Chronic pain conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, joint inflammation, and lower back pain, affect millions of people each year in the United States. Many people may become injured in the workplace or through trauma like sporting or vehicular accidents. Others may develop chronic pain conditions due to age, immune disorders, or from lack of activity. In each of these conditions, medical professionals have certain treatment options, some of which may produce undesirable or even dangerous side effects. Safer alternatives to traditional prescription medications have led to breakthroughs in alternative treatment options. Medical cannabis has been researched extensively as to its role in helping to treat the symptoms of chronic pain. Research is continuing, making medical cannabis and cannabis-derived products a potential source of treatment for millions of individuals.
For treating many of the most common injuries and conditions that lead to chronic pain, medical professionals have few options. Most conditions are treated to manage the symptoms, not to provide a cure. In severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the underlying cause of pain, and in post-surgical recovery, patients may experience a significant amount of pain. Typically, the symptoms of pain and discomfort are treated using one or two types of medication. Pain medications commonly prescribed include those that are opioid-based, and these drugs have been implicated in thousands of accidental overdose deaths. Opioid painkillers also have a high potential for abuse.
The other type of medication is from a class known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include over the counter medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium (Aleve). These drugs work to reduce inflammation, and can be very effective. Unfortunately, they are not well tolerated by many patients, leading to digestive upsets or bleeding in the stomach and intestines. Long-term use of NSAIDs can dangerously raise blood pressure, putting unnecessary strain on the circulatory system. It is clear that with the potential dangers associated with opioid-based painkillers and NSAIDs, safer alternatives are in dire need in the medical community.
Of the hundreds of active chemical compounds found in medical cannabis, there are two that have received special attention from the medical research community. From a class of chemicals called cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been researched extensively into their role in combating chronic pain symptoms. Both chemicals mimic the endocannabinoids naturally produced in the human body, and bind to the same receptors. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating several body processes, including the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Cannabinoids, particularly CBD, can alter pain signal transmission, reducing pain. CBD has also been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, which further work to reduce the pain and swelling of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.
Products derived from medical cannabis, including those products high in CBD, have been shown in several clinical studies to manage the symptoms of:
CBD has several other benefits as uncovered by medical researchers. In limited clinical trials, CBD products have been shown to help improve sleep patterns and to reduce anxiety, both crucial in the recovery process for injuries and chronic pain disorders.
THC has also been proven to be highly effective at treating pain at the clinical level. Studies have demonstrated that THC can act as a relief for both central and neuropathic pain, as well as for ailments such as AIDS, fibromyalgia, and cancers. THC functions as a partial CB1 receptor agonist, meaning that it will bind to and activate the body’s CB1 receptor, which decreases pain. THC additionally has been found to impact the serotonergic, dopaminergic, and glutamatergic systems, all of which can lead to pain relief. Indica-dominant products can help chronic pain sufferers to sleep, while Sativa is more beneficial during the daytime.
Medical cannabis has few, if any, negative side effects. Because CBD is non-psychoactive, it does not produce the euphoria or “high” sensation associated with its sister cannabinoid THC. Patients with chronic pain conditions have the ability to treat their symptoms anytime and anywhere with CBD products, and can do so without interfering with their lives and activities. Further research into the medical applications of medical cannabis — especially its chemical compounds of CBD and THC — is ongoing; the medical community and patients around the country are eager to explore safer alternatives to traditional prescription medications used for managing pain symptoms.