Anyone who has experienced a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder knows how painful it can be.
If you have pain or discomfort from TMJ, you may be wondering if cannabidiol (CBD) can help.
Keep reading to find out what available research says about CBD’s effectiveness on TMJ pain.
The temporomandibular joint is the one that connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the skull.
Located on both sides of your head (in front of your ears) this joint lets your jaws open and close. It’s most famous for letting you talk and eat (hopefully not at the same time).
TMJ is often used to describe a group of health conditions linked to the jaw, but it’s quickly becoming abbreviated as TMD (temporomandibular disorders) or TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder) to separate the joint itself from disorders that affect the joint.
The most common symptom of TMJD is jaw pain and pain in nearby muscles.
Other common symptoms include:
- pain in the face or neck
- stiff jaw muscles
- limited jaw movement
- locking of the jaw
- clicking or popping sound from the TMJ site
- shift in the jaw, changing the way that the upper and lower teeth align (malocclusion)
These may happen on both sides of the face, or just one.
Most of the time, the causes of TMJ disorders are unknown.
Sometimes, trauma to the jaw or joint may be a factor, along with other often associated factors, like:
- erosion of the joint
- structural jaw problems present at birth
- frequent grinding or clenching of the teeth
There are other health conditions that may play a part in some cases of TMJD, including:
- orthodontic braces
- posture that strains the muscles of the neck and face
- continual stress
- diet that lacks important nutrients
- lack of sleep
It’s important to point out that these factors haven’t been shown to cause TMJD.
TMJ disorders are typically treated at home with some self-care practices or home remedies.
The following may help ease TMJ symptoms:
- eating soft foods
- avoiding chewing gum and hard foods (beef jerky, candy, etc.)
- applying ice to reduce swelling
- lessening jaw movements
- lowering stress
- using jaw-stretching exercises to help expand jaw movement
Some cases may require your doctor to prescribe or suggest the following:
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications (such as ibuprofen)
- medications to relax jaw muscles (Flexeril, Soma, or Valium)
- medications to help lessen swelling in the jaw (corticosteroid drugs)
- stabilization splints or bite guards to prevent teeth grinding
- Botox to relax the jaw nerves and muscles
- cognitive behavioral therapy to help lower stress
Although it’s rare, your doctor may suggest corrective dental surgery, arthrocentesis (surgery to remove debris and fluid from the joint), or joint replacement surgery.
Cannabidiol — more commonly known as CBD — is just one of over 120 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant, but it’s one of the most popular.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the three main forms of CBD:
- Full-spectrum CBD. This includes all the naturally available compounds of the cannabis plant, which means it has some THC in it. Typically, hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD includes no more than 0.3 percent THC at the dry weight. THC levels rise, however, when the flowers are extracted into oil.
- Broad-spectrum CBD. This includes all the naturally occurring compounds, except for THC. Usually, all THC is removed, with only a trace amount left. Broad-spectrum THC should still include terpenes and flavonoids.
- CBD isolate. This is the purest form of CBD available. It’s separated from all the other compounds of the hemp plant.
To understand how CBD works, we first have to take a look at the endocannabinoid system (ECS), an intricate cell-signaling system detected by early 1990s researchers studying THC.
This system is present in the body whether you use cannabis or not. It includes three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Believe it or not, researchers are still trying to nail down all the specifics of the ECS. What we know for sure is that it has a hand in regulating a slew of functions and processes, like:
- reproduction and fertility
Researchers don’t yet fully understand how CBD interacts with the ECS. They do know, however, that it doesn’t bind to the two main endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, the same way THC does.
While many experts think CBD works by stopping endocannabinoids from breaking down — letting them have more of an effect on your body — others imagine that CBD works by binding to a receptor that we haven’t discovered yet.
The entourage effect
CBD and THC are the best-known cannabis compounds but they differ in one major way: THC makes users feel “high,” while CBD doesn’t.
When CBD and THC work together, however, they create what’s called the entourage effect.
This theory suggests that, when all the cannabis compounds are taken together, they deliver stronger effects than when taken alone.
Research on CBD is ongoing, and there’s still quite a lot we don’t know yet. Additionally, research on CBD’s effectiveness for TMJ pain specifically is limited.
There’s also a clinical trial in progress, looking to see if CBD, when taken orally, can offer pain relief and improved jaw function for those living with TMJ disorders.
In general, researchers have found that specific components of cannabis, including CBD, are to thank for pain-relieving effects.
For example, a 2018 review looked at how well CBD can help ease chronic pain.
The review surveyed studies performed between 1975 and March 2018. These studies explored several types of pain, including:
Researchers determined, based on those studies, that CBD was helpful in overall pain management and didn’t trigger negative side effects.
- changes in appetite
- changes in weight
It’s best to talk with your doctor before trying CBD. This is especially important if you’re taking any medications. CBD may interact with some medications.
Although CBD products are just about everywhere, you’ll want to take a close look at what you’re buying and where it’s coming from before opening your wallet.
The FDA hasn’t approved any OTC CBD products yet, so it can be hard to know if what you’re buying is high quality.
Look for transparency, and buy directly
CBD companies should be clear and direct on their websites about how their products are made and where their hemp is grown. It’s important that this information is provided to you by the company directly, which means avoiding online marketplaces.
This includes steering clear of Amazon for CBD shopping. Amazon doesn’t permit CBD product sales through its site, so any items you find listed there are probably fake.
Do a reputation check
Once you’ve found a brand you’re interested in, do a quick search to see if the company has any pending lawsuits or has received any warning letters from the FDA.
You can also check online reviews. Though, keep in mind that some brand websites may only publish positive reviews.
Now that you’ve found your brand, check out the product’s listed ingredients. This is where you can find out if it has any ingredients you may be allergic to, or if it features any added ingredients that may be helpful with the condition you’re looking to treat.
Check for third-party lab tests
It’s essential to see the testing your product has undergone.
The safest, best CBD products come with up-to-date, comprehensive certificates of analysis (COAs) from reputable third-party labs.
The COA is a very handy resource. It shows you exactly how much CBD and THC the product contains (does it match the claims that the company advertised?). It’ll also confirm whether the product has been tested for contaminants, like mold, pesticides, and heavy metals.
You can check out our picks for the best CBD oils here.
Research around CBD is ongoing, but it’s promising. CBD may help ease pain, but there isn’t much research on CBD for TMJ disorders specifically.
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before trying CBD, since CBD may interact with certain medications.
If you’re looking to try CBD for your TMJ pain, it’s also a good idea to consider trying CBD oil rather than another CBD product, like a gummy or topical.
Make sure you shop from a trustworthy CBD company that has a positive brand reputation and is transparent about how its products are made and where its hemp is grown.
Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
Breanna Mona is a writer based in Cleveland, Ohio. She holds a master’s degree in media and journalism and writes about health, lifestyle, and entertainment.