Affecting roughly 50 million American adults, chronic pain can have a major impact on overall health and wellness, mood, and productivity. At first glance, it sounds like a symptom, not a condition. But increasingly, doctors are recognizing that chronic pain—an experience of pain that lasts weeks, months, or even years—is a serious disease in its own right.
That’s why so many of us are turning to a new solution: Marijuana for chronic pain. In this article, we’ll touch on a few of the most important questions surrounding the use of marijuana for chronic pain. If you suffer from this potentially debilitating condition, we sincerely hope that this article gives you the sense that you have a viable option for relief.
Marijuana for Chronic Pain: The Different Types of Pain
We all experience pain at some point in our lives, but not all pain is the same. Clinicians define three major types of pain:
- Nociceptive Pain: Nociceptive pain results from a physical injury, making it the easiest kind of pain to understand. It’s often treated with analgesics like aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
- Neuropathic Pain: Sometimes called “nerve pain,” neuropathic pain can be caused by an injury, but it refers specifically to an injury to a nerve. Unfortunately, most anti-inflammatory medications aren’t effective at addressing this type of pain.
- Central Pain: Sometimes called the “mystery pain,” central pain arises without a physical injury. One of the best-known examples is fibromyalgia.
What makes any of these types of pain chronic? Unlike acute pain, which lasts for a brief moment up to six months, chronic pain persists for longer than this. Understandably, this makes it extremely difficult to treat chronic pain safely and effectively on a long-term basis. Here are a few of the reasons marijuana may present a safe and sustainable alternative to traditional medications such as pharmaceuticals.
Marijuana for Chronic Pain: Understanding How It Works
The marijuana plant contains a group of roughly 150 natural compounds called “cannabinoids.” You’ve probably heard of the two most abundant ones: THC and CBD. When we ingest marijuana, these plant-based chemicals interact with a regulatory network called The Endocannabinoid System to impart a variety of effects, including THC’s distinctive euphoric “high” and CBD’s anxiolytic—that is, anxiety-reducing—properties.
Both THC and CBD exert anti-inflammatory properties, meaning that they work with the body to reduce pain and swelling at injury sites. But beyond that, they each work in other ways. For instance, THC helps block pain signals as they pass through the spinal cord to the brain. And its euphoric sensation naturally increases the activity of our own opioid receptors, without the use of potentially harmful opioid drugs.
As we mentioned, CBD imparts anti-inflammatory effects of its own. But it can also reduce localized pain by helping control signalling and repair cells. And CBD initiates pain-reducing mechanisms in the brain, stimulating receptors to dampen pain signals as they arrive there.
So, we know that marijuana can be effective for pain. But what makes it especially suited for chronic pain is its ability to impart gentle and sustained relief at low doses. Marijuana is biphasic, meaning that it tends to exert different effects based on its dosage. And intriguingly, most people tend to experience more relief from a lower dosage of marijuana. When it comes to managing a long-term condition such as chronic pain, that’s a real plus. Using a lower dosage minimizes the euphoric effects of THC, and reduces the chance of any unwanted side effects. While the effect is typically milder than powerful (and potentially harmful) drugs such as opioids, many people who experience chronic pain describe a gentle but effective relief from symptoms, one that’s far easier to sustain for the long term.
Do you have more questions about using marijuana for chronic pain? Just ask! We’re always here to help.