In the United States, 36 states have legalized the use of medical cannabis while the remaining states limit the content of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive component of cannabis, in favor of cannabidiol-rich (CBD) products.
While cannabis has been viewed as a controversial and controlled substance in many parts of the world, including the US, recently, people’s views on cannabis have shifted and medical cannabis is now widely accepted as a treatment option for various illnesses.
When considering chronic pain, we know it is an unpleasant side-effect individuals experience as a result of medical conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or even as a result of various injuries. Currently, there are many forms of conventional medication, including opioids, and physical therapy available for patients experiencing these conditions.
Recently, however, medical marijuana has demonstrated its efficacy in treating chronic pain in line with conventional methods, with fewer potential side effects.
In the USA, it’s estimated that 62% of cannabis users, today, are individuals who suffer from chronic pain.
How does it work?
Before we explore why medical cannabis should be used for treating chronic pain, we need to understand how this form of treatment works in these cases.
When it comes to medical marijuana for pain relief, its two primary compounds, THC and CBD, are known to play a key role in relieving chronic pain and work by stimulating receptors in the brain.
THC has been observed to activate cannabinoid receptors in the brain, namely the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The receptors are also found in the nerve cells, and when THC activates them, it can reduce the intensity of pain people experience.
Despite its beneficial uses, however, THC does contain psychoactive properties—those that lead to the ‘high’ recreational users report. This fact prevents its widespread use as a preferred form of treatment for chronic pain.
While this particular property is still being researched, CBD may also interact with cannabinoid receptors the same way to trigger pain relief, and is generally considered the safer option of the two.
Beyond these compounds, it should also be recognized that different strains of cannabis may treat different types of pain.
Why is medical cannabis for chronic pain considered a viable option?
Today, there are many reasons why medical cannabis is becoming a preferred method of treatment or being used as an analgesic for individuals experiencing pain.
It’s a safer alternative to opioids
Opioids are drugs usually prescribed to patients suffering from chronic pain. A substance that is found naturally in the poppy plant, opioids stimulate the brain’s opioid receptors and numb pain, leading to feelings of euphoria.
Despite their effectiveness in reducing pain, however, opioids are highly addictive and have led to very high levels of abuse. High doses lower the heart rate and breathing, and this can, in certain instances, lead to death.
About 30% of drug-related deaths worldwide, in fact, are due to opioid overdoses.
Medical cannabis for chronic pain usually has controlled amounts of THC in it and it is not nearly as addictive as opioids. Its use has also not led to the harmful side effects that opioid users experience and may be more effective for treating chronic pain.
Its anti-inflammatory properties
In certain cases, chronic pain may be the result of inflammation caused by medical conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome.
CBD can block inflammatory pain by interacting with glycine receptors, which are responsible for regulating pain in the spine. Studies have also shown that the topical application of CBD oil can reduce inflammation.
Inflammation, if left untreated, can affect nerves and arteries, aside from causing chronic pain. The pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of medical cannabis both reduce pain and the potential dangers of long-term inflammation.
It can be administered in different ways
One of the biggest benefits of medical cannabis is the diversity of its applications. Today, it can be taken in a number of ways, either inhaled using a vaporizer, infused into edibles and eaten or applied directly onto the skin as a topical cream.
That said, medical cannabis enters your body faster when smoked, providing a quick form of relief. Consuming cannabis will delay its effects but is good for treating gastrointestinal pain and when topically applied, cannabis can relieve localized chronic pain, like joint pain.
Medical cannabis for chronic pain—a more organic and potentially safer alternative
Medical cannabis has come a long way from being considered an illicit drug to a medically accepted treatment for some of the most common medical conditions the US population experiences today.
While it is considered a safer alternative to opioids, however, medical cannabis for chronic pain should be administered under medical guidance and after discussing the best course of action for personalized treatment.