Does Cannabis Offer Better Pain Relief Than Aspirin?

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Aspirin has been around a long time. Not nearly so long as cannabis, but people have been treating with aspirin since the middle of the 19th-century.

Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) is derived from willow extract, a folk remedy dating to ancient Egypt. Available under scores of brand names, aspirin is as the go-to over-the-counter solution for mild headaches, aches, pains.

Considering that some cannabis strains and CBD-derivatives treat the same problems, you might wonder if cannabis offers better pain relief than aspirin.

All about aspirin

Parents and doctors have recommended aspirin for generations to treat fever, common cold symptoms, head- and toothaches, arthritis inflammation, and more. Labeled as a salicylate or NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), aspirin is part of every emergency kit and on everyone’s medicine cabinet.

Popular brand names include Acuprin®, Anacin®, Bayer®, Bufferin®, Ecotrin®, and more. Each is marketed as if it were unique and superior to the others. But, the formulation and mechanism of action are the same.

  • Mechanism of action: An article in Thrombosis Research describes how aspirin works. Acetylsalicylic acid deactivates the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme which, in turn, suppresses the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes. The mechanism relieves pain, but it also sets the stage for negative side effects covered later.
  • Common use: Packaging includes dosage instructions for adults, and doctors will advise on proper dosage. (For instance, adult dose aspirin is not recommended for children under 12.) Directions recommend swallowing pills, tablets, or capsules whole, not crushed or chewed, with an 8-ounce glass of water.
  • Follow instructions: Most brands include a precaution on how many aspirins to take at a time, at what frequency, and with what maximum. Instructions usually suggest seeking medical advice if the pain continues beyond the dosage recommendations.
  • Warning signs: Some warning signs deserve immediate attention, such as slurred speech, sudden vision problems, or weakness.  
  • Precautionary advice: Aspirin is not mean for treatment of headaches resulting from head injury, following coughing, after bending, or related to ringing in the ears. It does not treat headaches accompanied by persistent and severe vomiting, fever, and stiff neck. Your doctor will quickly warn that such symptoms can more serious problems.
  • Side-effects:

♦ A daily 8mg aspirin may be prescribed to prevent a clot-related stroke, but aspirin may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, that is, trigger a stroke caused by a burst blood vessel.

♦ Frequent aspirin intake increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Patients suffering from bleeding ulcers or irritated gastrointestinal problems are discouraged from using aspirin. Coated aspirin may reduce the risk, but the coating will also slow the mechanism of action.

Some people are allergic to aspirin. It produces flushing, hives, runny nose and asthma within an hour of taking a tablet. But, according to Allergy.com, “If you have hives (urticaria), nasal polyps or asthma, your risk of aspirin allergy is 10-30% compared to 1% in people without these conditions.”

  •  Drug interactions: Aspirin is a blood thinner, so you must be careful to avoid certain drug interactions, including antidepressants, corticosteroids, Heparin, Ibuprofen, and Plavix. You should also keep the doctor informed of supplement use with capsaicin, gingko, and fish oil.

So, aspirin has a continuing role in your medical regimen with a significant heads-up regarding side effects and counter interactions.

All about cannabis

Marie Woolf, a contributor to The Independent, quotes Oxford scholar Dr. Leslie Iverson, “Cannabis is a safer drug than aspirin and can be used long-term without serious side effects.” Writing for Medium, Dr. Frank D’Ambrosio quotes 1997 FDA statistics that list overdoses and deaths due to OTC anti-inflammatory. The numbers are too old to quote, but D’Ambrosio also notes, “there may be some euphoria associated with using cannabis for pain or inflammation, but the chances of overdosing and dying on cannabis are even lower than many everyday drugs that we do not even think twice about consuming!”

  • Mechanism of action: Cannabis contains scores of cannabinoids that interact with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. In doing so, they “normalize” or balance the activity of the receptors in transmitting electrochemical signals.

  CBD does not bind to the receptors, but it runs interference on other antagonists that can affect health. Spherically, CBD reduces the natural reabsorption of anandamide, known as “the bliss molecule.”

  • Common use: Cannabis is frequently inhaled as marijuana. But, it is increasingly consumed as edibles, vapes, extracts, oils, or transdermal applications.
  • Follow instructions: If under the care of a medical marijuana medical professional, you should follow the doctor’s orders on the choice of strain, dosage, and method of consumption.
  • Warning signs: Cannabis users can expect dry mouth, raspy cough, and reddened eyes. But, signs of hallucination or paranoia suggest you should change the strain and/or dosage. Your reaction may improve with continued use, but it makes more sense to start with something mild before you titrate to something stronger.
  • Precautionary advice: Cannabis should not be mixed with alcohol intake, harder drugs, or some medications. Users are urged to pursue moderate use, and at least at the beginning, to consume cannabis with others.
  • Side-effects: Cannabis is an inebriant, so users are advised not to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence. Typically, cannabis has no other side-effects than those mentioned here.
  • Drug interactions: Cannabis users are about counter-indicated drug interactions:

♦ Propoxyphene found in Darvoset and related medications

♦ Buprenorphine and other sedatives

♦ Levomethadyl acetate and heavy sedatives

♦ Beta blockers and other heart treatments

♦ Benzodiazepines including Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax

♦ SSRIs like Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft

Cannabis offers better pain relief than aspirin — without the concerns.

Cannabis has many confirmed and scientifically supported medical benefits. These include treatment for pain attached to inflammation, migraines, arthritic conditions, and auto-immune syndromes.

A shortlist of the most beneficial strains includes:

  1. White Widow
  2. Blue Dream
  3. Bubba Kush
  4. AK-47
  5. Jack Herer

And, a closing piece of advice, cannabis use offers euphoria, clarity, and focus as well as pain relief and restorative rest.