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CBD oil and back pain

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  1. Research overview
  2. The studies

Recognized as the leading cause of disability worldwide, back pain is a common condition that can cause extreme discomfort – not to mention a few missed days of work or physical activity. Evidence suggests that 50% to 80% of adults will experience at least one episode of back pain at some point in their lives.

Back pain can occur for any number of reasons and range in severity, whether it be a simple muscle strain, bad posture, a ruptured disc, arthritis, or even a sign of more serious medical conditions, such as a kidney infection or blood clot.

As research into the benefits of cannabis continues, cannabidiol (CBD) has emerged as a potentially viable treatment for pain relief. CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, second in abundance only to THC, and is widely perceived to help reduce pain.

Therefore, it stands to reason that someone experiencing back pain might be wondering whether they can effectively use CBD oil for back pain.

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant and is widely perceived to help reduce pain. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Research overview

More peer-reviewed research is needed, focused specifically on CBD treatment for back pain relief, but numerous studies have already demonstrated the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of this cannabinoid.

When CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is an internal system that regulates our bodies, it enhances the signaling of anandamide, a pain-regulating compound found in the brain that is linked to feelings of well-being and happiness. By preventing the absorption of this molecule, CBD pushes excess quantities into the bloodstream, reducing pain throughout the body.

cbd lotion on back

CBD pushes excess quantities into the bloodstream, reducing pain throughout the body. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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cbd lotion on back

CBD has also demonstrated the ability to reduce pain through the body’s TRPV1 receptors, responsible for control functions such as inflammation and the awareness of pain.

The studies

One study, published in the September 2015 edition of the journal Neurotoxicology, found that CBD also inhibits glutamate levels in the brain and spinal cord, which is associated with increased sensations of pain and transmission. Past research also suggests that CBD could be an effective treatment for some of the most detrimental conditions that cause chronic pain, such as neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis (MS) and intractable cancer pain.

In a 2012 study, also conducted on lab mice, researchers found that CBD targets alpha-3 glycine receptors to suppress chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain associated with dysfunctional glycine receptors, an important target for pain processing by the spine, without causing any noticeable analgesic tolerance.

There’s no definitive answer yet, but a 2016 animal study published in European Journal of Pain found that topical application may be more effective than the sublingual method. The research team discovered that while CBD had poor oral bioavailability in lab rats, topical CBD application provided more constant plasma levels, bypassing gastrointestinal administration and first-pass metabolism, which is a phenomenon where the concentration of a drug is reduced before it reaches circulation.


There is evidence that CBD could reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis, a multifunctional joint disease that causes joint degeneration and inflammation. A 2017 study in the journal Pain found that local application of CBD reduced joint inflammation and prevented pain, suggesting that CBD would be an effective treatment for pain associated with arthritis.

In a 2014 review in the European Journal of Neuroscience that summarized past research on CBD and osteoarthritis, researchers concluded that while clinical evidence is limited, existing studies on CBD use for arthritis treatment have shown promising results.

Spinal injury

CBD has also been examined as a treatment for other conditions that cause intense bouts with back pain. For instance, a 2014 study demonstrated that CBD reduced the severity of damage caused by disc degeneration in the vertebrae. After inflicting lab rates with a spinal injury, the research team injected them with various concentrations of CBD, and concluded that higher doses of CBD provided an anti-degenerative effect and “attenuated the effects of disc injury.”


For some, chronic back pain may make it difficult to get a proper night of sleep, but a growing faction of research points to CBD as an effective sleep aid as well. One study, published in the Permanente Journal in January 2019, found that CBD alleviated short-term sleep issues and reduced anxiety in a majority of patients.

Chronic back pain may make it difficult to get a proper night of sleep, but research points to CBD as an effective sleep aid as well. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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While the initial evidence supports that notion that CBD is a viable treatment for chronic pain, it’s important to note that more clinical research is needed to gain a better understanding of the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of this non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

CBD oil and back pain Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Research overview The studies Recognized as the leading cause of disability

Can CBD for Back Pain Provide Relief?

Around the world, lower back pain is the leading cause of disability. According to the American Chiropractic Association, it is so common that as much as 80 percent of the population will experience it at some point in their lives. Recently, researchers are looking at how using CBD oil for back pain could become an alternative treatment option.

Types and Treatments of Back Pain

Typically, back pain is talked about as being acute or chronic. Acute pain resolves quickly, either with rest or treatment. Chronic back lasts for more than 12 weeks and effects. Twenty percent of people who report back pain have chronic back pain.

Treatment of back pain can be complex, involving management of pain using ice and heat, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and even surgery.

Developing a treatment plan for back pain takes into account the severity of the pain and it’s the root cause. Most often, treatment of back pain includes one or a combination of a variety of approaches.

Hot and cold packs can be used to provide relief from pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. While bed rest used to be a common approach to managing back pain, it is now believed that reducing physical activity could make back pain worse. Instead, stretching and strengthening exercises are often a part of treatment for low back pain. Physical therapy may be an appropriate choice for certain cases.

Medication is also used to manage back pain. The most commonly used medications include anti-inflammatory medications, aspirin, and acetaminophen. In some cases, opioids may be prescribed for a short period of time.

Use of medication to treat back pain isn’t without risk. Long term use of anti-inflammatory medications is associated with the development of ulcers, heartburn, and fluid retention. The use of opioids for pain management is certainly concerning because they are habit-forming drugs.

Lastly, a surgery called a spinal fusion procedure can be used as a last resort for managing back pain. In this procedure, two vertebrae are fused together with the hopes of reducing pain. Even though to rates of this surgery are rising in the United States, it is not a generally recommended approach due to risk of complications and the low success rate of the procedure, according to Harvard Health.

“Chronic tension is a major problem for the nation and discomfort from tension in the back may be the most common type,” explains Phillip Blair, MD, (Colonel USArmy retired) a family physician and advisor for Elixinol. “Many authorities tell us America is doing too much surgery compared, for instance, to the UK that does less than one tenth of the procedures.”

CBD Oil for Back Pain

Because of the concerns associated with long-term use of over-the-counter and prescribed medication, along with the low success rates of back surgery, interest in alternative pain management options in increasing. CBD oil has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and may show promise as an alternative method for managing back pain.

In 2012, a study published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD was effective in the suppression of both inflammatory and neuropathic chronic pain in mice. Their findings suggest that CBD could be a safe and effective method for managing hard-to-treat chronic pain.

Although more research needs to be done including human subjects, a small study in 2017 was published in the Journal of Pain Research that observed improvement in chronic pain over the course of 12 months. In this study, the dosage was THC and CBD combined. This complicates the research since THC is the psychoactive property of marijuana and isn’t legal in many states.

A 2020 study published in Neurology concluded that cannabinoids could be effective for pain management, but that more research needs to be done on larger studies with better controls.

Editor’s Pick

When our readers ask for CBD products for back pain, they’re looking for strength and quality. That’s why we recommend Spruce. Their Max Potency CBD oil tincture has 2,400mg of full-spectrum CBD extract that is specially formulated to alleviate pain.

Should I Use CBD for for Back Pain?

Since there CBD oil has been found to be safe for consumption, there is no harm in trying it as a pain management technique. Although there are some side effects associated with CBD, including a change in appetite, drowsiness, and diarrhea, they are mild and may be eliminated completely with dosage adjustments.

Given the difficulty associated with treating chronic pain and the severe side effects associated with more conventional treatments like surgery, opioids, and over-the-counter drugs, CBD oil are worth a try.

“CBD is not addictive or habit forming,” explains Blair. “Because of the way it works it cannot cause respiratory depression if used with strong medication, but it may allow reduced dosages of those medications and the many adverse consequences. That means strong medications can be reduced or avoided entirely in many cases.”

A doctor who is educated on CBD oil and how to find the appropriate dosage can help you decide if using CBD to treat pain is right for you. In his professional practice, Blair suggests beginning with the recommended dosage on the product label and increasing from there until relief from back pain is experienced.

“For some, I recommend as much as 200mg CBD per day in divided servings,” he says. “Greater than that amount does not seem to provide any extra relief.”

Lastly, Blair points out that conditions like chronic back pain are often accompanied by other health problems.

The journal Spine listed the most common comorbidities of chronic low back pain as anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. In addition decreasing discomfort associated with back pain, CBD can help improve the symptoms of these co-occurring conditions.

Can CBD oil help relieve back pain? There's some evidence to suggest it can. Read this guide to learn more about CBD for back pain.