Research Shows CBD Can Reduce Pain from Tear Gas

The world is changing drastically. First, the global pandemic of Covid-19 struck across the world at the beginning of March 2020, forcing countries into lockdowns and citizens into decreased quality of life. Then the death of George Floyd sparked protests and rioting across the United States.

As citizens went out in the streets to protest justice, peace and equality, strong measures were used to disperse protesters and rioters. Unfortunately anyone caught close to the action, whether taking part in the protest or not was in close proximity to tear gas. We uncovered some studies showing that the effects of pre-dosing with high amounts of CBD can help reduce the potential negative effects of Tear Gas. 

What is Tear Gas and how does it work?

The term "tear gas" may refer to any of several riot control agents, including chloroacetophenone (CN), an ingredient in the chemical spray Mace. Collectively, we refer to these chemicals as tear producers, or lacrimators. Yet modern tear gas almost always boils down to a particular chemical agent: orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile (CS) or C10H5ClN2, a crystalline powder with a peppery odor. The chemical was first synthesized in the late 1950s as a crowd suppressant. CS quickly replaced the less-powerful CN as the more effective tear gas. It remains in use around the world to this day. 

CS falls under a class of chemicals called Lacrimators, which are irritants. CS gas causes a severe burning sensation upon contact with skin. Your sensory nerves sound the alarm to your brain, alerting you to remove this awful chemical from your skin before it physically harms you.

What are the effects of Tear Gas?

Prolonged exposure to the CS can cause rashes and chemical burns. However, when the irritant encounters the human eye, things get more serious. The sensory nerves send a signal to your brain stem, which sends hormones to tear glands in the eyelids. These glands pump out tears and mucus to help rid  you eyes of the irritant as quickly as possible.  

This tear producing effect is how tear gas gets its name, but the exposure won’t necessarily end with your eyes. Inhale CS gas and a strong burning sensation will create a similar defense mechanism throughout your respiratory system. Lots of mucus and coughing, all in an attempt to rid the body of the CS irritant. Sometimes nausea and vomiting can occur. 

How long do the effects of tear gas last?

The good news is that in most cases, these symptoms vanish within thirty minutes to an hour of exposure. An affected person generally flees from the source of the exposure and all that crying, coughing and vomiting helps rid the body of the chemical quickly. Generally the irritation will subside. However, for a subset of the population - children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing conditions (such as asthma or a compromised immune system) are more likely to experience severe and longer lasting symptoms. 

The science behind CS gas

Scientists never understood how or why tear gas worked. Then in 1997 the TRPV1 endocannabinoid receptor was discovered. Mechanistic studies identified the ion channels TRPV1 and TRPA1 as targets of capsaicin in pepper spray, and of the tear gas agents chloroacetophenone, CS, and CR. TRPV1 and TRPA1 localize to pain‐sensing peripheral sensory neurons and have been linked to acute and chronic pain, cough, asthma, lung injury, dermatitis, itch, and neurodegeneration. In animal models, transient receptor potential inhibitors show promising effects as potential countermeasures against tear gas injuries.

The TRPV Family of Receptors

TRP receptors, also known as transient receptors, are a group of ion channels. The TRPV1 receptor is the most widely studied TRPV receptor largely to it’s activation from capsaicin. It is also known as the vanilloid receptor 1, a protein that in humans, is encoded by the TRPV1 gene. The function of TRPV1 is detection and regulation of body temperature. In addition, TRPV1 provides a sensation of scalding heat and pain. In primary afferent sensory neurons, it cooperates with TRPA1 (a chemical irritant receptor) to mediate the detection of noxious environmental stimuli. 

It is TRPV1’s regulation of scalding heat and pain that causes tear gas to produce it’s burning, stinging, and other painful reactions. Capsaicin is the main ingredient in pepper spray which can cause similar effects to CS tear gas. CS tear gas also interacts with the TRPV1 receptor with help from the TRPA1 receptor, which as mentioned above detects harmful environmental chemicals. 

How CBD Helps Reduce Exposure Symptoms?

At this time, no mechanism‐based countermeasures are available to alleviate the noxious effects of tear gas and pepper spray exposures. Countermeasures mostly involve decontamination strategies, including rinsing with water and buffered solutions, discarding contaminated clothing, and medical supportive treatment. However, research has been conducted around the TRPV1 receptor and tear gas with promising results. 

Highly potent and selective TRPV1 inhibitors have been developed and tested in animal studies and in clinical trials with proven efficacies for capsaicin‐induced and thermally induced pain.

While no official countermeasures exist today besides decontamination, scientists have had success at reducing the pain response leveraging potent and selective TRPV1 inhibitors. 

CBD is A Potent and Selective TRPV1 Inhibitor

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a major component of Cannabis sativa that lacks the intoxicating effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This compound has potential broad therapeutic applications as an anti-anxiety, neuroprotective and anticonvulsive agent. Moreover, CBD possesses antiinflammatory activity in a model of rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, CBD has been reported to inhibit both the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH)-mediated degradation of the endogenous cannabinoid ligand, anandamide.  These findings raised the possibility that some of the above-quoted pharmacological actions of CBD might be due to inhibition of anandamide degradation, with subsequent enhancement of endogenous level of this mediator. Anandamide has been identified as an endogenous cannabinoid CB1 receptor agonist and as ligand for cannabinoid CB2 receptor albeit with low affinity. Another important site at which anandamide acts is the transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1). 

By releasing additional anandamide and not allowing it to breakdown, CBD selectively interacts with the TRPV1 receptor, which may reduce pain induced by tear gas exposure. 

Pretreatment of CBD or Capsaicin may Reduce Pain of Tear Gas Exposure

Both CBD and Capsaicin interact with the TRPV1 receptor, and researchers have shown through studies that leveraging potent and selective TRPV1 inhibitors may reduce the effects of tear gas. If you are planning on attending a protest, it may be wise to ingest CBD or capsaicin prior to attending. Additionally, a small dose after exposure may help the symptoms dissolve faster than without the presence of CBD or Capsaicin.