Cannabis refers to a group of plants in the family Cannabaceae that contain compounds called cannabinoids. There are over 100 different cannabinoids, but the two most well-known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound that is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBD is non-psychoactive.
When we consume cannabis, the cannabinoids in the plant interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex system of receptors and neurotransmitters that are involved in regulating many different bodily functions, including pain, mood, appetite, and sleep.
When THC interacts with the ECS, it activates the CB1 receptors, which are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system. This activation leads to the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can help to reduce pain and improve mood. THC can also interact with the CB2 receptors, which are primarily located in the immune system and can help to reduce inflammation.
CBD, on the other hand, does not directly activate the CB1 or CB2 receptors but can interact with other receptors in the body, including the serotonin and vanilloid receptors . This can lead to reduced pain and inflammation, as well as improved mood and sleep.
The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.
Cannabis has been used for a variety of different types of pain, including:
According to a recent study by researchers from Harvard Medical School, the long-term use of medical cannabis may be able to reduce chronic pain, especially pain from arthritis and swollen joints . Both THC and CBD may help with the short-term mitigation of chronic pain . Multiple patient surveys indicate that cannabis helps with their experience of chronic pain.
While cannabis has been shown to be effective in managing pain, it is important to note that its effectiveness can vary depending on the individual and the type of pain they are experiencing. People have reported different levels of relief after taking cannabis to ease their pain; for some there’s an immediate and noticeable difference and for others it makes no difference.
While cannabis can be an effective treatment for pain, it is not without risks. Some of the risks associated with cannabis use, whether medicinal or recreational, include:
Cannabis can be used in many different forms for pain relief. Especially if people are only familiar with smoking cannabis, it is important to be aware that there are alternative ways to ingest it that avoid the health consequences of smoking. Here are some of the most common forms:
The effectiveness of cannabis for pain relief can vary depending on the form it is taken in. Here is a breakdown of how each form varies in effectiveness:
Smoking cannabis involves inhaling the smoke from burning cannabis flowers. This is the most traditional method of consuming cannabis and can provide fast relief from pain due to its rapid onset time. However, smoking can also have negative health effects on the lungs and can be challenging for some users to tolerate.
Vaping cannabis involves heating the plant material or extracts to produce a vapor that can be inhaled. This method has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its convenience and potential health benefits over smoking. Vaping has a faster onset time than edibles and tinctures and can provide more potent pain relief than smoking.
Edibles are absorbed through the digestive system, which means they have a slower onset time than smoking or vaping. However, the effects of edibles can last much longer than smoking or vaping and can provide more sustained pain relief. Edibles can be challenging to dose correctly, and their effects can be delayed or unpredictable, making them more suitable for experienced users.
Tinctures are liquid cannabis extracts that are taken sublingually (under the tongue). They have a faster onset time than edibles and can provide more controlled dosing than smoking or vaping. Tinctures can be added to food or drinks, making them a versatile option for users who want to avoid smoking or vaping.
Topicals are often used for localized pain relief and can be effective for conditions like arthritis, muscle soreness, and neuropathic pain. Topicals do not produce a psychoactive effect, making them suitable for users who do not want to experience a high.
Concentrates are cannabis extracts that are made by extracting the plant's essential oils and other compounds. They can be smoked, vaporized, or used in edibles and tinctures. Concentrates are more potent than traditional cannabis flower and can provide more intense pain relief. However, they can also have higher levels of THC, which can cause adverse effects in some users.
THC and CBD are two of the most commonly consumed cannabinoids and they have different effects on the body. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, responsible for the “high” feeling that people experience. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive and does not produce a high.
When it comes to pain relief, both THC and CBD have shown promise, but they have different effects on the body. THC has been found to be more effective for pain relief than CBD, but it also comes with more side effects and a higher risk of addiction. CBD, on the other hand, has fewer side effects and a lower risk of addiction, but it may not be as effective as THC for pain relief.
Studies indicate that for many patients, cannabis with higher percentages of THC, and to a lesser extent CBD, are more effective in treating pain.
Here are some of the key differences between THC and CBD:
Scientists are still researching the exact mechanisms by which both THC and CBD, as well as their combined use, may work with the ECS to reduce pain. For example, some research has suggested that THC might not actively reduce the pain itself, but act on the brain’s amygdala to affect the perception of pain . Once again, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of THC and CBD for pain relief can vary depending on the individual and the type of pain they are experiencing.
Overall, both THC and CBD have therapeutic potential for pain relief, but they have different effects on the body and come with different risks and benefits. The best approach for pain relief will depend on the individual and their specific needs. Be sure to talk to a healthcare professional before using cannabis for pain relief, as there can be potential interactions with other medications and side effects to consider.
The dosage of cannabis that a person should take can vary depending on several factors, such as their age, weight, and medical condition. Additionally, the method of consumption can also affect the dosage that is appropriate. Here are some ways that dosages can vary based on the method of consumption:
Inhalation: When cannabis is inhaled, it can take effect quickly, usually within a few minutes. However, the effects can wear off relatively quickly as well, usually within a few hours. The dosage that is appropriate for inhalation mostly varies based on the potency of the cannabis being used, as well as the person's tolerance level. Generally, it is recommended that people start with a low dosage and gradually increase it as needed.
Edibles: When cannabis is consumed in the form of an edible, it can take much longer to take effect, usually anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and effects typically last longer than when cannabis is inhaled. Because of the delayed onset and longer-lasting effects, it can be more difficult to determine the appropriate dosage for edibles. It is recommended that people start with a low dosage (5-10mg) and wait at least 2 hours before taking more.
Topicals: When cannabis is applied topically, such as in the form of a cream or lotion, it is absorbed through the skin and can provide localized relief without producing psychoactive effects. Dosages can vary based on the potency of the product and the area of the body where it is being applied.
Sublingual: When cannabis is consumed sublingually, placed under the tongue, it can take effect relatively quickly, usually within 15-45 minutes. Dosages can vary based on the potency of the product and the person's tolerance level.
Over 200 separate indications or uses for medical cannabis have been identified . The most common conditions that cannabis is used to treat for pain relief include:
Neuropathic pain: This is a type of chronic pain caused by damaged nerves; sometimes it is a side-effect of chemotherapy. Studies have found that marijuana can be helpful in treating neuropathic pain .
Muscular pain: Topical cannabis can be effective in providing pain relief without the side effects of pharmaceutical painkillers .
Fibromyalgia: Medical marijuana can be effective in reducing pain and improving sleep quality in patients with fibromyalgia .
Inflammatory conditions: Cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties and can be helpful in treating conditions such as arthritis .
Migraines: Medical marijuana has been found to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines .
Cannabis is one of the best medicines for migraines. It's so effective - it works rapidly, and it has limited toxicity, although lung damage from smoking is a concern.
The success rates for treating the above conditions with cannabis vary and depend on several factors, including the individual’s health status, the method of consumption, and the dosage and quality of the cannabis product used. Additionally, since the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is a relatively new field of study, there is still a need for more research to establish the long-term effectiveness of cannabis in treating these conditions.
Side Effects of Using Cannabis to Treat these Conditions:
Like any medication, cannabis can have side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic , some potential side effects of using cannabis include:
It’s also essential to be aware that smoking cannabis can have negative effects on lung health, as shared above. In some cases, cannabis can worsen anxiety or even trigger panic attacks. People who have a history of mental illness, including anxiety and depression, should be cautious when using cannabis for pain relief. According to Harvard Health Publishing , people who use cannabis with high levels of THC, may be more likely to experience anxiety and other mental health side effects.
Like any medication, cannabis has potential risks that should be considered before use. Here are some important safety considerations to keep in mind when using cannabis for pain relief:
Overall, cannabis can be a safe and effective option for pain relief when used responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Before using cannabis for pain relief, it is essential to be aware of the legal considerations that come with its use. In many countries, including the United States, cannabis remains illegal under federal law. However, many states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, and it is important to understand the legal framework in your state or country.
In addition to checking the basic legal status of cannabis in your area, here are some legal considerations to keep in mind when using cannabis for pain relief:
Chronic pain affects millions of people and finding effective pain relief methods can be a challenge. While traditional pharmaceutical pain relievers can be effective, they also come with a host of potential side effects and risks, such as opioid addiction . As a result, many people have turned to alternative methods, including cannabis, for pain relief.
Here, we’ll explore how cannabis compares to other pain relief methods in terms of effectiveness, the advantages and disadvantages of using cannabis compared to other pain relief methods, and potential risks of using other pain relief methods.
Research suggests that the cannabinoids found in cannabis can help to relieve pain by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating pain, inflammation, and other physiological processes.
Medical cannabis replaced my need for oxycodone. Now I don't need them at all.
Several studies have compared the effectiveness of cannabis to other pain relief methods, including traditional pharmaceuticals. Here are a few key findings:
Overall, the evidence suggests that cannabis can be an effective treatment option for chronic pain, and may be a safer alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals in light of the crippling effects of opioid addiction.
In one study of people who switched from managing pain with prescription opioids to medical cannabis, many reported better quality of life and less negative impacts .
Traditional pharmaceutical pain relievers come with a host of potential risks and side effects, the most serious of which are addiction and overdose. Especially when taken in high doses or for a prolonged period of time, these risks increase.
The risks associated with opioids include:
Overdose: Overdose is a serious risk associated with opioid use. In 2020, over 68,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States alone .
Opioid misuse has become a major public health issue, and it is important to consider alternative pain management options whenever possible.
Non-opioid pain relievers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin are commonly used to manage pain. These drugs can be effective in reducing pain, but they also carry the following risks:
When considering different pain relief methods, it is important to weigh the potential benefits and risks of each option. Cannabis may offer a safer alternative for some people, particularly those who cannot tolerate or do not want to use opioids or NSAIDs.
As mentioned earlier, opioids and non-opioid pain relievers carry a number of risks, including addiction, overdose, and side effects like stomach ulcers and liver damage. In addition, some other pain management methods may carry their own risks:
Dosages can vary depending on the individual’s needs and the product being used. It is recommended to start with a low dose and gradually increase until the desired effect is achieved. Pay attention to any changes in mood or behavior as the effects of cannabis can be highly individualized.
The following are some general dosage guidelines:
It is important to note that the effectiveness of each method can vary depending on the individual and the type of pain being experienced. Experimenting with different methods and dosages can help individuals find what works best for them.
This organization is dedicated to ensuring safe and legal access to medical cannabis for therapeutic use and research. They provide educational resources, legal support, and advocacy for patients and medical professionals.
This association focuses on the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes, including pain management. They provide resources for patients and medical professionals, as well as advocacy for cannabis research and access.
This organization works to change cannabis laws and policies to increase access for patients and reduce harm. They provide information on state laws, advocacy resources, and support for cannabis reform.
NORML advocates for the legalization of marijuana for adults, as well as legal access for medical patients. They provide educational resources, legal support, and advocacy for cannabis reform.
This organization provides education and advocacy for the therapeutic use of cannabis, including pain management. They offer resources for patients, medical professionals, and policymakers, and promote research into cannabis as medicine.
This association is dedicated to promoting the safe and effective use of cannabis for medical purposes, including pain management. They provide educational resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy for cannabis research and access.
This organization advocates for the use of cannabis for military veterans, including pain management. They provide resources for veterans, promote research into cannabis as medicine, and advocate for legal access to cannabis for veterans.
This organization promotes safe and legal access to cannabis for medical purposes, including pain management. They offer educational resources, advocacy for cannabis reform, and support for research into cannabis as medicine.
Living in constant pain is a distressing reality for millions of people. In an effort to ease that pain, the pharmaceutical industry inadvertently created an opioid crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Now more than ever, an alternative form of pain management with less severe side effects such as cannabis, should be seriously considered by doctors and patients alike.
Research on the efficacy of cannabinoids like THC and CBD to alleviate pain continues to shed light of which kinds of pain, such as neuropathic pain, cannabis seems to be most effective for. The increasing scope for legal medicinal cannabis use makes this treatment a viable option for more people than ever. If you or a loved one is dealing with long-term pain, consider talking to a medical professional to see if cannabis can be the means to relieve it.
Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. “Perceived Efficacy, Reduced Prescription Drug Use, and Minimal Side Effects of Cannabis in Patients with Chronic Orthopedic Pain .” Accessed on April 26, 2023.