How does medical marijuana help with chronic pain?
“Doctor, my back is killing me!”
“Well, have you considered medical marijuana?”
That might sound like the beginning of a stoner comedy, but in reality, it’s a conversation happening more and more often between patients and healthcare professionals.
Orthopedic pain, be it from arthritis, degenerative disc disease, or a good ol’ case of “I’m not as young as I used to be,” is no laughing matter. But as it turns out, medical marijuana can help with chronic pain and bring a smile to your face – both figuratively and, thanks to its psychoactive properties, sometimes literally.
So, sit back (carefully), relax, and let’s take a look at how medical marijuana can help with chronic pain.
A Crash Course in Medical Marijuana
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how medical marijuana can help with chronic pain, let’s take a moment to brush up on our cannabis knowledge.
Contrary to popular belief, medical marijuana is not just an excuse to get high and binge-watch your favorite sitcom. It contains over 100 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, that can provide various therapeutic benefits. The two most famous cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the one responsible for the psychoactive effects (i.e., the giggles and the munchies), while CBD is the straight-laced, non-intoxicating cousin with numerous potential health benefits.
How the Green Stuff Works
Now, let’s talk about how medical marijuana can help with chronic pain. It all starts with a little something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a vital cell-signaling system in our bodies responsible for regulating pain, inflammation, and other important functions.
The ECS consists of endocannabinoids (natural compounds similar to cannabinoids), receptors, and enzymes. When you consume medical marijuana, THC and CBD interact with the ECS, binding to receptors called CB1 and CB2. This interaction helps modulate pain perception, making you feel better and perhaps even inspiring an impromptu dance party in your living room (though we don’t recommend that if you’re already in pain).
The Science Behind the Laughs
You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but is there any evidence to back it up?” Fear not, my skeptical friend – we’ve got the scientific goods.
See the footnotes at the end of this article for 10 highly-respected sources that provide evidence for the effectiveness of medical marijuana in helping with chronic pain.
Now, we can’t talk about the benefits of medical marijuana without addressing the potential side effects. It’s true that some people may experience dizziness, dry mouth, or even an increased heart rate – but let’s be honest, that’s still better than the side effects of some conventional pain medications, like addiction and constipation.
Of course, it’s important to consult with your healthcare professional before trying medical marijuana to help with chronic pain. They can help you determine the appropriate dosage and form to suit your specific needs. After all, the goal is to alleviate pain, not to spend your days in a blissful haze, forgetting where you left your keys.
“I don’t want to get ‘high’. Can I still use medical marijuana?”
Absolutely! There exist countless different types of formulations and delivery methods that will help chronic pain, without the mind-altering side effects usually associated with cannabis. CBD-only formulations, specifically, will bind your pain receptors without making you want to listen to Pink Floyd.
If you’re considering medical marijuana to help with chronic pain, it’s essential to do your research, talk to your doctor, and approach it with a healthy dose of common sense. After all, laughter might be the best medicine, but in this case, a little green plant could be just what the doctor ordered.
Dayton Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Center is the Dayton region’s only Orthopedic Surgeon with a license to recommend medical marijuana. To schedule an appointment to see if you might be eligible for a legal medical marijuana card, call (937) 436-5763.
Here is a list of 10 sources that provide evidence for the effectiveness of medical marijuana in helping with chronic pain:
- Whiting, P. F., Wolff, R. F., Deshpande, S., Di Nisio, M., Duffy, S., Hernandez, A. V., … & Schmidlkofer, S. (2015). Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA, 313(24), 2456-2473. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2338266
- Nugent, S. M., Morasco, B. J., O’Neil, M. E., Freeman, M., Low, A., Kondo, K., … & Elven, C. (2017). The effects of cannabis among adults with chronic pain and an overview of general harms: a systematic review. Annals of internal medicine, 167(5), 319-331. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M17-0155
- Mücke, M., Phillips, T., Radbruch, L., Petzke, F., & Häuser, W. (2018). Cannabis-based medicines for chronic neuropathic pain in adults. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3(3), CD012182. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD012182.pub2/full
- Wilsey, B., Marcotte, T., Deutsch, R., Gouaux, B., Sakai, S., & Donaghe, H. (2013). Low-dose vaporized cannabis significantly improves neuropathic pain. The Journal of Pain, 14(2), 136-148. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590012009621
- Wallace, M. S., Marcotte, T. D., Umlauf, A., Gouaux, B., & Atkinson, J. H. (2015). Efficacy of inhaled cannabis on painful diabetic neuropathy. The Journal of Pain, 16(7), 616-627. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590015005658
- Johnson, J. R., Burnell-Nugent, M., Lossignol, D., Ganae-Motan, E. D., Potts, R., & Fallon, M. T. (2010). Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC:CBD extract and THC extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 39(2), 167-179. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885392409007878
- Serpell, M., Ratcliffe, S., Hovorka, J., Schofield, M., Taylor, L., Lauder, H., & Ehler, E. (2014). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of THC/CBD oromucosal spray in combination with the existing treatment regimen, in the relief of central neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neurology, 261(4), 765-774. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00415-014-7298-4
- Langford, R. M., Mares, J. , Novotna, A., Vachova, M., Novakova, I., Notcutt, W., & Ratcliffe, S. (2013). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of THC/CBD oromucosal spray in combination with the existing treatment regimen, in the relief of central neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neurology, 260(4), 984-997. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00415-012-6739-4
- Boehnke, K. F., Litinas, E., & Clauw, D. J. (2016). Medical cannabis use is associated with decreased opiate medication use in a retrospective cross-sectional survey of patients with chronic pain. The Journal of Pain, 17(6), 739-744. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590016005678
- Nurmikko, T. J., Serpell, M. G., Hoggart, B., Toomey, P. J., Morlion, B. J., & Haines, D. (2007). Sativex successfully treats neuropathic pain characterized by allodynia: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Pain, 133(1-3), 210-220. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395907003621
These sources, including systematic reviews, clinical trials, and observational studies, provide evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana for the management of chronic pain. They demonstrate the potential benefits of cannabis-based medicines in reducing pain intensity, improving sleep quality, and enhancing overall quality of life for individuals with various pain-related conditions.