There is a lot of research out there suggesting that cannabis might be an effective and alternative natural treatment option for pain management. With a growing number of the population becoming dependent and addicted to harsh pharmaceutical pain relievers, cannabis offers hope.
While many individuals anecdotally report that vaping cannabis has helped them immensely, some to the point of not needing any additional pain medication outside of what the plant has to offer, yet others have found lesser results and relief.
The fact remains that there is still a lot we don’t know about cannabis and its pain fighting or blocking abilities. Sorting out the available information begins with recognizing that there is more than one kind of cannabis—and more than one kind of pain.
If your doctor has suggested medical cannabis for pain, or if you’ve read about how cannabis might offer relief and are interested in learning more, this article is for you.
Not all Pain is the Same
Not all pain is created equally. Pain can actually be the result of any of several different physiologic processes, each of which responds to treatment differently. For example, a cut to your finger triggers your body’s inflammation response, part of which is pain. An anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, will lessen the pain. On the other hand, if diabetes has damaged your nerves, you might feel pain that has nothing to do with the inflammatory response, so ibuprofen won’t help.
Part of the advantage of cannabis is that it appears to lessen pain by a different biochemical process than either of the other two main groups of painkillers (NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, and opiates, like morphine), making it a potential treatment for types of pain the others aren’t very good for, such as fibromyalgia.
Cannabis also has some promise as a treatment for the kinds of pain opiates can address, which is good news because opiates (and their synthetic cousins, the opioids) are highly addictive and can kill. Cannabis is only mildly addictive and has never killed anyone.
And yet, cannabis is not necessarily the best treatment for all pain under all circumstances. When deciding whether to use cannabis products, always look for research that applies to your particular medical situation.
What Type of Cannabis is More Effective?
Cannabis can’t be easily compared to, say Aspirin, a single, fairly well-understood chemical that gives consistent and reliable results.
Alternatively, cannabis is a plant with hundreds of varieties, each with different proportions of cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. Some individuals also use the word “cannabis” to mean extracts of one or more cannabinoids, or even synthetic cannabinoids (please note that “synthetic marijuana” is an unrelated recreational drug with no medicinal value).
What results you get—and what results a scientific study gets—depends on which product is involved as well as your preferred method of use, such as the growing popularity of vaping for a pure, fast and reliable delivery system.
In general, cannabis strains developed for recreational use are rich in THC but relatively low in CBD. THC does have value as a painkiller, and its psychoactive effects can supplement its analgesic properties by reducing anxiety or boosting the mood. Pain is easier to bear when one feels good. But a persistently altered state of consciousness can interfere with daily life, and users can develop a tolerance, meaning THC gets less effective over time.
CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive and is more likely to remain effective for long-term use, so some people use it either alone or in combination with THC. To get CBD requires using either a CBD-rich strain or a CBD extract.
Apart from the two big ones, there are also dozens of cannabinoids and hundreds of other substances in cannabis, all of which also vary from one strain to another. Most of these compounds have not been researched and could have an influence on medical effectiveness. Some users claim that even different varieties of THC-rich cannabis are good for treating different kinds of problems.
Using Cannabis for Pain Relief – Closing Thoughts
There are many different varieties of cannabis and cannabis products, and these can be smoked, vaped, taken as an oil under the tongue, or eaten (THC is not available in the plant unless it is heated, either smoked, cooked, or otherwise processed). Which is best? That depends.
There is still a lot we don’t know about how cannabis might be useful for pain management. The FDA has not yet approved a cannabis product for pain, though it has approved products for other medical uses—that doesn’t mean existing products don’t work. You and your doctor must do your own research and exercise your own judgment.
In general, products containing a mix of THC and CBD, taken in low doses, are likely to be your best bet for pain—but your situation might call for something different. And if you find one strain or product doesn’t give you relief, you might consider trying another.