Cannabis can be used to treat pain effectively and help patients deal with chronic issues. A recent study found that approximately 2 million Americans are registered medical marijuana patients. The study also revealed that 62% of these patients use marijuana to relieve both acute and chronic pain.
A history of reports and research shows that cannabis has improved patients’ quality of life by successfully treating different types of pain. Patients have reported relief from migraines, arthritis, cancer pains, spasticity, neck pain, HIV-related pain, sciatica and more.
Opioids and over-the-counter pain medications are often associated with nausea, sedation and can lead to abuse. Doctors and patients are seeking cannabis as an all-natural, safe, and highly potent alternative to prescription drugs.
How Cannabis Can Help
Numerous clinical trials and scientific research found that marijuana possesses effective compounds that can reduce pain and help with nausea. The two prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are the most studied for pain relief. These compounds have exhibited a unique capacity to work in synergism with the body’s own endocrine system. THC and CBD interact with the receptors in our endocannabinoid system (ECS) to provide different effects when consumed. The ECS is a key endogenous system that controls and regulates pain sensation.
Studies have shown that THC contains anti-inflammatory properties that can tame the pain associated with inflammation diseases like arthritis and cancer. Additionally, when THC is introduced into the body, it binds with the CB2 receptors. This interaction activates the receptors, which in turn dampen our body’s pain-inducing response to illnesses and injury.
CBD is the non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating compound in cannabis that’s mainly associated with therapeutic benefits. CBD also has anti-inflammatory properties, but it does not bind with the cannabinoid receptors the same way THC does. Instead of binding with the receptors, studies suggest that CBD promotes better healing by influencing our own endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoid-like compounds that occur naturally in our bodies. CBD works in conjunction with the ECS to provide antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory benefits, and pain-relief.
Different Types of Pain
Pain management is the most common reason why many adults have turned to cannabis. However, different pains stem from various causes like inflammation, injury, or other medical conditions.
Different cannabinoids are better suited in relieving specific pain types more effectively than others. It’s imperative to identify the type of pain to create an effective treatment. Pains are categorized into three main types: nociceptive pain, neuropathic pain, and central pain.
Nociceptive pain is the most common type as it results from either physical or tissue damage. Pains falling in this category may include burns, surgery pain, fractures, stubbed toe, sports injury, and more. This kind of pain can also occur from inflammation-related symptoms such as arthritis, cancer, and bowel diseases such as Crohn’s.
When you develop tissue or physical damage, the immune system responds by releasing inflammation and immune cells. The cells repair the damage by releasing numerous proteins and other essential chemicals that activate the receptors on the sensory nerve fibers. The receptors then transmit the pain signal to the spinal cord and eventually into the brain, causing the pain sensation.
There are a couple of ways that cannabis can help relieve nociceptive pain:
- Since THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory properties, they can weaken nociceptive pain by preventing inflammation from occurring.
- CBD can also target and dampen the pain signals as they move up the spinal cord to the brain.
- THC activates CB1 receptors to help relieve the pain being communicated to the spinal cord and brain. In addition, studies show that CBD acutely increases anandamide levels. Anandamide works the same way as THC to activate CB1 and CB2 receptors that dampen pain-inducing signals.
It’s important to note that with continued use, you may stop feeling cannabis’s pain-reducing effects. That’s because our bodies can build a tolerance to THC’s effects of activating the CB1 receptors. However, CBD can be used to mitigate this tolerance. Experts advise that the best way to avoid the risk of building a THC tolerance is by consuming well-balanced CBD and THC products.
This kind of pain occurs if the nervous system itself is damaged or not working properly. Often described as a shooting, stinging pain or as “pins and needles.” It can result from illnesses, forceful injuries, or any accidents that damage the nerves. The most common symptoms that cause neuropathic pain include multiple sclerosis, HIV, shingles, diabetes, sciatica, and Parkinson’s disease.
Since neuropathic pain is not caused by inflammation, it’s a challenging to target and treat. However, studies have presented cannabis as an effective treatment for both chronic and acute pains. For instance, cancer patients are turning to CBD-concentrated products to ease chemotherapy-induced pains and prevent nerve damage.
Central pain is a neurological disorder that occurs due to a dysfunction in the central nervous system. This type of pain can be especially difficult to treat as it occurs without any apparent cause.
A good example is fibromyalgia which causes musculoskeletal pain all over the body. Fibromyalgia occurs when there’s a dysfunction in the communication and processing of pain signals in the brain, which essentially become amplified. This can be caused by joint disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, or chronic arthritis.
There are limited studies into the effectiveness of cannabis in treating central pain. However, in a recent study involving 26 patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia, all of the patients reported better pain relief with cannabis than with prescription drugs.
Strains for Dealing with Pain
The good news is that there are numerous cannabis strains that you can effectively use to treat pain. However, these strains differ in potency, have varying CBD and THC levels, and some will give you better results than others. There may also be limited availability depending on which state you’re in.
Below, we have selected some strains you should consider when treating pain, but please note the following:
A strain of marijuana plants that contains a high level of CBD. Anecdotally speaking, indicas are highly therapeutic and provide relaxing, soothing, and calming benefits.
Generally, cannabis plants that packs very high levels of THC. Sativas are often preferred for recreational purposes and people who use them report increased creativity, boosted energy, and enhanced mood.
Growers can crossbreed strains to provide users with the best traits of both worlds. Some cannabis enthusiasts suggest that hybrids may be more potent and contain a better medicinal profile.
ACDC — indica
ACDC is a CBD-dominant hybrid marijuana strain. It contains up to 14% CBD and a minimal amount of THC. Users have named it the ‘best non-intoxicating marijuana strain for pain relief’, saying that it stops all kinds of pain while making you more relaxed and happier without producing intoxicating effects.
ACDC is an excellent choice if you’re looking to treat pain more effectively without getting high. However, we strongly recommended that you start with small doses due to its high concentration and gradually work your way up.
Sour Diesel — sativa
A sativa-dominant marijuana strain with a significant THC amount that provides users with increased energy while relieving pain. Sour Diesel can also reduce stress and help treat depression.
White Widow — hybrid
Medical marijuana dispensaries have reported a constant demand for this strain. It is an Indica-dominant marijuana strain that helps patients alleviate pain, insomnia, and anxiety. Users have also reported a sense of euphoria that draws them to happiness and better sleep.
Since White Widow is non-intoxicating and sedating, it’s highly recommended for beginners and nighttime use.
Harlequin — sativa
A marijuana strain that’s highly concentrated with CBD. It provides near-instant pain-relieving benefits, especially for patients dealing with arthritis pain. Harlequin gives you soothing, relaxing, and clear-headed effects. This strain is not intoxicating or sedating and, therefore, won’t hinder your daytime activities.
Cataract Kush — hybrid
Cataract Kush is an Indica-dominant strain that resulted from carefully crossbreeding OG Kush and LA Confidential. As its name suggests, Cataract Kush is a medical strain that provides powerful near-instant relief to back and severe spinal cord pains. Cataract Kush is highly potent and may not be ideal for novices.
AK47 — hybrid
Instead of inducing pain as its ferocious name would have many thinking, AK47 does quite the opposite- relieves pain and provides you with relaxing, mellowing effects. Featuring more than 20% THC, this powerful sativa dominant hybrid is particularly effective for treating physical pain and combating stress, anxiety, and depression. Since she accompanies her pain-relieving effects with uplifted spirits, creativity, motivation, and boosted energy, AK47 is best taken during the day.
Wedding Cake — hybrid
A hugely popular indica hybrid featuring a rich, tangy flavor profile with undertones of earthy spice. This is a potent strain made by crossing Triangle Kush with Animal Mints. It provides relaxing and euphoric effects that calm the body and mind. Medical patients choose Wedding Cake to help relieve symptoms associated with pain, insomnia and appetite loss. It does have a high THC content, so sensitive patients should take with care.
Granddaddy Purple — indica
This California staple inherits a complex grape and berry aroma. GDP flowers bloom in shades of deep purple, a contrasting backdrop for its snow-like dusting of white crystal resin. Typically purchased by consumers looking to combat pain, stress, insomnia, appetite loss, and muscle spasms. Its potent effects are clearly felt in both mind and body, delivering a fusion of heady euphoria and physical relaxation. Your body is more likely to find itself fixed in one spot, so this is best taken at the end of the day.
Seattle Cough — hybrid
A potent, sativa-dominant hybrid grown in Washington state. Seattle Cough carries a mix of pine and citrus flavors. The aroma of fresh grapefruit serves as a precursor to the uplifting sativa effects, sparking creativity and euphoria. Medical patients appreciate Seattle Cough’s ability to curb stress and depression while fighting fatigue and nausea.
These are just a few of the strains available for pain relief. There are many others, such as Blue Berry Indica which provides fast and long-term relief to body aches and the powerful Master Kush that keeps you relaxed while combating chronic pain.
The Bottom Line
Research shows that treating pain with cannabis is as effective as using opioids minus the negative and addictive side effects. It’s use for both acute and chronic pain management is backed by research and clinical studies. When used appropriately, cannabis can offer safe, long-term pain relief for patients.