CBD, Expectation of Receiving CBD Both Demonstrate Reduction in Unpleasantness of Pain

Study finds that cannabidiol (CBD) and expectancies for receiving CBD do not appear to reduce experimental pain intensity but do make the pain feel less unpleasant.

According to a study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, cannabidiol

(CBD) and expectancies for receiving CBD do not appear to reduce experimental pain intensity but do make the pain feel less unpleasant.

"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?" said Martin De Vita, researcher in the psychology department at Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences, 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 conduct the study, the researchers used equipment to safely induce experimental heat pain, allowing them to measure how the recipient's nervous system reacts and responds to it. Then, either CBD or a placebo is administered, and pain response is re-assessed.

Further, some participants were told they would be receiving CBD when they were given the placebo, and some were told they were given the placebo when they were given CBD in order to analyze whether any reduction in perceived pain was due to the pharmacological effects of CBD or the expectation of receiving it.

“We hypothesized that we would primarily detect expectancy-induced placebo analgesia (pain relief),” De Vita said in the release. “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.”

Pain is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, influenced by both psychological and biological factors. Pain intensity refers to the sensory dimension of pain, whereas unpleasantness reflects the emotional aspect of pain. According to the researchers, although the pain intensity was not significantly decreased by either CBD or CBD expectancy, both made the pain slightly less bothersome to the participants.

“It's not just pain, yes or no, but there are these other dimensions of pain, and it would be interesting to see which ones are being targeted,” De Vita said in the release. “We found that sometimes pharmacological effects of CBD brought down some of those, but the expectancies did not. Sometimes they both did it. Sometimes it was just the expectancy. And so, we were going into this thinking we were going to primarily detect the expectancy-induced pain relief but what we found out was way more complex than that and that's exciting.”


Research shows pain relieving effects of CBD [news release]. EurekAlert; April 23, 2021. Accessed April 26, 2021. https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/su-rsp_1042321.php