Study finds CBD's pain relief effect is real, but the mind plays a role

Many people who experience chronic pain report a degree of relief from using CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis. Though anecdotal reports often praise the substance for its pain relief effects, questions have remained over whether the drug is actually able to reduce pain itself. A new study from Syracuse University sought to answer the question, finding that the pain relief is real, but the user's mind plays a role in the process.

CBD products come in many varieties, including oils, creams, candies, and vapes. Though purity may vary based on brand, these products are generally sold as THC-free, meaning they don't give the user the stereotypical 'high' associated with cannabis. Medical CBD products are sold for multiple purported health benefits, one of which is pain relief.

The new study from Syracuse University evaluated this potential benefit by exposing participants to pain resulting from heat and evaluated their responses to it. Some of the participants received CBD while others received a placebo.

The researchers expected that placebo — that is, the expectation of receiving CBD and getting pain relief — would be the main factor influencing the perception of pain. And while that does play a role, the study found, the pharmacological aspects of CBD also contributed to pain relief. One of the researchers behind the study, Professor Stephen Maisto, said:

The data is exciting but pretty complex in that different pain measures responded differently to the drug effect, to the expectancy, or both the drug and expectancy combined–so we're still trying to figure out what is behind the differential data with different kinds of pain measures. The next step is studying the mechanisms underlying these findings and figuring out why giving instructions or CBD itself causes certain reactions to a pain stimulus.