Chronic pain is one of the most frequently treated conditions among medical cannabis patients. In fact, 73% of TeleLeaf’s patients list chronic pain as their number one condition they’d like to treat.
Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer, or any pain lasting longer than anticipated. It can be caused by injury, degenerative medical conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia), progressive non-acute conditions (such as cancer and heart disease), and mental health imbalances.
Chronic pain is a complex condition that significantly impacts our lives. Pain can have a major impact—both physically and psychologically.
The role of physical health is well-known, but chronic pain can also make it difficult to function at work or school, develop meaningful relationships with others, and maintain a stable home life. The emotional toll can be debilitating. Chronic pain patients are often faced with an uphill battle from the start, being met with doubt or uncertainty from loved ones and even healthcare professionals.
Pain Doesn’t Just Hurt
When we experience pain, we find ourselves with disrupted primary functions. In particular, sleep can become disrupted. People with chronic pain struggle to both fall asleep and stay asleep.
Their quality of rest is affected. This makes chronic pain a truly debilitating condition, one that requires urgent attention.
Pain has traditionally been treated by a multi-pronged approach, which includes a combination of:
- Pills (analgesic): Oral or topical versions of drugs that mimic the action of endorphins are helpful in dulling the pain sensation. For example, over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen as well as narcotics like Demerol and Morphine fall under this category.
- Injections: These refer to the administration of corticosteroids, steroids, and other drugs via injection into pain sites.
- Physical therapy (especially for autoimmune-related chronic pain): This is especially effective for those who suffer from conditions such as fibromyalgia.
- Exercises: The aim here is to stretch out muscles to help relieve pressure on bones. Walking, swimming, and bike riding are examples of exercises for people with common types of chronic pain ailments.
- Mobility work: This involves a physiotherapist manipulating stiff joints to improve their range of motion. Everybody will benefit from moving more after an injury but mobility exercises should be particularly concentrated on those areas where there are restricted movements or contractures — in order to mobilize joints and increase blood circulation.
- Acupuncture: Aimed at improving blood circulation and reducing muscle tension.
And now, medical marijuana has been added to that list. Natural plant medicine offers viable and reliable treatments for chronic pain. Medical marijuana has many advantages over prescription drugs: it does not cause dangerous side effects like dependence or withdrawal symptoms; it does not interact negatively with other medications; it does not require expensive monitoring or follow-up visits; it is generally affordable compared to other treatments for chronic pain, and most of all it is impossible to overdose.
Research shows that medical marijuana can be effective at treating a variety of chronic pain including fibromyalgia, back pain, arthritis and migraine headaches, and many more.
How Does Medical Marijuana Treat Chronic Pain?
Medical cannabis treats chronic pain by both blocking it and alleviating inflammation. Medical marijuana interacts with the opioid receptors in the human brain as well as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
One of the main ways that medical cannabis is thought to help with pain is by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. This happens because cannabinoids (the active ingredients in cannabis) attach themselves to specific receptors on nerve cells called CB1 receptors.
The ECS regulates our perception of pain. When endocannabinoid receptors are activated by cannabinoids, they inhibit the release of certain neurotransmitters that transmit signals from nerves to other nerves or muscles (in this case, pain). We feel less pain.
Another way that medical cannabis may work for chronic pain is by reducing inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation occurs when an area becomes swollen or red due to excess fluid buildup or tissue damage from injury or illness. Inflamed tissues release chemicals called inflammatory mediators, which cause pain and swelling.
Medical cannabis is known to reduce inflammation in the body by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain and peripheral nervous system.
What Forms of Medical Cannabis Best Treat Chronic Pain?
Different forms of cannabis address conditions from different points of entry. This leads to different levels and lengths of relief. Patients have the most success when they take the time to find what works best for themselves and often through combining treatments.
Often, chronic pain sufferers start and end their days with ingesting cannabis orally, and patients support the sustained relief throughout the day by augmenting that with inhalation and/or topical applications.
CBD Is an Important Cannabinoid for Relieving Chronic Pain
THC is the main cannabinoid for blocking pain, but chronic pain sufferers do themselves a favor by getting to know CBD, and when patients combine the two cannabinoids, they find the most relief. There is an “entourage effect” in which the two work together to synergistically boost one another’s efficacy.
While the THC directly works on blocking pain, the CBD reduces troublesome inflammation.
Inflammation is the source of pain in many cases. Inflammation occurs when an area becomes red, swollen, and tender. It’s a natural response to injury or disease and helps protect the damaged area by increasing blood flow to the site and clearing out harmful substances.
But sometimes inflammation can become chronic and last for a long time—even after the initial cause is gone. When this happens, chronic inflammation can damage healthy tissue around it, leading to more pain and other problems like stiffness or swelling.
The good news is that CBD can help reduce inflammation in your body so you feel better faster.
Oral Administration Should Be the First Line of Treatment for Chronic Pain
When it comes to treating persistent, chronic pain with medical cannabis, daily oral administration offers a great deal of relief. Consuming cannabis orally allows you to keep your dose consistent throughout the day while also avoiding the negative side effects associated with smoking or vaping.
With edibles, you don’t have to worry about sudden peaks or valleys in your blood levels — just a slow and steady increase in cannabinoids over a predictable period of time (depending on tolerance and metabolism, 6 – 8 hours).
Oral tinctures, edibles, and RSO fall into this category of relief.
Topicals Target Pain From the Outside
Cannabis-infused topical ointments are a unique and effective way to relieve chronic pain. They deliver targeted relief for chronic pain sufferers. Topicals are not psychoactive, so they won’t cause a high or intoxication. They also won’t cause any side effects like excessive hunger or drowsiness that can come with smoking or eating cannabis products.
Ointments, balms, and salves can be massaged directly into pain locations. Arthritic hands and knees, back muscles, and painful feet can all benefit from a direct application of topical medical marijuana.
Topical products are typically made using cannabis extract mixed with an oil base such as coconut or olive oil. The healing properties of cannabis work their way through your system and relieve pain.
Inhalation Offers Quick Relief
This makes it an excellent addition to oral forms of medical cannabis. Although inhaling medical cannabis does not support all-day relief from chronic pain, nor does it prevent flare-ups, it has been shown to provide on-the-spot relief when acute and episodic pain, such as migraine pain.
Many patients find a regimen that incorporates multiple forms of medical cannabis that provides optimal relief for their specific needs.
Medical Cannabis Can Be Used to Reduce, Augment and Enhance the Effects of Pharmaceuticals
Something important to know as you embark on a medical cannabis journey is that you don’t have to quit pharmaceutical medications in order to use medical marijuana. The truth is, some people’s physical pain is so intense and present, that they need the benefits of both.
When you introduce medicinal cannabis into your pain management program, you have an opportunity to reduce your opioid medicine intake while increasing your overall pain relief.
For instance, a person might take opioid pain pills morning, afternoon, and night, but with the addition of medical cannabis, they are able to lower their opioid dosage and even eliminate the midday pill. As more patients have chosen medical marijuana, doctors have learned more about using the two treatments–pharmaceutical and plant-based–in tandem.
If you are interested in exploring medical cannabis for yourself, call TeleLeaf today. Our doctors are licensed professionals with broad expertise ranging from clinical cannabinoid research to anesthesiology. Our patient advocates are compassionate people who are all patients themselves. TeleLeaf was created for the patient, by the patient.
Call us today at (504) 500-4842.