As cannabis science continues to surge forward, many folks are talking less about being buzzed and more about their anterior cingulate cortex and the sensorimotor cortex—in other words, the portions of the brain that process pain sensations. This is because a hallmark study has confirmed what so many patients will already know: Cannabis appears to reduce pain sensations and can act as a painkiller.
An Israeli study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, described a research project conducted on men who experienced nerve pain in the legs. After initially rating their pain from zero to 100, the study participants were divided into groups, with some taking cannabis oil containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and others taking a placebo.
The process was repeated a week later, with participants who received the cannabis oil now taking the placebo. What the study found is that patients taking the cannabis oil reported a significant lessening of their pain–the cannabis oil had acted as a successful painkiller.
“Our study results link pain relief from THC with a reduction in the connections between areas of the brain otherwise heavily connected, suggesting that THC may alleviate pain by disrupting signals between these pain processing pathways,” said Dr. Haggai Sharon, one of the study’s authors.
Another study in regards to cannabis as a painkiller, conducted in October 2018 by Canada’s McGill University Health Centre, found that low doses of cannabidiol (CBD) given to animals not only alleviate pain, but also reduce anxiety.
And a third report published by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found there was “conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in the treatment of chronic pain in adults.”
The authors of the report compiled over 10,000 medical cannabis studies undertaken since 1999, and though not all of their findings pointed to cannabis as a global cure-all, its use as a painkiller was found to be definitive.
Not Every Study Confirms Marijuana’s Pain Reduction Properties
To be fair, other studies haven’t shown conclusive evidence that cannabis eases pain. In some cases, the number of people in research groups was too small. In other studies, patients had differing rates of cannabis consumption prior to enrolling in a study or weren’t taking the same types of cannabis during the study period.
Yet anecdotal evidence continues to mount about it as a painkiller, with more and more doctors and patients defying conventional pain management practices and turning to cannabis as an adjunct or replacement for other pain medications.
Why Try Cannabis As a Painkiller
Ask any employee at your favorite dispensary or delivery service, and they’ll tell you that it’s almost impossible to track how many people are turning to cannabis to ease pain.
Many are sick and tired of the side effects associated with traditional painkiller medication including:
- Damage to the stomach and liver associated with long-term use of NSAID’s like ibuprofen
- Excruciating constipation that those taking opiates may suffer with on a daily basis
- Muscle relaxants that can render a person useless for anything but lying in bed
- The downward spiral associated with opioid addiction, which has become a global public health emergency
Is it any wonder that patients would look for healthier, more natural alternatives?
Cannabis Can Be a Safe, Gentle Complement to Opioid Pain Medications
Despite the fact that research is still ongoing in terms of the efficacy of cannabis and pain relief, there’s one very important statistic to consider: States where medical marijuana has been legalized have a staggering 25% fewer deaths linked to opioid abuse.
Some patients report life-changing results when they add medical marijuana to their pain-relief regimen. And with no recorded death ever from a cannabis overdose, more and more states are voting to allow medical cannabis in their jurisdictions.
How Do I Begin Adding Cannabis to My Pain Program?
- Know the laws in your state: You should always abide by state and local guidelines regarding the possession, purchase and use of cannabis products. Some states only allow medical marijuana for specific health conditions, so make sure you know the laws where you live.
- Talk to your doctor: It’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor about taking cannabis, especially if you’re already taking other medications. Don’t stop taking your prescribed medications unless you’re doing so with the support and guidance of your doctor. If you feel like they’re not very educated or supportive when it comes to cannabis, you can always schedule a face-to-face video consultation with a HelloMD doctor.
- Educate yourself: There are so many ways to take cannabis for pain relief, so do your homework. Understand that medical cannabis therapy looks different for every individual. There’s no one- size-fits-all approach for medical marijuana, as everyone responds differently to the plant.
- Start slowly: If you’re brand new to cannabis, consider using a topical cream or spray containing non-psychoactive CBD for starters. Some patients derive immense pain relief from CBD products, while others need the psychoactive components found in THC to alleviate pain. Whatever cannabis product you try, start with a very small amount and wait to see how it affects you before you take more.
- Eat cannabis edibles with caution: If you want to medicate with marijuana edibles, start with very small amounts, also known as microdosing. For most, around 2–5 milligrams of THC per dose is a good place to start until you know your unique response to the product. Wait a couple of hours before eating more, if you feel like you need it.
- Journal your cannabis experience: Use your journal to adjust your doses and to help document what worked best for you. Things to write down are:
- The name and type of product you tried
- How much you used
- When you used it
- How you felt after taking it
- Combine & conquer: Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the many types of cannabis pain-relief options available, you may want to try layering. This is a technique where you take medicinal cannabis by different consumption methods through the day to layer the different effects of the products.
Some pain patients begin their day by smoking or vaping a cerebral, sativa-dominant cannabis strain. Then, as their pain spikes, they may turn to concentrates with a more sedative effect or a topical if they’re out and about. Finally, to help with sleep, some folks wind down with a cannabis-infused bath bomb, or a marijuana edible to promote relaxation and a good night’s rest.
- Be a patient patient: Sometimes, enthusiastic cannabis consumers may give people the impression that marijuana is the answer to all of your medical woes. When we’re suffering, we all want relief, but as with any medication, cannabis may work miraculously for some and not at all for others. Learning to manage pain using cannabis takes time, and what works for one person may not work for another. Sometimes it takes a little experimentation to find what works for you.
If you find that medical marijuana isn’t easing your pain, seek out a reputable cannabis expert to discuss the specifics of your condition, your dosage schedule and the types of products you’re using.
Often, with a little tenacity and some adjustments to your regime, you’ll discover how to create your cannabis sweet spot, which will hopefully result in reduced pain, an enhanced quality of life and a marked improvement in your ability to manage your aches and pains.
Photo credit: Wei Ding
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.