Pain can have many causes, and deciphering the source isn’t always simple. While pharmaceutical options exist, persistent pain can be resistant to typical treatments, leaving patients to seek innovative sources of pain relief. Among them is cannabis.
Cannabis has much anecdotal evidence suggesting that it helps with chronic pain, but the trouble with cannabis as a pain reliever is the science behind it. It’s awfully hard to study for a few reasons. In some past studies, it was tough to regulate the amount of THC administered, and in others, there was no control group that received a placebo or a different pain reliever instead of cannabis — rendering the results functionally irrelevant. Moreover, it’s unethical to conduct pain trials on human volunteers, so testing THC and CBD’s efficacy more thoroughly is often impossible.
However, that hasn’t stopped researchers from gathering the evidence and hypothesizing cannabis’ effects on pain. Here’s what we know.
Chronic Pain That Cannabis Helps
There are generally two types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain is short-lived and intense, and treatment is often in the form of narcotics. Chronic pain is that which persists for days if not years. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is usually not treatable via narcotics or opioids. At best, they work for a little while; at worst, they bring about unwanted side effects and the user develops a tolerance to their effects.
Cannabis has been believed to benefit those suffering from chronic pain in many forms, treating everything from mild headaches to the pain associated with childbirth. Studies on those with multiple sclerosis showed improved spasticity and limb pain. Paraplegic patients noted that THC relieved phantom limb pain and headaches.
The most reliable studies have been conducted on cancer patients, examining if THC and other cannabinoids alleviate the pain associated with chemotherapy and cancer itself. Cancer pain tends to be resistant to any treatment, especially by opiate painkillers. Past studies showed that cannabis helps with inflammation, nerve injury, and tumor invasion of bone and other sensitive tissue.
How Both CBD and THC Can Help
Cannabis is an analgesic, and this mild to moderate pain relief can be attributed to cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that make up cannabis, most often referring to the abundantly-occurring CBD and THC. It’s thought that the body’s own endocannabinoid system already plays a role in natural pain relief, and CBD/THC boost this process.
Application of cannabinoids for pain relief is considered to be on par with codeine, but the most effective treatments involved both CBD and THC, not one or the other. While THC is effective alone, patients with the highest doses of THC in many studies appeared heavily sedated, dreamy, and immobile — which may have affected their perception of pain whatsoever. These patients were more likely to report that while their pain hadn’t changed, their ability to manage it had in that it was easier to ignore. While helpful, this isn’t a very sustainable way to manage pain.
CBD can help mitigate the effects of THC through its indirect effects on cannabinoid receptors, which THC instead attaches to directly. Moreover, CBD also reduces inflammation and pain perception by itself, all without directly affecting the receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system. In general, a THC/CBD combination treatment offers a lower risk of addiction and tolerance than near any pharmaceutical option.
Cannabis’ Effects on Chronic Pain
Marijuana has many pain-relieving properties. For one, the peripheral nerves in our bodies that detect pain sensations have receptors for cannabinoids, and cannabinoids seem to block peripheral nerve pain (as per animal studies). Opiates and cannabinoids suppress pain through different mechanisms, suggesting they may even be able to be used together for boosted relief.
In addition to physical effects, cannabis can be particularly helpful for those with anxiety-inducing disorders, such as AIDS and cancer. It reduces anxious thoughts and encourages feelings of euphoria. In doing so, a healthier mind and body is given the chance to better recover against these harsher diagnoses. Cannabis can also improve sleep for better healing.
Choose Cannabis From Wheelhouse
The best way to see if cannabis can help treat your pain is by talking to your doctor, and trying different products from Wheelhouse! At Wheelhouse, we carry a huge variety of cannabis options, from edibles to vape carts. Many people find one method of cannabis consumption to be more effective than others, and the same may be true for you. Shop online now, or visit us in-store to see our experienced budtenders’ favorites and recommendations.