found that CBD products were associated with increased rates of serious adverse events and liver toxicity.

Chronic pain should be made a focus

Non-medical CBD is readily available in the UK, US and Europe as long as it contains negligible THC. However, there is no regulation over product content or quality as they are not covered by trade standards.

“What this means is that there are no consumer protections,” said Moore. “And without a countervailing body to keep the CBD sellers in check, it’s unlikely that the false promises being made about the analgesic effects of CBD will slow down in the years ahead.”

The study’s researchers are calling for chronic pain to be taken more seriously and to prioritize the protection of consumers.

“Untreated chronic pain is known to seriously damage quality of life, and many people live with pain every day and for the rest of their lives,” said Eccleston. “Pain deserves investment in serious science to find serious solutions.”

Reference: Moore A, Straube S, Fisher E, Eccleston C. Cannabidiol (CBD) products for pain: Ineffective, expensive, and with potential harms. J Pain. 2024;25(4):833-842. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2023.10.009

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of Bath. Material has been edited for length and content.