Next to anxiety, chronic pain is the condition most cited by our patients when applying for their Medical Marijuana cards. A very general term, chronic pain affects millions of people across the United States every second, limiting their ability to perform their day to day tasks. In a study released by the American Medical Association, Louis Harris & Associates reported that as many as 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffer from persistent pain. Like many other qualifying conditions, chronic pain encompasses a gambit of conditions, including chronic migraines, arthritis, diabetes, or nerve damage,
For many patients with long-term pain needs, doctors prescribe painkillers, otherwise referred to as analgesics, like opiates or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). The quick draw on painkillers and NSAIDS, however, is that they introduce patients to other risks, including dependence and overdose, as well as other health conditions like liver damage or heart attack. Fortunately, medical marijuana programs are proving to be an effective, and healthier, alternative to those battling chronic pain.
How Medical Marijuana Alleviates Chronic Pain
While anecdotal evidence and ancient civilizations promote the use of marijuana for chronic pain and other ailments, modern research is only just catching up. Marijuana is classified federally as a Schedule I drug, despite being legal medicinally in most states and recreational in a handful. With its illegal federal status, research institutions have a hard time securing funding to properly study cannabis and its effects on the human body and, subsequently, pain. However, the few clinical studies that have been conducted demonstrate substantial promise.
In fact, in a Harvard review of cannabinoid studies, researchers found quality evidence in support of the use of cannabis to treat chronic pain. While twelve of the studies they examined focused on how cannabis effects either neuropathic pain or multiple sclerosis, the other six focused exclusively on chronic pain and how medical marijuana could be used to treat it. They found that, overwhelmingly, the studies demonstrated positive results.
In a separate study published in the Journal of Pain in March of 2016 and conducted by the University of Michigan, researchers wrote that their study participants cited improved quality of life, as well as less side effects from other medications, and decreased opioid usage. Considering the results of these findings, it seems as if scientific research is, in actuality, starting to support the anecdotal evidence that has existed for centuries.
The medicinal benefits of marijuana come from its ability to react to our endocannabinoid system, which is actually named for marijuana’s naturally occurring substances: cannabinoids. The two most well known cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). The body’s endocannabinoid system promotes homeostasis—it helps your body stay stable and balanced—and promotes immune and neuronal cell function, which play a large role in pain perception.
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of three facets:
- Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), located all around the body
- Enzymes that help breakdown and utilize cannabinoids
- Endogenous cannabinoids, which are cannabinoids produced by the body
The main receptors to keep in mind when examining cannabinoids, and their effect on pain, are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Found mostly in the central nervous system, CB1 receptors play a big role in how someone experiences pain. They are also the receptors responsible for the psychotropic effects of the substance. On the other hand, CB2 receptors control the body’s immune response to pain, promoting an anti-inflammatory effect. They also have analgesic (a.k.a. pain relieving) properties. THC and CBD bind to these receptors and help to reduce and alleviate pain.
You don’t have to put your life on pause because of chronic pain. You also don’t have to take a gamble on opioids and NSAIDS just to fully experience life. Instead, medical marijuana can help you naturally manage the pain you experience, without risking dependence, overdose, or other health risks. However, we always recommend speaking with a doctor to discuss whether marijuana is right for you.