Marijuana and chronic pain
For those with chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts three to six months or more, quality of life is severely impacted, causing difficulties with daily activities and damaging mental health.
Chronic pain – which occurs when pain sensors fail to stop sending messages to the brain – can be caused by an array of different conditions including past injuries, surgeries, back problems, migraines, arthritis, nerve damage, infections and fibromyalgia, which causes muscle pain throughout the body.
Symptoms can extend beyond pain, however.
Those with chronic pain often experience symptoms that can vary from person to person or day to day, including:
- Dull aches
- Shooting pain
- Loss of appetite
- Mood changes including depression, anger and anxiety
- A lack of energy
With the medical community and government taking a hard look at the use of opioids to treat chronic pain, medical marijuana may be the next best option for treating chronic pain, while helping patients who have used narcotics for a long time deal with the difficulty of ditching the drugs.
“I was recently listening to a radio show on our nation’s opiate nightmare. While they had many suggestions for dealing with the crisis, I waited for them to discuss using cannabis as a therapy for narcotic problems. That topic never came up,” lamented Dr. Allen Frankel, a Santa Monica-based doctor of internal medicine who specializes in medical marijuana.
Some experts in the field call marijuana one of the most effective treatments available, not only for pain, but for a wide variety of health concerns.
“Cannabis is the single most versatile herbal remedy, and the most useful plant on Earth. No other single plant contains as wide a range of medically active herbal constituents,” says Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist who specializes in medical marijuana research.
Medical marijuana contains more than 70 different cannabinoids including THC and CBD, both of which mimic the endocannabinoids the body produces naturally to regulate a variety of different functions including pain management.
Essentially, the cannabinoids bind to receptors, blocking pain messages from reaching the brain.
Chronic pain was one of the first medicinal uses for cannabis, which has since been studied extensively as a treatment option for both neuropathic and inflammatory chronic pain.
A 2010 study from researchers at McGill University in Montreal that appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that the cannabinoids in marijuana, especially THC, led to a reduction in chronic nerve pain by almost half, from a rating of 10 to 5.4, significant for those whose lives are disrupted by chronic pain.
“Any reduction in pain is important,” Dr. Mark Ware, an assistant professor of anesthesia and family medicine at McGill told WebMD. “It’s been known anecdotally, [but] we’ve shown again that cannabis is analgesic, Clearly, it has medical value.”
It also may help improve the effects of opiates, reducing the need to take larger quantities of the drugs.
According to Dr. Donald Abrams, M.D., chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, when inhaled, medical marijuana can reduce pain associated with nerve damage (such as diabetic-related neuropathy) and it “appears to boost the effect of opiate pain relievers,” said Dr. Andrew Weill in a blog post.
Cannabis has also been shown to work in synergy with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen), suggesting that some may be able to trade their opioids for a non-addictive option that effectively eases pain.
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