Chronic inflammation affects millions of people worldwide. Commonly associated with a wide variety of diseases, including those that can be life-threatening, inflammation can negatively impact one’s wellbeing and prevent them from leading normal, healthy lives. Inflammation treatment has, up until very recently, consisted of prescription medications and therapy to reduce the discomfort associated with the condition. Unfortunately, many of those prescription medications have potentially serious and even fatal side effects. Today, limited research has uncovered an alternative that is both effective and safer than these medications. The alternative is medical cannabis.
Inflammation is a natural immune response to injury, and is a component of a healthy immune system. This biological response produces redness and swelling as the immune system begins the healing process. Over time, the wound heals and the inflammation subsides. Certain diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, asthma, and heart disease, can also produce inflammation as part of the body’s attempt to heal itself.
Chronic inflammation is the condition by which the immune system is continually triggered, producing the characteristic symptoms of inflammation. This can lead to severe pain, fevers, rashes, and many other unpleasant side effects, and can result in the loss of mobility. In certain cases, chronic inflammation may be the sign of an autoimmune disorder or the development of a dangerous disease.
The first course of action in the medical community for inflammation treatment is to discover the underlying causes of the condition. Once the source has been identified, physicians typically prescribe one of a class of medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. The drugs work to counteract a specific enzyme that triggers the human inflammatory response, reducing the swelling and redness associated with the condition. NSAIDs are very effective, but their potential side effects can be severe. These medications are not well-tolerated by the digestive system, and ulcers or bleeding may occur from use. Chronic use of NSAIDs may also contribute to elevated blood pressure, which puts a dangerous strain on the circulatory system.
To reduce the pain associated with chronic inflammation, medical professionals often prescribe powerful painkillers, including those medications that are opioid-based. It is well known that opioid medications are responsible for fatal consequences and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it is estimated that about 70,000 people die each year in the United States from drug overdoses, including the use or misuse of prescription painkillers. With these medication facts in mind, it is clear that safer alternatives are needed, providing the relief inflammation sufferers need without the dangerous side effects associated with typical prescription medications used to treat the condition.
As of 2019, 33 U.S. states have legalized some form of medical cannabis. For inflammation sufferers, this is great news. There are hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis, and a class of compounds of particular interest to the medical community is known as cannabinoids. A cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD, has been shown in clinical testing to significantly reduce pain and inflammation. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the human body, which is a system that helps regulate nerve signals. Plant-based cannabinoids, such as CBD, bind to receptors in the body, taking the place of naturally-occurring substances our bodies produce. The result of this binding mechanism is an alteration in the transmission of pain signals and a corresponding reduction of inflammation.
Another class of chemical compounds known as terpenes or terpenoids – very similar to the essential oils found in thousands of other plants – may also help to reduce inflammation through a different mechanism than that of cannabinoids. Although the exact mechanism is poorly understood, preliminary research suggests that these chemicals may support anti-inflammatory responses, especially when coupled with other therapies like the use of medical cannabis with high percentages of CBD.
One of the concerns about medical cannabis has been its potential side effects, particularly disorientation or euphoria. Another cannabinoid found in cannabis, known as tetrahydrocannbinol or THC, is highly psychoactive. It is this chemical compound that produces the “high” desired by recreational users. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive and does not contribute to sensations of highness.
The medical community welcomes further research into the potential of medical cannabis for inflammation treatment. Research and clinical trials suggest that patients with chronic inflammation may benefit from medical cannabis products containing high levels of CBD. This safer alternative to prescription medications like NSAIDs and painkillers may allow those struggling with chronic inflammation to lead healthy, productive lives, free of the pain and discomfort associated with their conditions.