Recently, I risked writing an Allbud.com article about cannabis and menstrual cramps. It’s not a field in which I have a first-person experience. But, I did my best to appear informed and empathetic.
However, muscle cramps appear as symptoms of other medical conditions, and cannabis plays a role in their management, too.
What’s in a muscle cramp?
Well, there’s pain, sometimes mild and sometimes severe. They may reward a day of healthy exercise or warn of serious medical issues.
A muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. Long periods of exercise, physical labor, or medical conditions can cause muscle cramps. They are most often treated with home cures or over-the-counter remedies. But, cannabis and cannabis-derivatives can make a difference, too.
What you might call “the average cramp” or exercise-related muscle cramps (ERMC) is caused by dehydration, muscle overuse, or muscle strain. But, they may also come from nerve compression, mineral depletion, or poor blood supply according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Nerve compression. Lumbar Stenosis compresses the nerves in your spine to cause painful cramps the longer you walk. Walking with a shopping cart or a walker can reduce or delay the onset of the discomfort.
- Mineral depletion. A good diet has a balance of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. You may need to supplement the diet to reduce leg cramps. The diuretics prescribed for hypertension may reduce these chemicals as does profuse perspiration.
- Poor blood supply. Your arteries may narrow with heavy exercise and usually disappear with rehydration and/or replacement of electrolytes. But, they may also indicate more serious circulatory issues.
Scientific American says these causes have little scientific validity. “These proposals, however, have been shown to have minimal scientific value. More recent developments indicate that the cause of cramps most likely involves hyperactivity of the nerve-muscle reflex arc. In this scheme, some of the normal inhibitory activity of the central nervous system (CNS) reflexes is lost as a result of CNS fatigue or overuse of feedback communication with muscles.”
And, these findings by Mark A. W. Andrews, associate professor of physiology and associate director of the Independent Study program at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, should make you reconsider some of the traditional therapies.
Traditional treatment for muscular cramps
• Stretching. You may reduce the cramps that follow exercise by stretching the musculoskeletal systems before and after the exercise. That’s especially true if the exercise will take place in hot or cold temperatures.
It’s also important if the exercise, even mild exercise in some cases, takes place after long periods of immobility, sitting, or bed rest. Stretching recommended for office workers several times a day to keep the blood moving and rich in the muscles.
• Massage. You may gently massage the area where the cramp occurs. Professional massage and deep tissue massage may work wonders in reducing and preventing muscular cramps.
Massaging topical applications like over-the-counter rubs and lotions may help. But, it’s probably the massage effect that means more than the chemicals in the lotion.
• DMSO. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a clear, colorless, oily liquid smelling of sulfur. Applied topically, DMSO reportedly passes through the skin’s oily membranes to reduce the pain of inflammation and swelling.
DMSO creams and gels have caused itching and skin irritation. Powdered DMSO is mixed with water and applied with swabs three times daily.
• Salt. Common table salt licked from your hand may relieve the pain. Most animals, including cattle and deer, seek salt in the wilds. The sodium-chloride may help with the chemical imbalance.
And, Epsom salt has a high magnesium content that will seep through your skin in a warm bath. The warm water may have more to do with the tension relief, but it’s a win-win bath for some.
Others recommend pickle juice, dark molasses, mustard, or a walk on a cold tile floor.
Medical treatments for muscle cramps
Tylenol or NSAIDs will treat cramps. People still rely on Begay, Aspercreme, and other hot or cold rubs. And, there is an increasing number of transdermal patches available with endorsements by celebrity athletes.
Prescription medications are usually reserved for the care of cramps associated with disabling conditions like ALS, CP, fibromyalgia, MS, and other spastic disorders.
Even mild muscle relaxants can be habit-forming. Because they depress the central nervous system, muscle relaxants make it hard to focus or stay awake.
Other medications are prescribed off-label. They include benzodiazepines and clonidine, both of which have serious side-effects.
So, how can cannabis relieve the pain of muscle cramps?
Cannabis and cannabis-derived products can relieve the pain attached to muscle cramps. The strategic use of cannabis takes three paths:
- Diversion. The THC content in certain strains of cannabis will trigger euphoria and mood change. In doing so, it will take your mind off the pain. Cannabis users often consume before and after exercise in anticipation of the discomfort of muscle cramps.
- Anti-inflammatory. The CBD content in certain strains of cannabis takes an unclear path to reduce and eliminate inflammation. These heavily researched anti-inflammatory results come with a calming and sedative effect that assures rest. And, the anti-inflammatory properties also affect the smooth muscle that often generates the cramps.
- Intake options. Cannabis-derivatives offer many options for smoking cannabis. High-quality sublingual oils, lotions, and transdermal patches deliver the same cannabis results.
And, these cannabis options come without the potential for addiction or negative side effects. Readers are encouraged to try cannabis options for the treatment of muscle cramps and let us know what works for you.