Three million medical marijuana patients are registered in the U.S. and its territories, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and many have turned to cannabis because they are in pain. In Colorado alone, over 93 percent of the state’s more than 87,000 medical marijuana patients suffer from severe pain.
Research continues to indicate that users experience pain relief with marijuana usage, and many patients are even substituting opioids with cannabis. From athletes to business owners to the average consumer, more users continue to turn to marijuana for help with their chronic pain. Stephen Stearman, CEO of Elevate Holistics, an online medical marijuana card provider, says their average patient tends to be someone middle-aged who suffers from chronic pain. Some of these patients have previously been prescribed opioids and are looking for natural alternatives.
“About 25 percent of our patients are selecting chronic pain as a reason for getting a medical marijuana card. Typically, the best strains for pain are the strains that have terpenes that are associated with the indica type of cannabis, which will make users more happy, hungry, and sleepy. We are actively talking to customers about going to dispensaries and talking more about their desired effects and the terpenes associated with those effects, not just to get a 30 percent sativa and whatever else. This is really where the education comes in for the patients and telling them what to look for,” Stearman said.
How Does It Work?
Cannabis-based medicines contain cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or a combination of THC and CBD. According to Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen, CEO and Founder of Formula Swiss, a producer of CBD products, THC itself is not a pain-blocking drug as indicated by the distribution of receptors in the brain, i.e. in the endocannabinoid system. Receptors considered as the binding point for THC are mainly in the frontal brain and limbic system. This is where emotions are processed and the sensation of pain is assessed, among others.
While marijuana is good at helping relieve pain, CBD is often used as an anti-inflammatory rather than a pain reliever. Researchers have not found much evidence that CBD can offer mental relief from pain. However, the placebo effect may help some individuals experience less pain after taking CBD. Donnie P., owner of Green Leaf Dispensary in Louisiana, says that THC is more popular than CBD for pain relief. He thinks patients prefer THC since it hits the bloodstream faster.
Clayton Braun, a professional Harley racer, uses medical marijuana to help with the pain that he experiences on a daily basis from participating in a sport. “Physically, it helps with joint pain, muscle pain, and just the general wear and tear I put on my body every day. As motorcycle racers, we abuse our bodies. On a daily basis, we hurt muscles most people do not even think about using. If I smoke something that is Indica dominant, it lets me chill out and kind of relax, helping my body to recover from the beating I may have taken in the race,” Braun said.
Eli Neocochea, a professional BullRider, also finds medical marijuana helpful with relieving pain. “Without a doubt, cannabis has been a huge factor in helping my pain. As a rodeo cowboy, I am almost always in pain. Our bodies take tremendous amounts of abuse. It especially helps with my back, helping to numb a lot of discomfort. I smoke after just about every event and it helps to calm my mind and put my body in a relaxed state so I can recover faster,” Neocochea said.
Cannabis Helps With More Than Just Pain
Besides pain, some studies and reviews are showing that users consume medical marijuana for other health benefits. When done the right way with the proper dosing, Stearman says he has seen patients’ mental health improve after using cannabis. Those who suffer from anxiety or depression see better results with a higher CBD-to-THC ratio, and edibles and tinctures work best for those who suffer from insomnia. Once you get into more terminal illnesses, seizures, or logical disorders, you need a higher CBD count combined with a lower THC count.
“We do not consider cannabis a one-stop-shop, but it can definitely be worked into a more holistic approach as a healthcare regime, along with supplements, a better diet, and more exercise,” Stearman said. “We really try to push vitamins and minerals to help work together, not to just drop all pharmaceuticals — it is just one piece of the puzzle.”