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Why Medical Marijuana Works for Pain

    • Many patients use medical marijuana for chronic pain relief and relief from other debilitating conditions.


    • Medical cannabis relieves pain by modulating pain receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is your body’s built-in network of cannabinoid receptors, and everyone has them.


    • Depending on your specific condition, you can use medical cannabis for pain relief in a wide variety of ways; medical marijuana treatment is highly customizable.


Can marijuana help with nerve pain? Yes—and it can help relieve other kinds of pain, too. But how does marijuana relieve pain, exactly?

In short, cannabinoids (compounds found in the cannabis plant) attach to receptors that modulate the body’s pain response. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we’re diving into the specifics in this guide.

Whether you’re considering marijuana for arthritis pain relief or for everyday chronic pain, understanding how and why cannabis works for pain can help you personalize your treatment plan and unlock the all-natural healing you deserve.

Let’s dive in.

Cannabis and Pain Relief 101

First, let’s break down why cannabis is such an effective tool for pain relief. To unpack this topic, we’ll explore three key elements: your body’s endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids themselves, and pain receptors.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a built-in network of receptors that respond to both endogenous (i.e., made by your body) and external cannabinoids.

There are a few important things to note about the ECS:

  • Everyone has one – Whether or not you’ve used marijuana before, your body already has an ECS. It’s a critical internal system that plays a role in pain, inflammation, and other physiological responses.
  • There are two main ECS receptors – There are two types of ECS receptors: CB1 and CB2. These are found in different parts of the body and they each modulate different responses.
  • Cannabinoids interact with the ECS – While your body makes cannabinoid compounds that interact with the ECS (these are called endogenous cannabinoids), cannabinoids introduced via marijuana consumption interact with the ECS in similar ways. This is why we can use medical cannabis to achieve a variety of health outcomes, including pain relief.


Speaking of cannabinoids, let’s touch on some of the compounds that you can introduce to your body via cannabis consumption.

You’ve likely heard of the two most prevalent compounds found in the marijuana plant (called the “major cannabinoids”):

  • THCDelta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive compound that naturally occurs in the marijuana plant. While it produces the high associated with cannabis use, THC can also support a variety of wellness goals.
  • CBDCannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound that can deliver an array of health benefits without intoxicating users.

In addition to the major cannabinoids above, there are hundreds of “minor cannabinoids” found in relatively small quantities in the cannabis plant: CBN, CBC, and CBG are just three examples, and each offers various health benefits for patients.

All of the cannabinoids (major and minor) have the potential to interact with the ECS. This is primarily how marijuana produces the health effects patients are looking for.

Pain Receptors and the ECS

Cannabinoids interact with the ECS by attaching to (or interacting with) ECS receptors—CB1 and CB2. These receptors have distinct functions, but experts are still trying to identify all of the roles that CB1 and CB2 play in the body. Right now, experts know that:

  • CB1 is primarily responsible for the psychoactive response triggered by THC.
  • CB2 activity can influence both inflammation and immune responses.
  • Both THC and CBD interact with these receptors to produce specific responses.

While CB1 is mostly associated with psychoactivity, there may be more to the story—it’s possible that both receptors play a role in pain management (and other processes), but cannabis research is ongoing.

How to Use Cannabis for Pain Relief

Now that you have an idea of how cannabis works to relieve pain, let’s touch on a few pain-related use cases. If you’re not sure where to start on your path to cannabis care, read on.

Chronic Pain

If you’re considering using medical marijuana for chronic pain, you’re not alone: countless patients can attest to the pain relief benefits of medical cannabis.

For chronic pain, there are a variety of ways you can leverage marijuana to find relief:

  • Topicals – Cannabis-infused topicals have been on the market for a while, and they’re a popular administration method for patients with pain in specific areas. Plus, they’re typically infused with CBD, so they aren’t intoxicating.
  • Edibles – Cannabis edibles are another popular choice for patients with chronic pain. Edibles offer highly precise dosing, discreet administration, and a simple way to introduce marijuana to the body.

People looking for chronic pain relief generally turn to CBD-forward indica strains; you can learn more about strain selection in this TeleLeaf guide.

Joint Pain

Want to use marijuana for joint pain? This could revolutionize your pain management journey.

People living with joint pain often turn to pharmaceuticals: opioids are a surprisingly popular choice, but they pose high dependence potential along with numerous side effects. Cannabis, on the other hand, offers an all-natural option for patients struggling to improve their quality of life in the face of joint pain.

Cannabis-infused topicals are one of the most popular choices for joint pain patients. Why?

  • They’re not psychoactive – Since topicals are typically infused with non-psychoactive CBD, they don’t get you high.
  • They can be used all day – Because they’re not psychoactive, patients can apply topical products anytime—before work, after a gym visit, or even in public.
  • They’re simple to use – Just dispense a few pumps of your favorite topical product onto your skin and rub it in: that’s all there is to it.

Back Pain

There are long-established connections between marijuana and back pain: cannabis is widely considered to be an effective back pain treatment in both clinical literature and anecdotal reports.

Cannabis is especially helpful for people living with back pain because of its overall wellness benefits. Since back pain can interrupt sleep, keep us from exercising, and even interfere with our social lives, patients need a truly well-rounded solution that addresses all of their associated symptoms.

Medical marijuana can relieve back pain, but it can also:

Pain Associated with Medical Treatment

Numerous medical conditions (and treatments for those conditions) can be painful:

  • Cancers
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

Patients may also face a painful recovery period after various surgeries.

Cannabis is especially useful for people with these sources of severe pain. Why?

  • Marijuana relieves nausea – Nausea is a widely reported symptom of many cancer therapies. Patients in pain during cancer treatment can harness the added benefit of nausea reduction, which can help them maintain a balanced diet.
  • Marijuana has anti-inflammatory properties – Since autoimmune disorders are often characterized by inflammation, patients living with these kinds of conditions could both decrease their pain and manage their overall inflammatory response with help from medical cannabis.
  • Marijuana can reduce muscle spasms – Cannabis can both reduce pain and moderate muscle spasms—a common symptom of numerous conditions (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid illnesses).

For people facing even the most challenging healthcare conditions, cannabis can help them manage some of their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life during recovery.

Unlock Cannabis Access with TeleLeaf

Between emerging clinical evidence and overwhelming anecdotal reports, the answer is clear: cannabis is a viable option for pain relief.

However, the first step to finding this relief is gaining access to safe, dispensary-grade cannabis in the first place. To do that, you’ll need a medical marijuana card, and TeleLeaf can help.

Our network of telehealth providers can help you explore your medical marijuana options, work through the card approval process, and get a recommendation for cannabis. But that’s not all: we’ll help you curate your treatment plan and support you on every step of your healing journey.

Say goodbye to prescription opioids and other dead-end treatments: discover the relief you deserve with medical cannabis.


JAMA. Use of Cannabis and Other Pain Treatments Among Adults With Chronic Pain in US States With Medical Cannabis Programs.

Healthline. A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System.

National Library of Medicine. Tetrahydrocannabinol.

National Library of Medicine. Cannabidiol.

Journal of Current Neuropharmacology. The Cannabinoid CB2 Receptor as a Target for Inflammation-Dependent Neurodegeneration.

Mayo Clinic. How Opioid Use Disorder Occurs.

Global Spine Journal. The Efficacy of Cannabis in Reducing Back Pain: A Systematic Review.

Sleep Foundation. Cannabis for Sleep: Risks and Benefits.

University of Colorado Boulder. Study: Cannabis can make workouts more fun, but it’s no performance-enhancer.

Full Harvest Moonz. 4 Ways Cannabis Can Boost Your Mood.

ImmunoTargets and Therapy. Cannabis and Autoimmunity: Possible Mechanisms of Action.

Medical News Today. Why do muscle spasms (muscle cramps or twitch) happen?.

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