Over the past several years, cannabis studies have been showing increasing promise as a tool to treat or manage certain medical conditions. There’s been a lot of talk about whether it can aid those with chronic pain. Individuals who experience pain due to inflammation or nerve damage have claimed to see improvements in their condition after adopting a consistent cannabis regime. Although more research and scientific evidence is still needed, the anecdotal evidencees – as well as the scientific discoveries – are certainly promising.
While cannabis for chronic pain is hardly a new idea, it’s a topic that we’re constantly learning more and more about. The primary reason for the hold-up for more widespread use has been a lack of funding and FDA research due to its federal status as a controlled substance. However, as more states have legalized medical and even recreational cannabis use, its benefits have become more known.
Many individuals suffering from chronic pain are in search of alternatives to traditional medications, which can often take a negative toll on the body — especially if they’re taken over a long period of time. For instance, opioids are effective at reducing chronic pain levels, but they are also highly addictive and come with a slew of side effects. Other medications can have less severe side effects than opioids but still impact a person’s daily health. In other situations, cannabis can help with the side effects of necessary medications.
Can You Use Marijuana for Chronic Pain?
As we’ve mentioned, more research is still needed to prove the effectiveness of cannabis in treating chronic pain symptoms. Even so, the research is promising — plus, anecdotal evidence is especially strong, as cannabis continues to rise in popularity as a potential pain reliever.
In 2019, a study was performed on older adults who suffered from chronic diseases. Ultimately, this study would go on to suggest medical marijuana’s effectiveness when it comes to symptoms of chronic diseases — including intense pain management.
This particular study is remarkably insightful for the effectiveness of cannabis for pain treatment. It occurred over the course of four months and followed a total of 204 adults aged 75 and older. Through regularly using medical marijuana, an impressive 49 percent of these older adults were able to experience pain relief.
Some of our current research has considered the entire cannabis plant, while other studies have honed in on specific parts of the plant. For instance, research surrounding CBD, in particular, has been increasing. This has led to promising results — nonetheless, research that accounts for the whole plant is just as valuable. If different parts of the plant interact with each other and work together, it’s possible that the pain-relieving effects of marijuana could be more powerful.
Using CBD for Chronic Pain
When many people think of medical marijuana, they tend to focus on THC and its effects on the body. However, whenever we’re talking about chronic pain relief, it’s important to draw attention to the potential benefits of CBD.
Recently, CBD products have become increasingly popular — they’ve also become increasingly accessible, even in states where medical marijuana has yet to be legalized. Unlike marijuana products that are made from cannabis flowers, CBD products are actually derived from hemp. While THC is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis products, CBD products contain considerably lower quantities of this compound — typically, THC levels in hemp-based products are so low that the user isn’t going to experience any kind of high.
While CBD doesn’t lead to someone feeling high, that doesn’t mean that it’s useless when it comes to the treatment of chronic pain. In fact, the properties of CBD look quite promising — CBD can interact with the brain’s pain receptors. This can lead to pain relief in the user, as well as anti-inflammatory effects.
The Impact of Cannabinoids on Neuropathic Pain
Several years back, in 2015, an important research review was published by the National Library of Medicine. This review took a closer look at how cannabis and cannabinoids can be used in the treatment of different chronic pain conditions.
Again, this led to highly promising results: It was suggested that cannabinoids and marijuana are effective in reducing chronic pain symptoms in some individuals. This includes nerve pain, also known as neuropathy.
Cannabis Versus Opioid Use
Sadly, the opioid epidemic is far from coming to an end in the United States. As a result, many individuals are seeking out alternatives to opioids to treat chronic pain conditions. Opioids are highly addictive, even if they’re taken exactly as a doctor has ordered. Still, these medications are also highly powerful, making them the last resort for some chronic pain sufferers. To reduce pain in the body, opioids directly target an individual’s nervous system.
Though a surprising finding, medicinal cannabis does compete with opioids for pain management and can actually be a viable alternative for those experiencing extreme forms of chronic pain. According to a 2017 article that was published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, there’s strong evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may be an effective alternative to common opioid medications without the concerns of serious addiction.
This article was quite encompassing, surveying approximately 3,000 users of medical marijuana. According to the results of this survey, around thirty percent of these respondents had also used opioids at some point in the past six months. Of those who claimed to have also used opioids, about 81 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis was a more effective treatment on its own, compared to when it is used alongside opioids.
Even more impressively, 97 percent of those respondents felt that it would be possible to reduce their opioid consumption with the help of cannabis.
Cannabis Forms for Pain Relief
Depending on the patient’s needs and preferences, medical marijuana can be consumed in a number of forms — smoking is far from the only option. If you’re not interested in smoking cannabis, here are some of the other methods of consumption you could consider.
Full extract cannabis oil, or RSO, can be taken from the cannabis plant to offer patients an oil-based treatment. This can be accomplished through a process involving either ethanol or grain alcohol.
Generally, full extract cannabis oil is taken orally. Since this form is highly concentrated, patients should only consume small quantities of cannabis oil to receive a strong effect.
If you’re not interested in the psychoactive properties of THC, it’s also possible to opt for CBD oil instead. In particular, CBD oil has been gaining popularity with individuals looking to relieve chronic pain. Similar to full extract cannabis oil, CBD oil is a highly concentrated method of consumption and should only be consumed in small amounts.
Although it is a lesser-known method of medical cannabis consumption, topical treatments do exist. These treatments can be produced in a variety of different forms, including balms, lotions, and salves. Like any kind of topical treatment, the medicine is applied directly onto the skin, where it can then be absorbed by the body for potential localized pain relief. And, because cannabinoids are fat-soluble, the cannabinoids will not reach the bloodstream, and therefore bring no psychoactive effects. Topical cannabis treatments contain cannabinoids and can be used to reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain.
If you’re not interested in an application method such as a lotion or balm, transdermal patches are also available. Transdermal application of cannabinoids are favored by those who have pain in multiple areas, as transdermals enter the bloodstream for systemic (full-body) effects.
Edibles are another highly popular form of medical marijuana consumption for those who aren’t interested in smoking. In truth, the term “edibles” refers to a wide variety of different forms, as long as the cannabis is infused within a food item, which is then eaten by the patient. There’s practically no limit when it comes to food products that can be transformed into edibles. Still, some popular forms are brownies, candies (including chewables), and cookies.
Nonetheless, edibles aren’t always the best form of cannabis consumption for all users. While other forms of cannabis are relatively consistent when it comes to their effects, the impact of consuming an edible is often unpredictable. This is due to a conversion of delta-9 THC known as the first-pass effect. As THC is digested, it converts to 11-hydroxy THC, a compound 5x’s more potent than delta-9.
As a consequence, whenever someone is taking an edible for the first time, it’s crucial that they begin with a low dose, ideally 5 mg. They can then wait an hour or more, and if they’re still not satisfied with the effects, they can take additional quantities of the edible. Again, the patient should only be consuming small doses at a time so that they can keep the effects under control.
If you’re seeking out a quick way to have cannabis absorbed into the bloodstream, sublingual treatments, also known as tinctures, are a fast-acting option. To consume one of these treatments, all the patient needs to do is place the substance beneath their tongue. This leads to quick absorption and a faster high than if the treatment was consumed in another form — for instance, edibles are notoriously on the slower side due to how they are handled by the liver.
Other Illnesses That Are Manageable with Medical Marijuana
From what we currently understand, it seems that medicinal cannabis isn’t just a useful treatment for chronic pain symptoms. Rather, cannabis can be used to manage or reduce the symptoms of several other medical conditions.
Cancer patients may be able to benefit from medical marijuana when it comes to reducing pain and other symptoms, often related to treatment. As such, cannabis use can allow cancer patients to improve their quality of life as they make their way through the harsh treatments necessary to fight the disease.
For example, chemotherapy has been known to cause nausea and vomiting — both effects can be reduced through the use of medical marijuana. According to patient anecdotes, it also seems to be the case that cannabis helps to stimulate appetite during chemotherapy.
Arthritis comes in an enormous variety of forms — in fact, there are over one hundred variations of the condition. Still, osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis are two of the most common forms. These variants of arthritis typically result in redness and swelling along with an individual’s joint, as well as stiffness, weakness, reduced range of motion, and even severe pain. All these symptoms can take a devastating toll on the patient’s day-to-day quality of life.
Fortunately, medical marijuana seems to be useful in helping arthritis patients manage the ongoing, severe pain that’s associated with the condition.
Depression and Anxiety
It would seem that cannabis isn’t just useful in treating physical symptoms of an illness — it might also benefit those suffering from psychological conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Sadly, these are often side effects of pain management for sufferers. Medical marijuana isn’t useful in treating just generalized anxiety disorder. It can also be incorporated into the treatment plan of someone diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In particular, there’s evidence suggesting that CBD may be an effective treatment when it comes to anxiety disorders. As always, further research is still needed to support these findings, but initial findings are positive.
Cannabis and Chronic Pain: The Bottom Line
Although researchers will need to continue exploring the connection between chronic pain and medical marijuana, the findings we’ve already made are extremely promising. Additionally, there’s now a wealth of anecdotes from chronic pain sufferers claiming that cannabis use has helped manage or reduce chronic pain symptoms. As research for pain continues, cannabis will likely be a first line of defense due to its ease of use and few side effects.Whether it’s cannabis or CBD oil, it seems that this plant may be able to fight pain, as well as other conditions that can threaten someone’s quality of life. The research continues on how cannabis treats chronic pain but knowing that it has been effective for many sufferers is a step in the right direction.Looking for more information on cannabis? Head on over to our cannabis learning center to discover even more potential uses and benefits of this incredible plant!