Cannabidiol (CBD) seems to reduce the unpleasantness of pain, a finding that surprised the researchers behind a new, first-of-its-kind study.
- Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound of the cannabis plant that's significantly less psychoactive than THC, the active ingredient of marijuana.
- CBD is often used to treat chronic pain, but there's been a lack of empirical research on the cannabinoid's analgesic effects.
- The new study was designed to test whether CBD actually relieves pain or whether its perceived benefits are the result of expectations.
As more U.S. states ease regulations on marijuana, cannabis' second-most widely used compound, cannabidiol (CBD), has become one of the world's fastest-growing industries. Currently worth more than $1 billion, the industry is expected to grow to $16 billion by 2025. And that's largely due to the perceived therapeutic benefits of CBD.
One of the top three reasons people consume CBD is to treat chronic pain, according to a cross-sectional study of more than 2,400 CBD users. But can CBD actually treat pain?
Putting CBD to the test
A new study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology is the first to explore that question using experimental pain trials. The results suggest that CBD really does treat pain, rather than just delivering a placebo effect at prices that sometimes match dispensary-grade marijuana.
"For science and the public at large the question remained, is the pain relief that CBD users claim to experience due to pharmacological effects or placebo effects," Martin De Vita, a researcher in the psychology department in the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release.
"That's a fair question because we know that simply telling someone that a substance has the ability to relieve their pain can actually cause robust changes in their pain sensitivity. These are called expectancy effects."
To differentiate between expectancy effects and genuine pharmacological effects, the researchers asked 15 healthy adults to participate in a study involving a device that induces controlled levels of heat pain. After assessing participants' initial response to the heat pain, they completed four sessions, each of which involved taking pure CBD oil or a placebo.
But the participants weren't always correctly told which was which. The sessions were structured like this:
- Participants were told the substance was a placebo, and were given a placebo
- Told it was CBD, given placebo
- Told it was placebo, given CBD
- Told it was CBD, given CBD
By structuring the study this way, the researchers "could parse out whether it was the drug that relieved the pain, or whether it was the expectation that they had received the drug that reduced their pain," De Vita said.
Human CBD Receptor ChartAbout time via Adobe Stock
"We hypothesized that we would primarily detect expectancy-induced placebo analgesia (pain relief). What we found though after measuring several different pain outcomes is that it's actually a little bit of both. That is, we found improvements in pain measures caused by the pharmacological effects of CBD and the psychological effects of just expecting that they had gotten CBD. It was pretty remarkable and surprising."
CBD didn't seem to reduce pain intensity, but participants who consumed it did report reductions in the unpleasantness of pain — even when they were told they were consuming a placebo. While reducing pain intensity might seem like the preferable metric, De Vita noted that pain exists not only in a sensory dimension but also an emotional one.
Effects of cannabidiol and expectancies on pain. Credit: De Vita et al.
"It's not sunshine and rainbows pleasant, but something slightly less bothersome," he said. "We replicated that in this study and found that CBD and expectancies didn't significantly reduce the volume of the pain, but they did make it less unpleasant—it didn't bother them as much."
Ultimately, the researchers said they were surprised to find that CBD's pain-relieving attributes extend beyond mere expectancy. But understanding exactly how CBD interacts with the body's pain-response processes, and how its analgesic aspects might help treat other conditions like anxiety, remain topics for further study.
Research from Ohio State finds that acetaminophen affects our emotions.
- Previous research has shown that acetaminophen dulls both our positive and negative feelings.
- The new study finds that those taking the drug consider risks they've been presented as less scary.
- Acetaminophen is an important everyday painkiller, so it's a good idea to factor in what it may be doing to our judgement.
Acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol and about 600 other medicines — is a pretty remarkable pain remedy for all sorts of things, including headaches. A new study finds that it's even more remarkable than many of us realized: It actually changes the way we assess risks.
According to Dr. Baldwin Way, co-author of the study from Ohio State University, "acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities — they just don't feel as scared."
Considering how many of us take acetaminophen occasionally or regularly, this is no small thing. As Dr. Way puts it, "with nearly 25 percent of the population in the U.S. taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society."
The study builds on earlier research conducted by Way revealing acetaminophen's psychological effects. That earlier work found that taking acetaminophen caused a reduction in both positive and negative emotions when study participants considered their own hurt feelings or joy, or another person's suffering.
The new study is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Walking alone in a scary part of town
Credit: Francois Hoang/Unsplash
As part of the study, individuals rated the degree of risk they perceived in a range of activities such as "bungee jumping off a tall bridge" and "speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work." They considered these activities to be less risky than a control group not taking the medication.
In the first of the study's experiments, 189 college students took either 1,000 mg of acetaminophen — the standard dosage for headache pain — or a similar-looking placebo.
After giving the acetaminophen time to take effect, those in the study ranked the level of risk they perceived to be associated with a series of activities, on a scale of 1 to 7. Among the activities were walking alone in an unsafe area after dark, bungee jumping, changing careers in one's 30s, and taking a skydiving class. The students taking acetaminophen considered these activities less risky than the control group.
An additional three studies in which individuals participated in an online risk game confirmed this result. In this game, you click to pump up a virtual balloon — as the balloon gets bigger, you earn more money. If the balloon pops, you lose your earnings.
The acetaminophen-takers proved to be bolder than their control counterparts. People in the control group pumped less and successfully cashed out more often. Recalls Dr. Way, "for those who are on acetaminophen, as the balloon gets bigger, we believe they have less anxiety and less negative emotion about how big the balloon is getting and the possibility of it bursting." They pumped more times, and indeed popped more balloons.
Acetaminophen is an important weapon in the modern medical arsenal. Dr. Way points out that it's the CDC's recommended go-to drug for COVID-19 symptoms. In addition to calming our pounding noggins, surgeons typically prescribe acetaminophen, often with codeine, for post-surgical pain relief; your dentists may also suggest it. Its value lies in how well it works, and also that it's more gentle on our digestive systems than some other painkillers such as NSAIDs, drugs that contain ibuprofen. NSAIDs taken regularly pose danger to one's digestive tract.
Given that we're unlikely to stop taking acetaminophen for our aches and pains, the study represents a helpful little wakeup call. Perhaps we should pump the brakes a bit as we consider risks when we're taking acetaminophen. Take a beat, think twice, and only then carefully secure that bungee cord before you leap.
The goal of this large-scale study was to provide actionable information on how to avoid depression or decrease depressive symptoms.
- Depression is a very common mental disorder, with more than 264 million people struggling with this issue worldwide. According to WHO, depression is a leading cause of disability.
- Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors.
- A new large-scale Harvard Medical School study suggests daytime napping and frequent television-watching may be negatively contributing to depression.
Depression is a common mental disorder, with more than 264 million people (of all ages) who struggle with this issue.
There are several different types of depression, with the two most common being:
- Recurrent depressive disorder
- Bipolar affective disorder
Depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. While there are several effective treatments for depression (including antidepressant medications), there are also lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or lessen the impact of depressive symptoms.
This large-scale, two-stage approach study scanned a wide range of modifiable factors that could be associated with the risk of developing depression...
Photo by Pressmaster on Shutterstock
According to a large-scale (over 100,000 participants) study out of Harvard Medical School, there are many ways you can lessen the impact of depression. The study focused on the lifestyle factors that you can easily modify if you suffer from depression.
The researchers took a two-stage approach to this study. The first stage drew on a database of over 100,000 participants in the UK Biobank to systematically scan a wide range of modifiable factors that could be associated with the risk of developing depression. These modifiable factors included things like social interaction, media use, sleeping patterns, diet, physical activity, and environmental exposures.
The second stage of this study was to narrow down the field to a smaller set of promising and potentially causal targets for depression. Throughout this two-step process, they were able to determine certain behaviors that can directly influence depression.
Confiding in and socializing with others could lessen depression symptoms.
Lead author Jordan Smoller, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School explains to Fast Company: "Far and away, the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlights the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion."
This is further backed up by previous research done on the health benefits of socializing. According to Psychology Today, interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. This helpful article lists several ways you can slowly incorporate more socialization into your life, with things like Skype/Facetime calls with family and friends, taking a new class, or volunteering at a charity organization.
Your television habits may be negatively impacting your depression.
The study suggests certain behaviors (such as watching television) could be associated with depression, but it isn't the first of it's kind to make that connection.
In fact, there have been several studies (including this one from 2017), that have suggested there is a link between how much television you watch and your mental health. Most of these studies conclude that the more television you watch, the worse your mental health can be.
Daytime napping also negatively impacts depression.
While it's common knowledge that a healthy sleeping pattern can positively impact your mental and physical health, did you know that having a nap during the daytime can impact depression? However, more research is needed to determine exactly why. The study suggests that both daytime napping and excessive television consumption could be proxies for sedentary behavior which would then impact your mental health.
The goal of this study was to provide actionable information on preventing and avoiding depression symptoms.
The research on depression and various mental health conditions has been ramping up and along with it, there will hopefully be more answers to these questions. As for this study, researchers explain that they wanted to leave readers with actionable advice on daily habits that could be contributing to their depressive symptoms.
"Depression takes an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society, yet we still know very little about how to prevent it," said Smoller in an interview. "We hope this work will motivate further efforts to develop actionable strategies for preventing depression."
Addiction is not a moral failure. It is a learning disorder, and viewing it otherwise stops communities and policy makers from the ultimate goal: harm reduction.
- "Why are some drugs legal and others illegal? ... if you ask how and why this distinction got made, what you realize when you look at the history is it has almost nothing to do with the relative risks of these drugs and almost everything to do with who used and who was perceived to use these drugs," says Ethan Nadelmann.
- In this video, Maia Szalavitz, public policy and addiction journalist; Carl Hart, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Columbia University; Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance; and Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron dissect why American society's perceptions of drug addiction and its drug policies are so illogical.
- Drug addiction is not a moral failure and the stereotypes about who gets addicted are not true. Policy that is built to punish drug users for their immorality only increases harm and death rates.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen might have discovered a cure.
Pain is all in your head—specifically, your nervous system. We all know about acute pain. Stub your toe or place your hand on a hot stove and the signals to your brain are immediate.
Interestingly, a small group of people suffer from congenital analgesia—they never feel pain. While this might sound nice, this condition means you're more likely to die because you can't tell when your body needs attention. Burn injuries are more common. People who suffer from this also tend to partake in more extreme sports, which also increases their risk of death.
Pain is a signal that something is wrong. Sometimes this system is thwarted in the opposite direction as well. Chronic pain results due to inflammation or dysfunctional nerves. An estimated 7-10 percent of the world's population suffers from this condition, with over three million cases in the US every year. While a few treatments could alleviate chronic pain—cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, massage, mindfulness meditation, or electrical stimulation—there is currently no cure.
How Meditation Can Manage Chronic Pain and Stress | Daniel Goleman
A new study at the University of Copenhagen might have uncovered a breakthrough in chronic pain relief. Published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, researchers achieved complete pain relief in a group of mice by using a compound, Tat-P4-(C5)2, that was produced after a decade of development.
According to the team, this peptide only targets dysfunctional nerves causing the pain. In previous studies the team discovered it also helps reduce addiction. These two uses are not separate: chronic pain often leads to opioid addiction. By reducing pain, dependency on pain relievers may also be reduced.
So far, co-author Kenneth L. Madsen, Associate Professor at the Department of Neuroscience in Copenhagen, says there have been no side effects. Pain medicine often results in lethargic states, a condition not observed in the mice. Madsen hopes to turn this discovery into a business model.
"Now, our next step is to work towards testing the treatment on people. The goal, for us, is to develop a drug, therefore the plan is to establish a biotech company as soon as possible so we can focus on this."
Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display on March 23, 2016 in Norwich, CT. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed, in an effort to curb the epidemic.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Chronic pain is most often prevalent in the back, muscles, bones, neck, joints, and face. Associated problems include headache, sleeping problems, fatigue, and anxiety. It has been known to last anywhere from weeks to years. Other factors that lead to chronic pain include diabetes and psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression.
Self-care treatments include regular physical exercise, stress management techniques, and relaxation. A combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, yoga, and meditation can help mitigate chronic pain. Of course, depending on pain location and severity, some of these interventions might not be tenable.
Besides the above treatments, there are pharmaceutical interventions, such as analgesics and narcotics. The problem, as the researchers note, is the addiction that follows. These drugs do not cure the problem. They only mask symptoms. Long-term side effects sometimes turn out worse than the pain itself.
Human trials will be next in the development of this peptide. There is always the possibility that it reacts differently in humans. Still, this is a positive step forward that could help millions of people find relief from one of the most frustrating and debilitating conditions known.