It’s estimated that around 50 million Americans live with chronic or severe pain. Whether looking for a natural alternative to narcotics or simply seeking more effective relief, more and more of those people are using cannabis to manage their chronic pain.
While research in the U.S. is limited due to the Federal Government continuing to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — equal in risk to heroin and cocaine — there is research from other countries and lots of anecdotal evidence pointing to marijuana being effective for managing some forms of chronic pain.
How does marijuana work in reducing pain?
Of the 80 unique compounds in marijuana, the two that receive most of the attention for pain relief are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although other chemicals in marijuana could also prove effective with more research.
THC resembles the cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in our bodies. In fact, we have built-in receptors for cannabinoids. When a person inhales or ingests marijuana, the THC stimulates those receptors in the brain. This activates the brain’s reward system and produces the euphoric sense that is colloquially known as the high. But at the same time it also reduces pain levels.
CBD does not have the psychoactive component of THC, so it does not cause a high, but it also reacts with the brain’s pain receptors to cause anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.
Studies point to relief
Marijuana seems to be very effective (and there is research to support it) for helping nerve pain (neuropathy) and cancer-related pain. Research on various types of chronic pain relief is ongoing, mostly outside of the U.S. These are some studies conducted in 2018:
- Israeli researchers found marijuana provided “substantial” pain relief for over half of 1,200 cancer patients using it for six months.
- A German review of 16 studies with 1,700 participants found that marijuana-based remedies increased the number of people who reported 50% or greater reduction in pain.
- Another study found marijuana effective for treating fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain in the muscles and bones, and areas of tenderness.
- A European Academy of Neurology study found that cannabinoids resulted in migraine headache patients cutting pain by 40% or more.
More research needs to be done, but these results are promising for chronic pain relief.
Cannabis versus opioids for pain relief
When considering that over 150 people die every day in the U.S. as a result of opioid-related drug overdoses, with another huge number being addicted to these narcotics, the option of addressing chronic pain with cannabis instead is promising. When compared with the side effects of opioids, the side effects with cannabis are minimal and non-life threatening.
If you seek to treat chronic pain with cannabis, it’s best to start with low dosages and try different strains. Through this kind of trial and error, you may find the perfect treatment for your chronic pain.