An Intro To Cannabis And Chronic Pain: Fact Vs. Fiction (And Products That Help)
Chronic pain affects millions of adults worldwide, and the numbers are rising. It was estimated in 2014 that about 10 percent of the world’s population, or approximately 60 million people, suffered from chronic pain. A 2017 survey for the Health Survey of England found that 34 percent of adults had noticeable chronic pain, and an amendment added in 2020 showed that the number has risen to 38 percent. In the United States, as of 2019, that number is closer to 20 percent.
Reasons for chronic pain vary from arthritis to injury or disease, but whatever the cause, it can be debilitating and can severely decrease the quality of life for those who suffer from it.
Given the long list of negative side effects that come with opioids, which have classically been used to treat chronic pain, it’s no surprise that many adults are searching for alternative solutions.
Opioids can potentially lead to dependence, and cause stomach pain, organ damage, headaches, itchiness, drowsiness, and other unpleasant side effects. As such, some patients feel that the cons outweigh the pros when using painkillers, and without alternatives they often feel hopeless.
Hope For Safer Chronic Pain Relief
In recent years, medical marijuana has entered the ring as a top contender for relief from chronic pain, but since research on the subject is not up to par for many in the medical community, misinformation runs wild, which has led to some confusion.
There are many unanswered questions in the medical community: does marijuana reduce inflammation? Does cannabis actually have healing properties, or does it just help alleviate symptoms in the short term?
It’s important to remember that medical marijuana is not FDA approved, but there are still studies (and no shortage of anecdotal testimonies) to suggest there are medical benefits to marijuana, especially when it comes to pain.
In short, cannabis is suggested to have proven anti-inflammatory symptoms, making it a great solution for people suffering from arthritis, bowel disease, and even Alzeihmer’s disease. Early studies have shown that cannabis contains more than twenty times the anti-inflammatory capabilities of an aspirin, and twice as much as a hydrocortisone steroid medication.
This is especially true in what’s referred to as “medical grade marijuana,” which strives to use the whole flower and is often bred to be quite strong. That doesn’t mean that other variations of cannabis, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) aren’t effective on their own, though.
Cannabinoids: The Compounds Doing The Heavy Lifting
CBD and THC are the most common cannabinoids (or compounds) in cannabis, and used in many products on the market today. While both CBD and THC provide pain-relieving effects, CBD is preferred among those who don’t want to experience the intoxication or “high” that comes with THC.
Early research on CBD, however, hasn’t produced the same pain-relieving results as THC, though it has still been shown to be effective for muscle pain, period cramps, and even mild joint pain.
There is also research to suggest that using CBD and THC together is the best route for longer-lasting pain relief, and actually reduces the “high” feeling from THC.
As for whether cannabis can heal you? That’s still up for debate, though research is still ongoing. Even though cannabis may not be the panacea so many believe it to be, it can still be extremely beneficial for those looking for an alternative to painkillers for relief from chronic pain.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, THC in particular interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a system made up of a series of receptors located throughout the brain and body. These receptors are related to the sensation of pain, so by interacting with them, THC can decrease pain and provide relief.
What Kind of Cannabis Is Best for Chronic Pain?
While science has shown us that labels like “sativa,” “indica,” and “hybrid” are not as accurate as we once believed, some patients believe strains from a particular subspecies might be better for treating pain.
In 2014, a small survey of 95 participants conducted in the U.S. concluded that most patients found the most relief from the varieties of cannabis described as “indica.” In particular, they found relief for symptoms of non-migraine headaches, arthritis, neuropathy, and joint pain. Participants who used strains described as “sativa”-dominant found relief from chronic fatigue and nausea.
Another area of confusion is whether one method of consumption works better than others in terms of providing relief. Should you smoke, snack, or even sip on a THC or CBD beverage? There is also a vast array of topical THC products, and with so many options (at least in the United States), it can be overwhelming.
In 2019, researchers in New Mexico conducted one of the largest cannabis studies to date. Published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, their findings showed that patients found much more relief from smoking marijuana than they did from ingesting edibles, or using topical lotions or creams.
If you’re not a smoker though, products like edibles, topical solutions, pain patches, and even bath bombs may work just as well—they just might take a little longer to kick in.
Ultimately, pain is extremely personal, and so is pain relief. It may take some experimenting to find what truly works best for you, and that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged, because while there is still limited research and findings, there is a surplus of hope that you’ll find what works best for you.
Below is a list of (non-smokable) products available in the United States that are a great place to start when trying to manage pain.
Sweet ReLEAF Dry Oil
This product uses full-spectrum, whole-plant cannabis oil, which gives it a little extra punch. It has a 14:1 THC to CBD ratio, and is combined with essential oils for an easy roll-on application. It really lives up to its name and rolls on dry, leaving no messy residue or stains on clothing. It’s easy to carry around for a quick boost of pain relief on-the-go.
Kush Kween Bath Bombs
This bath bomb takes your relaxing bath to the next level. As your pores open in the heat of the bath, your skin will be treated to a luscious combination of THC, CBD, and essential oils, including eucalyptus, black pepper, and rosemary, for a near-instant feeling of pain relief. (Note that the relief is short-term, and will likely only last during bath time.)
CANN Social Tonics
This product is perfect to just “take the edge off.” While the company doesn’t make any claims related to pain relief, it is a low dose of THC (approximately two milligrams of THC and four milligrams of CBD per drink), so it’s could help with mild pain management when you don’t want a major buzz.
Mary’s Medicinals Transdermal Patch
This patch works like any other pain patch (think Lidocaine): apply it to the area giving you pain, and its THC formula mixed with cooling herbs and oils provides near-instant topical relief. It’s a great on-the-go solution that is intended to last around 12 hours.
Quanta CBD Muscle Rub
For those adverse to the possibility of feeling high from any of the other products, CBD is effective in helping joint and muscle pain, and this product is at the top of the list for fast-acting relief. It’s similar to a Tiger Balm or Bengay product, and provides instant relief from its cooling, herbal ingredients. It is best used over an extended period of time, and needs to be rubbed in for 30 to 60 seconds when applied for best results.