How much pain is real, how much placebo?


By Denise Mann

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) – CBD is in vogue and millions of people turn to it for a variety of reasons, including pain relief.

But despite the popularity and widespread use of CBD, new research finds that its real benefits are less clear.

The conclusion? CBD, and your expectations about whether it will help (the “placebo effect”), may make the pain feel less annoying, but it doesn’t seem to reduce the intensity of the pain.

“The relief of CBD-induced pain is driven not only by the psychological effects of placebo, but also by pharmacological action,” said study author Martin De Vita, a researcher in the University of Syracuse, New York. “It’s a bit of both.”

CBD, or cannabidiol, is usually derived from hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant, but unlike THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, CBD will not elevate you.

In the new study, 15 healthy, painless volunteers participated in experiments related to their heat response before and after receiving pure CBD oil. To separate the actual effect against placebo, the researchers told participants they had CBD when they actually got a placebo, or vice versa, and performed the experiments again.


“CBD and expectations reduced the emotional component of the pain, or how‘ unpleasant ’it felt,” De Vita said. “While the feeling of pain was not completely eliminated, participants found it less annoying.”

The body’s central nervous system has its own processes for cushioning pain based on information about when (temporal processing) and where (spatial processing) pain is occurring, he explained. “Expectations alone improved temporary pain inhibition and CBD and expectations improved spatial pain inhibition independently, but not when combined,” De Vita said.

Now, researchers hope to see how CBD affects the perception of pain in people with different pain conditions, he noted.

The study was recently published online at Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology.

The researchers chose a pure CBD oil for the study. “Commercially available CBD products differ in their content and purity, so the results may be different for different CBD products, depending on what other compounds they may or may not contain,” De Vita stressed.


Kevin Boehnke, a researcher in the anesthesiology department and the University of Michigan’s Center for Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research in Ann Arbor, agreed.


Be careful with the buyer when choosing CBD products. “If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, medical dispensaries usually have pure CBD products,” Boehnke said. “If not, choose a brand from a reputable company with a third-party approval seal that willingly shares the Certificate of Analysis (COA).” This document provides the results of any test of the supplements, he explained.

Unfortunately, the floodgates are already open when it comes to CBD, and science has a lot to do, said Boehnke, who did not participate in the new study.

“This is an interesting little pilot study that shows that both the effects and placebo and medications are playing a role in how CBD affects pain,” he said. Still, Boehnke warned that this study was conducted on healthy volunteers, so it can’t tell us much about how or if CBD affects people with real pain disorders.

More information

Learn more about the potential risks and benefits of CBD at US Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Martin De Vita, researcher, psychology, Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse, New York; Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., researcher in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Center for Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, April 22, 2021, online

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