CBD helps fight pain physically and psychologically, study says

CBD helps fight pain physically and psychologically, study says

Pain relief is one of the most common reasons people consume CBD products. Yet, the research on CBD’s pain relieving capabilities has been very limited.

This may not be terribly surprising since CBD and other hemp derivatives have only been legal in the United States since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, a lack of proper research into the benefits of CBD can make it difficult for consumers to determine which products may best meet their needs.

Researchers at Syracuse University in New York hoped to fill that research gap. Their study aimed to determine if CBD isolate actually reduces pain or if the associated pain relief is just a trick of the mind.

The study results were not what researchers expected

“For science and the public at large the question remained, is the pain relief that CBD users claim to experience due to pharmacological effects or placebo effects,” Martin De Vita told a Syracuse University reporter. De Vita is a researcher in the psychology department at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“That’s a fair question because we know that simply telling someone that a substance has the ability to relieve their pain can actually cause robust changes in their pain sensitivity. These are called expectancy effects,” he added.

De Vita and the other researchers reportedly hypothesized that CBD’s ability to relieve pain is a placebo.

“What we found though after measuring several different pain outcomes is that it’s actually a little bit of both,” De Vita reportedly said. “That is, we found improvements in pain measures caused by the pharmacological effects of CBD and the psychological effects of just expecting that they had gotten CBD. It was pretty remarkable and surprising.”

The results of this study were recently published online in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Unpacking the outcomes of the study

In simple terms, the study found that CBD does not appear to reduce pain intensity, but does appear to make pain less unpleasant. This effect is caused by a combination of physical and psychological factors.

The study showed that CBD’s ability to make pain less unpleasant can be caused by someone simply thinking that CBD will help. However, CBD’s pain relieving abilities are not imaginary. According to the research results, CBD also does have the ability to physically target some of the components that make up pain, thereby reducing the unpleasantness of that pain.

“CBD-induced pain relief is not just driven by psychological placebo effects, but also pharmacological action,” Di Vita told U.S. News and World Report.

According to the Syracuse University news article, pain is not like an on and off switch. Instead, it is “a complex phenomenon with several dimensions influenced by psychological and biological factors.” Pain intensity is reportedly a sensory component to pain and unpleasantness is an emotional component to pain.

“If you think of pain as the noxious noise coming from a radio, the volume can represent the intensity of the pain, while the station can represent the quality,” De Vita reportedly said.

Continuing the metaphor, De Vita explained that CBD does not seem to turn down the volume on pain, but it can change the channel. This can make the pain feel less unpleasant or “slightly less bothersome,” he added.

“It’s not just pain, yes or no, but there are these other dimensions of pain, and it would be interesting to see which ones are being targeted,” Di Vita reportedly said. “[W]e were going into this thinking we were going to primarily detect the expectancy-induced pain relief but what we found out was way more complex than that and that’s exciting.”


[1] https://news.syr.edu/blog/2021/04/25/new-research-shows-pain-relieving-effects-of-cbd/

[2] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-38598-001

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-04-29/cbd-how-much-pain-relief-is-real-and-how-much-is-placebo