Researchers at Syracuse University have discovered CBD may reduce the feelings of unpleasantness associated with pain, helping patients tolerate it more effectively, even when not lowering its intensity.

The placebo-controlled investigation into CBD’s effects on acute pain involved 15 participants over four sessions.

Each were randomly assigned different treatments at each session: control (told inactive, given inactive); expectancy (told active CBD, given inactive); drug (told inactive, given active CBD); and expectancy plus drug (told active CBD, given active CBD).

During each session the participants were exposed to a heat source to simulate acute pain and different measures were used to quantify each person’s experience, including empirical scales and subjective ratings of sensations such as pain intensity or unpleasantness.

Co-author Martin De Vita said: “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.”

Some measures, such as pain tolerance and intensity, showed no significant changes across all four experimental conditions.

However, the researchers said the results were complex, with various differences in effects depending on the pain measurement scale used.

“We were going into this thinking we were going to primarily detect expectancy-induced pain relief, but what we found out was way more complex than that and that’s exciting.”

De Vita added pain is multidimensional and future work is needed to establish what kinds CBD may work for.

“It’s not just pain, yes or no. We were going into this thinking we were going to primarily detect expectancy-induced pain relief, but what we found out was way more complex than that and that’s exciting.”

Fellow researcher Stephen Maisto said the findings are only the beginning in understanding how CBD could be used for pain management.

“The next step is studying the mechanisms underlying these findings and figuring out why giving instructions or CBD itself causes certain reactions to a pain stimulus.”

The study was published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.