A new study suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), a component of marijuana, is effective as an alternative to opioid painkillers for alleviating acute dental pain.
Authored by researchers at Rutgers University, the study was published in the Journal of Dental Research. The trial involved 61 participants with severe dental pain who were randomly assigned either CBD or a placebo. The drug was administered in the form of Epidiolex, an FDA-approved CBD solution.
Researchers then monitored pain levels with a visual analogue scale for three hours. The CBD users reported substantially greater pain reduction than the placebo group. Around 85% saw at least a 50% reduction in pain, with the median reduction in pain at approximately 70%.
Researchers also found the participants who received CBD to have a stronger bite force. This suggests that the CBD improved tooth function, making it particularly useful in cases where pain is reducing the patient’s ability to chew.
Safer pain relief
A key motivation behind the study was to find an equally effective but safer alternative to opioid painkillers.
Vanessa Chrepa, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, is the lead author of the study. She said: ‘The first line of defense for dental pain has always been anti-inflammatory medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). But many patients can’t take such medications or can’t get sufficient relief from them.
‘So, dentists have traditionally been among the largest prescribers of opioid medications, either alone or in combination with these other medications. The rise in opioid-related addiction and death has everyone looking for better alternatives. Things that can alleviate serious pain without hurting so many patients.’
Marijuana and its various components have been explored before as alternatives to opioids. However, the researchers at Rutgers aimed to find a component that is not psychoactive or addictive.
Dr Chepra continued: ‘Much of that research has focused on another component of cannabis called THC, but THC is psychoactive. It gets users high and has other negative effects. We studied cannabidiol or CBD because previous research from other specialties suggested that it might relieve dental pain without any psychoactive effects, which is really what everyone wants to find.’
Further study of marijuana components
Further phase three trials have been proposed to cement the findings of this research.
‘There are more things to study with follow-up research. Can CBD be used to manage postoperative pain for patients who have undergone tooth extraction or root canal? Can we get even better pain relief by combining it with other agents like Tylenol?’ Dr Chepra said.
‘I am looking forward to translating this into common practice. It will tremendously help patients with acute toothache and possibly other acute inflammatory pain conditions’
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