Pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical cannabis recommendations. Given the harsh side effects and addictive potential of prescription painkillers, conventional pain management options can seem bleak.
And before you dive into your cannabis and pain management journey, here are 11 key facts about cannabis and pain that maybe you didn’t know:
#1) Cannabis has been used for pain for thousands of years
Most doctors these days don’t prescribe herbs for common ailments.
However, many modern medicines are still made from plant-derived compounds.
Both aspirin and opioid pain medications, for example, originally came from medicinal plants.
Cannabis has been used as a natural pain remedy for thousands of years. In fact, cannabis topicals were used by several ancient cultures to treat wounds.
In Poland and the surrounding area, for example, hemp flowers were mixed with olive oil and used to dress wounds.
Cannabis has also been used orally throughout human history to ease pain from various ailments before the advent of modern medicine.
Some of the first recorded medical uses of cannabis come from over 4,000 years ago in ancient China.
Cannabis was listed by Emperor Shen Neng as a treatment for rheumatism, which is a type of chronic inflammatory pain.
#2) Cannabis was used for labor pains by several different ancient cultures
While today this may sound like medical blasphemy, cannabis was seen as a women’s health aid for millennia.
The herb was used by several cultures to ease pains and contractions in labor, as well as ease pain in complicated childbirth.
Women in at least some parts of ancient China, Egypt, India, and Arabic nations are thought to have used cannabis for this purpose.
#3) Patients prefer cannabis to prescription pain medication
A study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy surveyed 271 Canadian medical cannabis patients.
63 percent of the consumers reported that they use cannabis over prescription drugs.
Of those, 30 percent of respondents reported that they prefer the herb over prescription opioid painkillers.
#4) Medical cannabis laws reduce opioid overdose
There’s a reason why so many cannabis lovers tout the herb over opioid pain medications.
A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with medical cannabis laws have significantly reduced levels of fatal opioid overdose.
With cannabis, it is impossible to fatally overdose on the herb due to a lack of cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem, which controls things like breathing and heartbeat.
For this reason, cannabis advocates and even some politicians have spoken up for the use of cannabis as an alternative to more dangerous prescription pain medications.
#5) Cannabis is valuable for chronic pain
In general, many medical professionals find that acute pain, which is pain from a sudden injury such as an accident or a wound, can be fairly well-managed with current pain regimens and remedies.
Though cannabis may be useful for some types of acute pain, some suggest that the herb is particularly valuable for chronic pain.
Chronic pain is pain that persists in the long-term, perhaps by an old injury or illness. It can be very difficult to treat. Opioid pain treatments are some of the most common ways to manage chronic pain.
However, due to the over-prescription of these addictive pain treatments, overdose deaths and addiction rates are at an all-time high.
#6) Cannabis helps both pathological and inflammatory pain
A growing body of preclinical research suggests that cannabis compounds can help both pathological and inflammatory pain.
These are two primary pain types and both can be difficult to treat with safe pain therapies.
Pathological pain is caused by damage to the nerve system, perhaps from disease, surgery, or accident.
Inflammatory pain is typically immune-related, such as with rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
#7) Psychoactive effects prevent THC from being studied for pain
Even though cannabis is one of the oldest pain remedies around, there is one little factor that prevents the herb from being studied in depth as a pain treatment: psychoactive THC.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabis compound that causes the famous psychoactive “high”.
Early studies in laboratory and animal models have found that THC can effectively ease both inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
However, both federal illegality in the United States and the herb’s distinct psychoactive effects have been seen as a turn-off by many medical researchers and policymakers.
While many cannabis consumers enjoy and appreciate the mind-altering effects of the herb, the plant’s psychoactivity is often seen as an “unwanted side effect” in clinical settings.
This is more than unfortunate, as millions of medical cannabis consumers around the globe anecdotally have found psychoactive cannabis to be a helpful and effective tool for managing chronic pain.
And yet we don’t have any taboos around the psychoactive effects from alcohol or other pain killers.
#8) Cannabis & opioids may be mixed in the future
Since THC’s psychoactive nature is often viewed as a negative side effect by medical researchers, scientists have been exploring ways to tap into the herb’s pain-fighting effects by mixing cannabis compounds with traditional pharmaceuticals.
This includes combining very low-dose THC with opioid pain medications. The thought behind this is that combining cannabis and opioids may help lower the dose of both compounds for more effective pain relief.
However, it is important to note that many patients (as indicated in the survey mentioned above) find that cannabis alone is an effective alternative to prescription painkillers.
#9) High doses of THC may make some types of pain worse
While pain management is one of the reasons why medical cannabis consumers pick up the herb, taking too high a dose too fast might make pain feel worse.
This is because cannabis is thought to have what is called a “biphasic” effect on pain. This means that cannabis may effectively reduce pain up to a particular dosage threshold.
Crossing that threshold might cause you to become more sensitive to some types of pain. Though, more research is sorely needed on this subject.
Should these biphasic effects pan out with more research, this dosage threshold will also be different for every individual person.
The proper dosage depends on the type of pain someone has, how they’re using the herb, and how their individual bodies process cannabis. It may be worthwhile to start small with cannabis and work up.
#10) Cannabis and hot peppers have some things in common
Did you know that hot peppers can actually provide pain relief? Hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which is what causes their spicy kick.
As it turns out, capsaicin connects with certain cell receptors in the body that control pain and inflammation. After this discovery, these cell receptors have been aptly named “capsaicin receptors.”
Both psychoactive THC and another cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD), both engage capsaicin receptors in the body. This is one way cannabis helps ease inflammatory pain. Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a noticeable “high”.
Those hoping to avoid a psychoactive experience may appreciate the pain-fighting effects of mellow CBD.
#11) Combining THC and CBD may boost pain relief
Hoping to find more effective pain relief with cannabis? There may be some benefit to opting for strains that contain both THC and CBD. Preliminary research suggests that the two compounds work together synergistically to relieve pain.
Other chemicals in cannabis, like aroma molecules called terpenes, may also lend a hand in providing more effective pain relief and relaxation. Hoping to kick your cannabis pain management up a notch? It may be beneficial to opt for strains with diverse chemical profiles.
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