The Beginner's Guide to Cannabis for Pain

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Too many people suffer too much pain for too long.  Wyatt Redd of Fibromyalgia Healing, says, “In America, for instance, 1 in every 10 people suffers from some kind of chronic pain.” Neither aspirin or ibuprofen eases the chronic pain of conditions like deteriorating disc disease, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, and more.

The pain is so all consuming that patients find it difficult to explain. There may be a primary pain at the source and secondary pain as the nerves and muscles radiate the tension and inflammation. It disturbs sleep, upsets emotional balance, paralyzes musculature, and minimizes your quality of life.

Medical science is befuddled by some symptoms and sources, but it does not challenge the reality of the pain and its related damage. Doctors can, for example, view images of the decay that crumbles spinal discs. But, they also recognize the surgery does not solve the core problem.

Arthritis has confounded doctors and pharmacists for ages. Fibromyalgia is so complex and differentiated patient to patient it defies specific diagnosis and pharmacological research. And, neuropathy has no clear identity. In any case, when the chronic pain exhausts you or reaches the level of constant acute pain, you will try just about anything.

Pharma care

Drug.com lists 79 Big Pharma treatments for chronic pain. These include opioid analgesics, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, corticoids, epidurals, and more. Considering the addictive aspects of many of these options, cannabis offers a healthier non-addictive choice.

Cannabis care history

People have treated pain with cannabis since 3,000 BCE. Chinese documents indicate cannabis was a household “cure” for just about everything. They were even smart enough to use low THC strains.

Practitioners in India dating to 1,000 BCE began to differentiate cannabis preparations by their potency. They used the strongest as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic agent.

Since the 19th-century, Western medical science has explored the pain-relieving properties in cannabis. Some of its growth as a recreational product is due to people self-medicating, and limited research into its value for treating pain continues into this century.

Nature’s endocannabinoid system

The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an extensive anatomical collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules. When neural and nonneural cells are injured, they produce the arachidonic acid derivatives they call “endocannabinoids.

The human endocannabinoids control the perception of pain by modulating the flow of neural information. Cannabis introduces cannabinoids to the ECS. THC maps to the CB1 receptors on that chain of nerves to restore their modulation function and balance. Cannabis releases anandamide and 2-Ag, molecules that effectively replicate the endocannabinoid system. Cannabis does not directly affect CB2 receptors. But, CBD does carry an entourage effect that relieves secondary contributing factors like inflammation and neuroimmune interactions. In doing so, it allows CB1 receptors to return to normal.

Scientists and pharmacists have known for some time that those receptors can be triggered or mollified. For example, many medications use Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to normalize the connections between neurons to fight depression. Cannabinoids perform the same functions.

Because the human ECS is so extensive, it relates to scores of medical problems. And, because all vertebrates have an ECS, research on lab animals often correlates with human experience.

Science and cannabinoids

Most advances in the endocannabinoid system date from Israeli Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s isolation of THC and its influence on ECS receptors. The CB1 and CB2 receptors are found everywhere in the nervous system. That puts them in organs, glands, and tissues throughout the body. It’s believed that cannabinoids present in cannabis will correct deficiencies or surpluses in the ECS activity.

Cannabis, like most plants, also contains terpenes. They contribute the unique aromas and flavors to plants and their flowers. They also provide the source for oils and extracts which enable creation and administration of cannabis therapies without smoking.

Science has yet to identify or pursue effects of the many other cannabinoids present in cannabis. And, because of Federal restrictions on research into cannabis as a Category I drug, patients suffer from a lack of information and practical applications. Nonetheless, based on the known scientific research and the vast pool of anecdotal evidence, 29 states (plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and Washington, D.C.) have approved sale and possession of cannabis for medical therapies.

Delivery of cannabis for pain

The effect of cannabis on chronic pain depends largely on the strain chosen. Different strains affect different people differently. And, assuming you understand that the higher the THC potency, the more potent the psychoactivity, you know that high-THC choices are chosen mostly for recreational use.

Psychoactivity in moderation may produce euphoria and bliss. And, if that distracts patients from their pain or related depression, strains with THC can help. However, strains with very high CBD content may produce lethargy and sedation, and that can be counterproductive.

So, the better you can identify your precise problem and the scale of its intensity, the easier you can choose the best strain for your situation. For example:

  • ACDC is almost pure cannabidiol tested at 30:1 CBD. Like Charlotte’s Web, it is deemed suitable for pediatric care. ACDC lacks dramatic impact, still it relieves spasticity and pain without a cerebral high or couchlock sedation.
  • Blackberry Kush works slowly towards a comprehensive body relaxation within 45 minutes. Warming and relaxing, it almost guarantees a good night’s sleep.
  • Blue Dream is another hybrid with a ratio of THC (up to 24%) and CBD (up to .2%). The sweet and berry flavor makes it a popular choice for pain relief.
  • Cannatonic contains up to 17% CBD. That promises immediate relief for pain, but the relief is only short-lived. You may want to find similar results from oils or edibles.
  • White Widow is a hybrid strain. It balances Indica and Sativa sources for a moderate euphoria that reduces stress and depression.

Takeaway: Your beginner’s guide to cannabis for pain

Given that 10% of Americans suffer from chronic pain issues, it behooves the FDA to take a position that enables and encourages the research necessary to make the case for specific dosage, frequency, delivery medium, and bio-chemistry. According to research reported by the National Institutes of Health, “Adults in the two most severe pain groups were likely to have worse health status, use more health care, and suffer from more disability than those with less severe pain.”  

Cannabis is an effective therapy for chronic pain. Research is only discovering its actual mechanism, and some discoveries hold great promise for managing pain and other medical problems.

You can see that THC heightens brain activity, producing uplifting euphoria and mood enhancement, a distraction from pain and the related mind/body tension. CBD relaxes mind/body to ease stress and depression. In the right balance, they make no claim to cure pain, but they do enhance your ability to manage and deal with it.

Available in many forms other than smoking, patients may consume edibles, sublingual oils, or transdermal patches.

Currently, doctors routinely prescribe opioids and related pharmaceuticals for pain management. There’s no denying that these drugs effectively mute the sensation of pain. But, the drugs also addict and account for 175 deaths each day. Some locales are making progress on managing the epidemic. But, The Kaiser Family Foundation (2016) reported percentages of deaths from opioid overdoses numbers like 24.5% Connecticut, 30% Washington, D.C., 35.8% New Hampshire, 43.4% West Virginia, and more. No deaths have been reported because of cannabis overdosing.

If you suffer from acute or severe pain, cannabis remains a best go-to therapy.