With a recent estimate that there are around 3.6 million state-legal medical cannabis patients in the US, the data shows that more than 62% of this demographic use it to treat chronic pain.
With its growing, albeit tentative, use as a safer alternative to opioids, more people may be able to leverage the curative properties of medical marijuana. With CBD, in particular, gradually becoming a more accepted treatment within the medical community, patients experiencing chronic pain may now have a more sustainable way of managing their discomfort.
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, medical cannabis has been used for over 3,000 years as a form of treatment.
Pain relief seems to be one of its most common use cases.
How does medical marijuana for pain relief work?
The human body has a natural ability to generate chemicals and neurotransmitters that have an analgesic effect. Cannabis, when used for medical purposes, supplements these efforts, helping patients experience relief from pain.
Interestingly, both CBD and THC—the compound associated with the ‘high’ people experience with marijuana—have promising pain-relieving properties. THC, in particular, can relieve pain temporarily through interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system, potentially reducing pain signals and our perception of pain.
CBD, on the other hand, has the ability to generate an immune system response and attenuate certain proteins that are involved in pain signaling.
From the pain associated with cancer to that with arthritis, medical marijuana’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect may be highly beneficial.
In a study conducted across around 17,000 people diagnosed with cancer, around 70% reported a positive experience using medical marijuana for cancer treatment.
What’s more, there may be limited evidence that certain strains are more effective at treating the pain associated with conditions like joint pain, spasticity and even non-migraine headaches. Indica strains, for example, tend to be preferred for pain management, sedation and sleep.
Replacing a dependence on opioids for pain management
Apart from the significant benefits of medical marijuana for pain relief, it also comes with another benefit that can’t be ignored—its ability to reduce opioid dependence.
Based on research conducted back in 2016, we’ve since learned that medical marijuana for cancer pain, in particular, led to a 64% reduction in opioid use.
What’s more, researchers also detected an associated improvement in quality of life and fewer side effects from the medication and lower medication use overall.
Given the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating pain, therefore, there appears to be a positive causative relationship, based on the limited data we have so far, with a reduction in opioid use.
Across the board, it may be safe to say that with the growing legalization of medical marijuana in various states across the US, we can reduce the harmful effects of prolonged opioid use, including death.
With chronic pain reportedly affecting around one-third of the US, along with a growing increase in opioid use over the past two decades, there may be significant scope for medical cannabis to provide a safer and effective form of pain relief.
Envisioning a new approach to pain treatment and management
As greater research is conducted into the potential uses of medical marijuana, its role in treating pain is likely to receive plenty of clinical interest.
Across various conditions including debilitating illnesses like cancer and arthritis, giving patients access to potentially safer and more sustainable treatments like cannabis may provide relief to millions of Americans.
While greater research in this area is a must, we remain excited about the potential of medical marijuana for pain relief.