There’s a lot of misconception about the difference between muscle relaxers and painkillers, and what roles CBD oil (and cannabis in general) plays as an alternative treatment option for both.
First, painkillers function via the central nervous system (CNS); they work to “deceive” the mind into thinking there is no pain, when in reality there is.
Consider a serious bone fracture. A skateboarder shatters his tibia into 19 different pieces, and is rushed to the nearest emergency room. Once the doctors shoot him up with dilaudid (or morphine, or whatever), the pain receptors in his brain are blocked off, and he becomes none the wiser in regard to the searing pain that’s coursing through his body. In fact, he’s probably happy as a clam.
Muscle relaxers (also known in the clinical world as neuromuscular blocking agents) work in a different manner. Instead of functioning through the CNS by blocking pain transmissions at the brain, they function at the actual site of the muscle(s), cutting off nerve transmissions at the acute musculoskeletal level. In general terms, you might think of painkillers as affecting the brain, and muscle relaxers as affecting actual muscles.
Understandably, this brings about some confusion as to what cannabis’ exact role is in terms of pain management. We all know that CBD is an excellent pain modulator within the central nervous system, but does it function at the actual site of muscles as well? In other words, is CBD oil as a muscle relaxer an actual thing, or are people just getting the terms ‘muscle relaxers’ and ‘painkillers’ mixed up?
As it turns out, cannabis does in fact function quite well as both a neurological “painkiller” and an acute neuromuscular blocking agent.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly how CBD as a muscle relaxant functions at the physiological level. A lot of people recently have outright switched over from their prescription relaxant medications to CBD oils (for a number of different reasons which we’ll talk about below), but, as is always the case when it comes to the health of your body, it pays to actually know what’s going on at the physiological level before you consider jumping headlong into a brand new medication or treatment option.
Muscle Relaxers: What are they, and why are they dangerous?
Liked we explained briefly, muscle relaxers essentially work by severing neurological communications between the CNS (the brain) and the actual muscles themselves. In that regard, relaxants and painkillers are indeed quite similar, with the only real difference being the location in which the nerve transmissions are interrupted.
Now bear in mind that is a pretty broad, relative explanation – if a neurologist were to read that, they’d probably have a fit and feel inclined to elaborate on several dozen different things in order to provide a more exacting definition. But for our purposes, it will suffice.
In terms of the different kinds of muscle relaxers out there, several different types are commonly prescribed to treat localized spasticity. More often than not they’re used as acute (temporary) treatments, but in some instances they can be used along with opioid painkillers for effective treatment of chronic pain as well.
Xanax and Valium are probably the two most well-known muscle relaxers, and belong to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Though they’re most often used as anti-anxiety or sleep medications, they have good muscle-relaxing properties as well. Valium especially is a frequently prescribed relaxant for mild to moderate acute musculoskeletal pain wherein full-strength opioid painkillers are unnecessary.
Drugs like Zanaflex (tizanidine) are common as well, and work to reduce spasticity in cases of spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis (of which CBD is another great treatment option, by the way).
And lastly, prescription medications like Soma (carisoprodol) , Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) and Robaxin represent the strongest class of muscle relaxants. These are Schedule IV Controlled Substances (as are Xanax and Valium), which produce meprobamate as a byproduct of their chemical breakdown – a powerful tranquilizer that produces a sensation of whole-body euphoria and easily galvanizes instances of dependence, abuse, and full-on addiction.
While not statistically as dangerous as opioid painkillers, prescription muscle relaxants still present a dangerous array of potential side effects (such as depression, low blood pressure, and liver problems), and can even be fatal when combined with alcohol or over the counter sleep medications. (Sadly, common muscle relaxants are often combined with heavy alcohol use as a potential means for suicide).
What are Muscle Relaxants Used for?
Muscle relaxers are used for uncontrollable muscle spasms that originate via neurological impulses sent from the central nervous system. These spasms (which can be extremely painful) can originate from a number of different things, including spinal cord injury or damage (the CNS is composed of the brain and spinal cord), diseases like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and fibromyalgia, or simply from acute muscle strains and tears.
In any regard, pharmaceutical relaxants are prescribed to treat these involuntary muscle contractions. The relaxants work, as we described earlier, by interrupting neurological communication at the site of the muscle; the spastic signals from the CNS are blocked, and the muscles literally are relaxed and become shut down. (Some relaxants are even used during surgery to provide temporary paralysis).
You can see then, the difference between the function of painkillers and muscle relaxants; in our aforementioned hypothetical situation of the skateboarder with the shattered tibia, a muscle relaxant would be an entirely insufficient treatment – he’s dealing with severe acute trauma, not spastic neurological signals between the CNS and various muscle groups.
CBD Oil as Muscle Relaxant: So how does it work?
With the fundamental understanding of muscle relaxants and what they actually do behind us, we can now look into the physiological roles of CBD (cannabidiol) oil, and how it functions as a neuromuscular blocker.
When muscle groups contract (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), it is in response to a nerve impulse that originates from within the central nervous system. Long neurons extend from the spinal cord and stretch outwards to various organs and muscle groups throughout the body. When these neurons reach the synapse of a particular group of muscle fibers, cell-to-cell communication takes place and the fibers are “ordered” to contract. (That’s a pretty elementary way to put it, but it will have to suffice in order to skip over talking about action potentials, sarcomeres, and ion differentiation across cell membranes).
In any regard, in order for CBD to work as a muscle relaxant, cannabinoid receptors must be present at the site of muscular synapses. This is where the endocannabinoid system comes in.
If you haven’t heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), you need to inform yourself now. In short, it is an innate network of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that occur 100% naturally in the human body. Everyone has the receptors, whether they’ve smoked marijuana everyday for 50 years or have never touched the drug in their life.
The remarkable thing is, studies have shown the ECS to be present in virtually every single physiological system in the human body (thus explaining the incredibly far-reaching medical potential of cannabis).
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), in fact, has gone so far as to call the endocannabinoid system “…the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
And indeed, in specific terms of the ECS as a regulatory device in the contraction of muscle tissue, studies have shown innate cannabinoid receptors to exist in the ‘signaling machinery’ of skeletal muscle. In other words, they’ve shown cannabinoids (such as CBD) and their receptors to play a significant role in the communication between muscle groups and the neurons that control them.
Now, bear in mind that research is still a long ways off in regards to pinpointing how exactly this works, and how exactly the ECS functions in regard to the overall chemical pathways of cell-to-cell communication. One thing is for certain, though — cannabinoids absolutely play a part in the alleviation of muscle spasticity.
In fact, cannabis has for years shown excellent results in multiple sclerosis patients that deal with chronic spasticity as an everyday occurrence. It’s only been somewhat recently, though, that individuals have started using the oil to treat spasms stemming from other conditions as well.
Why CBD Oil?
If you’re wondering why we keep talking about CBD, or if you’re wondering what the heck it even is, it’s essentially a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that’s extracted directly from the marijuana plant.
The two primary cannabinoids in marijuana are THC and CBD. THC, of course, is the psychoactive component that’s responsible for getting us high. When you smoke a joint, for example, you inhale both CBD and THC. CBD oil is simply an all-natural extraction of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid – that is, a way to receive all of the medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis, without having to get high.
CBD as a Muscle Relaxant: The Bottom Line
In conclusion, it’s clear that alleviating muscle spasms at the molecular level is just one of the many potential clinical uses of CBD. Thousands upon thousands of people have already switched over to it from prescription medications like carisoprodol or benzodiazepines, having been steered away from their high costs and dangerous side effects.
Keep in mind, though, that CBD oil for muscle spasms will not have the same guaranteed effect on everyone. If you’re considering using it for your own condition, make sure you do your proper research and select a tincture that’s both reputable and been proven to work.
The oils we’ve selected below have been some of the most reputable and proven brands so far over the years, that’ve shown good results for a variety of muscle and pain-related conditions, including spasticity.
- Full-spectrum Hemp extract
- No pesticides, solvents or chemical fertilizers
- 3rd party laboratory tested
- Price Range ($48.00 – $139.00)
- Maximum potency and purity
- Compounded by a licensed pharmacist
- Highly concentrated extraction process
- Price Range ($26-$169)
- Over 5 Years Experience
- 3rd party laboratory tested
- Organic hemp CO2 extract tincture
- Price Range ($62.00 – $204.00)
- Organic hemp CO2 extract tincture
- Available in Cinnamint & Natural
- Full-spectrum extract
- Price Range ($39 - $249)