One of the main chemical compounds found in cannabis, known as cannabidiol (CBD), may provide pain relief and anti-anxiety effects to consumers. What makes CBD extract particularly appealing is the fact that it provides medical properties without the high typically associated with using cannabis. A new study has now pinpointed the effective dose of CBD for safe pain relief.

Credit: Phyto.

Credit: Phyto.

Cannabis has over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, that act on certain receptors in cells and alter neurotransmitter release in the brain. The most famous cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug.

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Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, the two chemical compounds can have opposite effects on the body due to slight differences in how atoms are arranged. For instance, THC is known to stimulate the CB1 receptor a lot, leading to altered sensory perception, impaired motor skills, and anxiety. Until recently, it was thought that CBD also stimulates CB1, but only slightly, causing conflicting effects with THC, such as relief from anxiety, stress, and hyper-excitability. CBD is also a nonpsychoactive compound, whereas THC produces a ‘high’.

Researchers at the Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and McGill University, Canada, wanted to find out at what dose CBD becomes effective. In doing so, they learned that CBD doesn’t act on CB1 cannabinoid receptors like THC but through the mechanism that binds specific receptors involved in anxiety (serotonin 5-HT1A) and pain (vanilloid TRPV1).

The team found that rats which were given an intravenous dose of 5 mg/kg/day of CBD increased 5-HT firing through desensitization of 5-HT1A receptors. Seven days of treatment with CBD reduced mechanical allodynia (when pain is experienced despite there being no obvious cause for pain), decreased anxiety-like behavior, and normalized 5-HT activity, the researchers found.

“We found in animal models of chronic pain that low doses of CBD administered for seven days alleviate both pain and anxiety, two symptoms often associated in neuropathic or chronic pain,” first author of the study Danilo De Gregorio, a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University, said in a statement.

The findings are important in today’s context of marijuana legalization and the boom of marijuana-related supplements, such as CBD oil. The extract has become so popular that you can now find it everywhere and in all sort of formats. There are CBD tinctures, cookies, topical creams, and even CBD-infused lattes. However, the market has grown far faster than the science can keep up with, especially since marijuana is illegal at the federal level in the United States, making cannabis research extremely cumbersome. For instance, we don’t know if it is safe to give CBD oil to children and CBD supplements are unregulated, which means that products can vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

“There is some data showing that CBD provides pain relief for humans but more robust clinical trials are needed,” said  Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who led the new research published in The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

“Our findings elucidate the mechanism of action of CBD and show that it can be used as medicine without the dangerous side effects of the THC,” she added. “This research is a new advancement for an evidence-based application of cannabis in medicine.”