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THC vs. CBD for Pain Relief: What’s Better?
People with arthritis and other chronic musculoskeletal pain are increasingly turning to cannabis products for relief from different symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. In fact, a recent CreakyJoints survey of people with arthritis found that more than half had tried marijuana or CBD for a medical reason.
While cannabis plants are complex and different varieties have different chemical compositions, almost all of them contain some combination of two medically important compounds: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is responsible for that “high” that people get from marijuana, which may also play a role in pain relief. CBD doesn’t usually cause an intoxicating feeling, but research suggests it, too, may help ease arthritis symptoms.
These two chemicals both show potential in easing pain, but in different ways. Choosing a product rich in THC, CBD, or both could make a difference in the kind of pain relief you experience — if any. (Here are reasons your CBD product might not be working for you.)
Here’s what experts say about the differences between THC and CBD for pain relief.
How THC and CBD May Offer Pain Relief
CBD and THC activate different cannabinoid receptors in your body that can stimulate or inhibit brain chemicals and cause certain effects.
“We know a lot more about how THC works in terms of the molecular mechanism [than CBD],” says Steve Alexander, associate professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, who researches cannabinoids.
“THC activates certain cannabinoid receptors, one of which is in the nerve cells and the other is in the immune cells. When it activates the one in the nerve cells, it reduces the sensation of pain,” he adds.
The high that THC provides can also play a role in how people experience pain. “A little bit of euphoria can help us not care that we’re experiencing quite as much pain, much in the same way that other pain medications work,” says Angela D. Bryan, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, who has studied cannabis and health.
CBD is much less understood than THC by researchers, although there is anecdotal evidence that it may provide pain relief in some people.
“We’ve got a hypothesis that CBD might have some interference with [the brain chemical] serotonin and some influence on glycine receptors, which may be involved with pain. We think it may do what it does by hitting multiple targets with a fairly light touch,” says Dr. Alexander. “It’s difficult to pick apart — lots of people are trying [to study it], but no one has yet succeeded.”
Researchers have not found much evidence that CBD can offer mental relief from pain. However, the placebo effect may help some individuals experience less pain after taking CBD.
“The human mind is a very powerful thing, and a lot of the ways we experience medication is related to our expectancies about that medication,” says Dr. Bryan.
How CBD Can Help with Anxiety
Scientists suspect that CBD may help relieve anxiety, though. That, in turn, could affect someone’s perception of pain and potentially make them more comfortable. The research is still developing, though, and it’s too early to draw anything conclusive.
“We know that chronic pain patients also have a number of other morbidities, like stress, anxiety, and depression. I’m interested in the possibility that cannabidiol might also have mechanisms by which we can relieve some of those additional problems,” says Dr. Alexander.
That said, CBD may offer pain relief in more physical ways. It seems to show promise in reducing inflammation, which could provide pain relief from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, says Dr. Bryan.
The bottom line: THC seems to have a greater effect on the way the mind perceives pain, whereas CBD may work to ease pain at the local source.
Which Is Better for Pain Relief: THC or CBD?
There’s no definitive answer to the debate between THC and CBD for pain relief. Cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government — a legal status that limits the kinds of research that can be conducted.
Using the current research available, Dr. Bryan says she believes that a combination of THC and CBD together shows the most promise for pain relief.
“To the extent that we have good data, it’s unlikely that either THC or CBD on its own is going to be particularly effective for pain. It probably needs to be a combination of the two,” she explained. “We’re totally speculating at this point, but the way they work together might be that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties while THC has properties that can help us better cope with pain.”
CBD and THC: Side Effects and Legal Concerns
THC might not be an option for everyone, though. Some people may live in states where THC is illegal; while others simply don’t want the psychoactive effects of the substance. In those cases, it might be worth trying CBD on its own to see if it offers pain relief for you.
CBD isn’t legal everywhere either. And in states where CBD is legal, laws can vary as to how much THC is permissible in CBD products in order for them to be legally sold. Many states in which certain CBD products are legal require them to contain less than 0.3 percent THC.
Before trying either substance, it’s worth considering potential side effects they may cause. Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue, and irritability, according to Harvard Health. CBD can also interact with certain medications (such as blood thinners) and either increase or decrease the concentration of certain drugs in the bloodstream.
THC has its own set of side effects, including sleepiness and lethargy, increased appetite, increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction times, memory loss, anxiety, and mood changes.
“It’s quite likely that individuals will respond to different versions of these cannabinoids, and some may not respond at all,” says Dr. Alexander. “There’s a tendency for anecdotal evidence to highlight the positives of people who do respond [to CBD], which is useful, but it’s difficult to measure the numbers of people who don’t get a lasting benefit.”
If you’re interested in trying CBD or THC to manage your pain, talk to your doctor and experiment to see whether CBD or THC (or both) relieves some pain.
You can also learn more in a new, free course on the health effects of THC and CBD, created by Kent Hutchison, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
“Start with low doses and go slowly to find out what works for you,” says Dr. Alexander. “I find it difficult to believe that there is one version of cannabis or CBD that will be best for everyone.” Learn more here about how to find your optimal CBD dose.
How to Treat Tennis Injuries With CBD and THC
Throughout high school and college I loved to play tennis. I had a local park near my house that had overhead lights so that you could stay on the court well into the evening. After school, I would walk to the courts of Kittridge Park and play for hours. After several hours and numerous matches, my knees, wrists, back, and feet would begin to ache from the exertion. If you are like me, and love to play tennis then you have probably had a similar experience. While tennis is a great sport for amateurs and pros alike to play, it can come with some injuries that are common to all who play. Injuries like ankle sprains, painful knees, shoulder and back pain, and of course the most common injury— tennis elbow.
Many people turn to traditional painkillers likeTylenol or Ibuprofen
to fight pain, but cannabis has become a popular natural alternative. Both THC and CBD, the two primary cannabinoids of cannabis, have strong healing potential and can mitigate exercise induced pain and inflammation.
How THC & CBD Work in the Body
Both CBD and THC act on the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) within our bodies. When using a cannabis topical, cannabinoids interact with the two primary receptors (CB1 & CB2) in the ECS. By stimulating the ECS, CBD and THC promote homeostasis, reduce acute pain sensations, and decrease inflammation. Tennis players who are dealing with injuries can benefit from CBD, because of its strong anti-inflammatory properties. THC also has amazing pain fighting properties because it serves as a strong strongest analgesic.
Benefits of CBD for Tennis Injuries
- Non-intoxicating: unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating and will not make you feel ‘high’.
- Target pain and inflammation: Taking a cannabis topical like Papa & Barkley’s Releaf balm, Releaf Soak, or Releaf Body Oil can help target the inflammation and painful muscles.
- Natural stress relief: CBD is a natural stress reliever and can help with concentration. It can help you regulate stress.
- Promote healthy sleep: CBD can helps aid in healthy sleep, which allows your body to recover naturally instead of with the use of other sleep aids.
- Full spectrum cannabinoids: Papa & Barkley CBD is full spectrum, which means you get the full spectrum of cannabinoids to help target elbow pain while providing you with relief from tennis elbow pain and inflammation.
Benefits of THC for Tennis Injuries
- Acute pain relief: THC is a natural analgesic and can mitigate sensations of pain throughout the body.
- Stress relief: THC acts on the same receptors and CBD, promotes calm in the body, and reduces stress naturally.
- Helps regulate appetite: THC has the ability to help regulate appetite and reduces nausea.
- Promote healthier sleep: along with reducing stress THC calms the body and helps aid in more natural, healthy sleep.
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Which Cannabis Products Are Right For Me?
When dealing with common tennis injuries it is best to start with cannabis topicals. The benefit of using a topical is that they provide relief by letting cannabinoids penetrate the skin and interact with our endocannabinoid receptors to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Results can be felt within minutes, and relief can last anywhere from two to four hours. Most importantly, the cannabinoids do not reach the bloodstream, so pain relief is localized where applied, with no intoxication.
For Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains are a common issue for tennis players. The perfect product to use for ankle sprains is Papa & Barkley’s Releaf Balm. Apply liberally to the ankle several times per day and find relief from pain and inflammation.
For Jumper’s Knee
Jumper’s knee can cause aches and pains in a tennis players knee. I would recommend using a topical like Papa & Barkley’s Releaf Soak after your match to maximize your recovery. Drop it into a batch and soak for 30 minutes for a soothing and inflammation reducing recovery session. Pro tip: if you don’t have access to a tub, use the Releaf Soak as a body scrub and then hop in the shower, it works great both ways.
For Shoulder Pain
Rotator cuff injuries are a common occurrence for tennis players. Papa & Barkley’s Releaf Patches are a great way to help reduce inflammation and pain in your shoulders. Apply them to your shoulder for whole body relief all day.
For Back or Spinal Pain
Because tennis requires a lot of physical exertion and impact on the spine, the back muscles of tennis players can become sore or painful. Papa & Barkley’s Body Oil is a perfect remedy to help soothe sore back muscles and reduce natural inflammation.
For Tennis Elbow
You should know about the amazing benefits of using Papa & Barkley CBD balm for relief. If you haven’t, tennis elbow develops over time due to the repetitive nature of tennis swings. I recommend using Papa & Barkley’s Releaf Balm as a means to reduce inflammation and get relief from pain on and off the court.
Which CBD Product is Right for Me?
Using a CBD topical such as Papa & Barkley’s CBD balm, you can get relief from pain while going to the root of the problem; tendon inflammation brought on by tennis swings. Using CBD balm is easy and effective for pain management. When applied, the balm will penetrate the skin and interact with our endocannabinoid receptors to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Results can be felt within minutes, and relief can last anywhere from two to four hours. Most importantly, the cannabinoids do not reach the bloodstream, so pain relief is localized where applied, with no intoxication.
Another way to receive the benefits of CBD is by ingesting in the form of a tincture, like Papa & Barkley’s CBD Hemp Drops. By taking a tincture, tennis players can promote whole body wellness and receive it’s anti-inflammatory properties by dropping a dose under the tongue. When taking a tincture, CBD is metabolized in the stomach like a food or beverage. CBD enters the bloodstream directly and immediately travel to the brain, where they bind to cannabinoid receptor cells. Effects are usually felt within 15 to 45 minutes and last two to three hours.
By taking CBD to help you recover, you can focus on enjoying the thrill of catching that backhand at full sprint the next time you are on the court.
CBD is a Serve Away
For those not in California Papa & Barkley offers CBD derived from Hemp using the same all natural whole plant methods available nationwide.
Here is a quick guide to treating the most common tennis injuries with THC & CBD products: