Chronic pain is one of the most common conditions that people face in the U.S. and around the world. A recent study found that more than 50 million Americans deal with some form of pain most days or every day.
Dealing with chronic pain can affect your quality of life. It can make it difficult, if not impossible, to perform essential tasks. It may even interfere with your ability to work. While there are conventional treatments that may provide relief, there’s been a rise in an alternative therapy — medicinal cannabis for pain relief. Many people who use it say it’s highly effective, but what does the science say?
A Brief History of Cannabis for Pain Relief
The use of cannabis for pain relief isn’t anything new. It has a long history in civilizations around the globe.
The Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes Throughout History
The earliest written record of cannabis use for medicinal purposes dates back to around 2737 B.C. Emperor Sheng-Nung — considered by some to be the father of Chinese medicine — listed it in the first pharmacopeia. He recognized its treatment benefits for several ailments, including gout, rheumatism, and more.
Over the next several centuries, cannabis use spread to various civilizations around the world. Researchers have found records of its use for pain and other ailments in ancient India, Egypt, Rome, and Greece.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that cannabis for medicinal purposes spread to the Western world, and it became a part of the U.S. pharmacopeia in the 1850s. However, following the turn of the century, laws and propaganda paved the way for its eventual prohibition. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act essentially banned cannabis. Then, in 1970, it became a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
The Emergence of Medical Cannabis for Pain Relief In Modern Times
Despite the illegal status of cannabis, people continued to use it for various purposes. For some, those reasons were purely recreational, while others used it for relief from specific ailments, including pain. Over the years, studies have also shown the plant may actually offer therapeutic benefits. Gradually, states have gone so far as to legalize it within their borders for medicinal purposes. Today, many states list chronic pain as one of the conditions approved for patients to receive their medical cannabis cards.
How Medicinal Cannabis Works for Pain Relief
Let’s take a closer look at how medical cannabis may provide relief from pain.
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
Humans — and other mammals — have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a complex network of chemical signals and receptors (cannabinoid or CB receptors) in their brains and throughout their bodies. The ECS regulates various functions in the body, including mood, appetite, immune function, inflammation, and pain control.
When there’s an imbalance in one of its associated functions, the ECS triggers a release of endocannabinoids. These neurotransmitters bind with CB receptors, restoring homeostasis. When you experience pain, the binding of endocannabinoids to CB receptors can alleviate it.
Some cannabinoids in cannabis function similarly. When you use cannabis, the compounds bind with CB receptors in your brain or other areas of your body. That could provide some much-needed pain relief.
Cannabis Compounds and Their Potential Roles in Relieving Pain
There are hundreds of compounds in cannabis, with cannabinoids being the most well-known. These compounds include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two of the most prevalent cannabinoids in the plant.
THC is best known for producing the high people associate with cannabis use. It can also help alleviate pain by binding directly with CB receptors. CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, doesn’t bind with CB receptors, but it may inhibit the breakdown of endocannabinoids that do provide pain relief. Some research shows that it may also interact directly with other receptors, such as serotonin and vanilloid receptors, to alleviate pain.
Various other cannabinoids may play a role in alleviating pain, but they aren’t the only ones. Terpenes in cannabis, the compounds responsible for each plant’s flavor and aroma, may also play a role. Strains high in myrcene, caryophyllene, pinene, and linalool may all work with cannabinoids to provide pain relief.
Product Type Can Play a Role
There are numerous forms of cannabis on the market today. Along with flowers (buds), there are concentrates, tinctures, edibles, capsules, and topicals. Inhalation methods — smoking and vaping — generally provide the fastest-acting relief. Taking tinctures under the tongue also allows for quick results. Edibles and capsules take effect later, usually within one to two hours. They also offer longer-lasting relief.
Topicals, such as balms and creams, work a bit differently. Unlike other methods of use, the cannabinoids in these products don’t enter your bloodstream. They allow you to target the source of your pain rather than providing full-body pain relief.
Considerations When Using Medical Cannabis
Before you start using medical cannabis for pain relief — or to help treat any other ailments — there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
The Potential Side Effects of Using Medical Cannabis for Pain Relief
Cannabis may be a natural plant, but that doesn’t mean it’s without side effects. Potential risks of using cannabis include:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Dizziness and balance issues
- Dry mouth (also known as cottonmouth)
- Paranoia/anxiety (often a result of ingesting too much THC)
- Increased hunger
- Eye redness
Generally, the side effects of medical cannabis use are mild. They’re also less severe than many of the common side effects of prescription pain medications.
Your Cannabis Tolerance
Everyone’s body is different. Some people tolerate high doses of THC just fine, while others may only be able to handle very little. When starting cannabis, the general recommendation is to start low and gradually increase your doses until you find what works best for you. It’s not uncommon for patients to find optimal relief with microdosing.
Any Medications You Take
Again, cannabis may be a plant, but its compounds can interact with those in prescription medications. For instance, taking it with certain pain relievers or anti-depressants may amplify side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired motor coordination.
The Form of Cannabis You Use
The ideal form of cannabis for you is highly personal. For instance, if you want to avoid the smell of weed or inhalation, you might opt for edibles or topicals as a more discreet option. Or, you might select a tincture to take sublingually for fast-acting relief.
Choose VidaCann for Your Medicinal Cannabis Needs
If you want to try medical cannabis as an alternative to conventional treatments for pain relief, a doctor can help you determine if it’s a good option for you. And when you’re ready to find the right products, VidaCann is here to help. Our Florida dispensaries, located throughout the state, stock the highest-quality flowers, pre-rolls, concentrates, edibles, topicals, and more. If you’re unsure of what to choose, our knowledgeable budtenders can help you find the best products for your unique needs and goals. Visit us online or in-store to browse our selection today.