Of all the wonderful benefits of medical marijuana, relieving chronic pain is at the top of the list. The availability of medical marijuana for chronic pain relief means that people concerned about getting hooked on addictive opioids have another effective option with little to no addictive qualities.
Most people who suffer from chronic pain have been on a long journey of shifting from one pain management technique to another until they finally only have one option left, opioids. Now, they have another option, cannabis. Many states have legally and medically approved cannabis as a solution for chronic pain. But just what is cannabis, and how does it relieve pain? Let’s find out.
Medical Marijuana 101
Nearly 2.1 million Americans use medical cannabis.
If you’re a little confused about the terms, marijuana and cannabis are generally used to describe the same thing. However, if you want to get technical, cannabis describes cannabis products in general, while marijuana refers to cannabis products that are made from the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the cannabis plant.
What makes medical marijuana “medical” marijuana?
Medical marijuana uses the whole marijuana plant or the chemicals in it to treat conditions or diseases. Medical marijuana is basically the same product as recreational marijuana (pot or weed). However, it’s taken for medical purposes.
Marijuana has two main active components: CBD (cannabinol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
- THC is a psychoactive chemical that gives users the typical marijuana high.
- CBD doesn’t contain a psychoactive chemical, so when it is isolated, it can be used without getting high.
- Both THC and CBD can provide pain relief. The one that you choose depends on your tolerance and needs.
The different types of cannabis plants include:
- Cannabis indica
- Cannabis sativa
Research is underway to determine which cannabis strains are best for pain relief. However, it is generally accepted that indica strains are best for pain management, sedation, and sleep. Meanwhile, sativa strains are best used for improving energy and mood.
When you think of using marijuana, you probably imagine smoking it. Although this is the most common non-medical way of consuming it, medical marijuana patients have plenty of options of how to use medical marijuana to relieve chronic pain. Options include smoking, vaping, edibles, tinctures, salves, and lotions.
Is medical marijuana an effective option to relieve pain?
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, marijuana has been used as a medical treatment for more than 3,000 years. It has treated various conditions including digestive issues, pain relief, and psychological disorders.
In addition to the long history of anecdotal evidence, a growing body of clinical research that supports the use of cannabis to relieve some types of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, is continuing to grow.
In 2018, the CDC declared that chronic pain was the most common reason adults in the United States seek medical care. Sadly, approximately 50 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain. Although chronic pain is common, it is difficult and expensive to treat.
What causes pain?
You feel pain when your nerves detect tissue damage or inflammation and transmit information about the damage along your spinal cord to your brain. There are four main categories of pain:
- Neuropathic: Nerve pain caused by nerve damage, injury, or compression. Examples of neuropathic pain include carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes-related pain, sciatica, and phantom limb pain.
- Inflammatory: Caused by inflammation in your tissues and joints. Examples of inflammatory pain include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and gout.
- Nociceptive: Caused by damage or injury to your tissues. Nociceptive pain stems from broken bones, sprains, muscle strains, burns, and post-surgical pain are a few examples.
- Functional: Cause unknown. Examples of functional pain include some types of migraines, IBS, fibromyalgia, vulvodynia, and interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome).
Acute pain is short-term pain due to injury or damage. Chronic pain is more long-term pain. Although you may have periods of relief between flare-ups, the pain always returns. Chronic pain cannot be cured. It can only be managed.
How does cannabis work for pain?
To understand how medical marijuana relieves pain, we must return to THC and CBD.
Both THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) have anti-inflammatory properties. This can help reduce the cause of inflammatory pain.
CBD prevents your body’s pain signals from getting to your brain, which prevents you from feeling the pain in the first place.
The intoxicating effects of THC makes you feel good, which minimizes the impact of pain and your perception of discomfort.
As you can see, the effects of medical marijuana may help reduce inflammatory, neuropahthic, and some functional pain, but it may not be as effective for nociceptive pain.
What types of chronic pain can medical marijuana help with?
Research about marijuana is still relatively young, but studies have indicated that marijuana can be an effective pain relief solution for pain related to
- rheumatoid arthritis
- musculoskeletal pain
- joint pain
Are there any downsides to using marijuana for pain relief?
Marijuana is a drug, and all drugs have some potential side effects. Side effects of using THC-based medical marijuana include:
- Problems with memory, focus, problem-solving, and learning may develop with long-term use.
- Psychiatric issues like social anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation, and potential psychoses may develop with regular use.
- Some users experience anxiety, paranoia, and fear.
- Like smoking nicotine cigarettes, smoking marijuana can cause respiratory damage.
- Some people who consume marijuana edible have experienced hallucinations, delusions, disorientation, and poor memory.
- Although rare, heavy users may develop a dependence on marijuana.
How do you legally obtain medical marijuana?
The U.S. Government has not legalized marijuana. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. However, many states have adopted marijuana laws that allow the use of marijuana for specific medical conditions. Every state is different, so it’s essential that you understand your state’s laws and the process that you must go through to obtain medical marijuana.
If you are in Florida, we’re happy to help! Contact us for a consultation today!