Endocannabinoids or CBD for Pain?

Endocannabinoids are human cannabinoids naturally produced by the human body.

CBD is a plant cannabinoid naturally produced by cannabis plant.

Both endocannabinoids and CBD work with your body's endocannabinoid system.  

When you take CBD, it enters your body and travels around in your blood. From there, it enters various cells and tissues and interacts with different chemical receptors.

This interaction, adjusts your body's chemical signalling system and improves its ability to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance.

In this article you will discover how the status of your endocannabinoid tone can relate to acute pain, chronic pain, neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain.

 

Your Endocannabinoid Tone

One way that CBD influences your overall health and wellbeing is by improving your natural endocannabinoid tone.

Endocannabinoid Tone Range


Endocannabinoid tone refers to the level of potential endocannabinoid activity in your body and the ability of your endocannabinoid system to respond to any problems. 

Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a collection of receptors, signalling molecules and enzymes in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

CB1 - An endocannabinoid receptor found in the central nervous system.

CB2 - An endocannabinoid receptor present in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous systems and in immune cells throughout the body

Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) - These are endocannabinoid signalling molecules present in humans and animals. They can interact with a range of chemical receptors including CB1 and CB2.

FAAH and MAGL - These are the enzymes responsible for breaking down cannabinoids in our body once they have completed their message signalling.

Endocannabinoid Tone 

Low Endocannabinoid Tone

Low Endocannabinoid Tone - You may feel unwell, experience the symptoms of illness or an increase in pain-related conditions.

Balanced Endocannabinoid Tone

Balanced Endocannabinoid Tone - You will likely feel healthy, but small changes could quickly change your tone higher or lower.

Naturally High Endocannabinoid Tone

Naturally High Endocannabinoid Tone – You should feel great, have fewer illnesses and find it easy to stay active.

A medium or naturally high endocannabinoid tone can be achieved with a good diet, regular exercise or by taking CBD. 

To find out more about your endocannabinoid tone and what happens to it when you take CBD,  please visit out article Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD.

Endocannabinoid Tone and Acute Pain

Acute Pain

Acute pain is a short and sharp expression of pain usually linked to injury or illness. In most cases, it lasts only as long as whatever is causing it.

Most definitions refer to it as pain that lasts for less than five months.
Examples of the causes of acute pain include:

  • Tissue damage caused by surgery
  • Tissue damage caused by injury
  • Inflammation, swelling or damage caused by infection or short term illness
  • Bone or connective tissue damage

When your body is damaged in this way, your nerves transmit the information to your brain in the form of pain.

This tells you that something is wrong and that you may need to remove yourself from a dangerous situation or seek medical help.

Pain is produced when nerve cells called nociceptors (pain receptors) are stimulated and transmit a message to the brain.

When your body's endocannabinoids anandamide and 2AG bind with endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, they interfere with and adapt these transmissions.

CB1 receptors are found in abundance throughout your central nervous system, particularly in areas involved with the transmission of pain signals.

When endocannabinoids bind with receptors in these areas, they are able to inhibit these signals on their journey, reducing the intensity of the signal and affecting the emotional components of the pain.

Some studies also suggest that CB1 receptors found in your peripheral nervous system are involved in inhibiting and moderating pain signals as they travel from the source of the problem to your brain.

As well as directly inhibiting the transmission of pain, a balanced or high endocannabinoid tone will allow your body to respond effectively to the injury or illness that has caused the pain.

Balanced Endocannabinoid Tone

With enough receptors, endocannabinoids and enzymes, the systems that respond to disease will communicate more accurately and effectively.

This is because the endocannabinoid system is involved in several mechanisms that allow for minute chemical adjustments to be made to neurons.

These adjustments optimise chemical and electrical signalling resulting in more effective responses to illness and stressors.

Endocannabinoid Tone and Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that persists for 12 weeks or more.

In some cases, it may have started out as acute pain caused by illness or injury, but it persists in a way that could be unrelated to the initial problem.

However, chronic pain can also develop without any noticeable physical condition to initiate it. 

Chronic pain can be the result of nerve damage, inflammation or illness. Conditions commonly linked to chronic pain include:

  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • fibromyalgia
  • irritable bowel syndrome

Some forms of chronic pain can be difficult to treat and may not be affected by traditional medicines like paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen.

While endocannabinoid tone will likely have an effect on how you perceive acute pain, most clinical trials indicate that stimulation of the endocannabinoid system is even more effective for chronic pain conditions

Scientists suggest that stimulating your endocannabinoid system and maintaining a good endocannabinoid tone shows promise as an effective way to manage chronic pain.

Balanced Endocannabinoid Tone

It may also reduce the risk of the side effects that come with some standard treatments.

CB1 receptors are situated in many of the regions associated with chronic pain processing.

When anandamide binds with CB1 receptors on nerve cells, it activates channels that alter the electrical and chemical activity of the neuron.

This doesn’t stop the transmission of pain signals, but instead regulates and adjusts them.

CB2 receptors are found throughout your body in tissues, organs and immune cells.

When activated by endocannabinoids, they inhibit the release of several chemical signalling molecules, including cytokines.

Scientists have found that the expression of cytokines is linked to many chronic pain conditions and controlling them is key to effective pain management.

Both receptors also produce a range of other effects that regulate chronic pain when they’re activated by anandamide or 2AG.

This includes the release of endorphins, moderation of inflammation and the regulation of neurotransmitters that control pain processing within the central nervous system.

Endocannabinoid Tone and Neuropathic Pain

Nerve Cell Health


Neuropathic pain is pain caused by nerves that are damaged or not working correctly.

It’s usually described as a sharp shooting, stabbing or burning sensation.

Neuropathic pain can become chronic and may even last for years.

Some forms of neuropathic pain, known as allodynia, are painful reactions to non-painful actions such as a light touch.

It can be challenging to tell what is causing neuropathic pain, but the most common causes are:

  • diabetes
  • nerve problems
  • shingles
  • central nervous system disorders
  • cancer
  • complications from surgery

The behaviour of the endocannabinoid system related to neuropathic pain has been the focus of several scientific studies.

It was discovered that higher levels of CB1 and CB2 receptors are produced along the pain processing pathways from damaged nerves.

If you have a high endocannabinoid tone and there are enough endocannabinoids present, they will bind with these extra receptors to produce an antinociceptive effect that reduces the intensity of the pain.

Endocannabinoid Tone and Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive Pain (bruise)


Nociceptive pain is produced when damage or potential damage is detected by nociceptors.

This is the most common type of pain and is usually caused by physical issues such as:

  • cuts
  • bruises
  • fractures
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • inflammation from illness or disease

This type of pain can be acute or chronic, depending on how long it lasts and how it’s produced.

Anandamide and 2AG can bond with CB1 or CB2 receptors when you have a medium or high endocannabinoid tone.

This interaction regulates the activity of your nociceptors.

This is the case for most types of nociceptive pain; however, some research indicates that in some situations, activations of the endocannabinoid receptors can both reduce and increase the activity of pain receptors.

This likely indicates that endocannabinoids are more effective at reducing some forms of nociceptive pain than others.

Further research into this area is needed to give a more detailed view of exactly when these effects are produced.

Conclusion

Your endocannabinoid tone reflects the level of endocannabinoid activity in your body.

Endocannabinoid activity is directly related to pain signalling and your body's ability to respond to pain with the hope of resolving it.

The higher your endocannabinoid tone, the better equipped your body is to dealing with pain.