Cannabis as a Pain Reliever
Cannabis is emerging as one of the most effective pain relievers.
However, given the many types of cannabis products in the market today, it helps when you know the right product for the type of pain that you have.
Just like there are many Cannabis products, there are many types of pain as well.
As such, it gets increasingly easier for you to get the right medication when you know which cannabis products help treat what types of pain.
Different types of pain
Pains are generally categorized into three categories:
Central, neuropathic and nociceptive pain.
It’s important to note that doctors treat different types of pain based on the origin of pain.
Before we delve into the details of each type of pain, let’s look at what pain is.
Basically, the sensation of pain is triggered by the coordinated actions of cells in our brains.
There’s a region in our brains which has these cells. This region modulates the intensity of pain.
Most people believe that pain is the result of physical injury. While physical injury can bring the sensation of pain, it’s possible to get a physical injury without feeling any pain.
This type of pain is called nociceptive.
In most cases, accident victims experience nociceptive pain. For instance, most car crash victims don’t feel any pain minutes after the crash.
On the flip side, you can experience pain even when you have no physical injury.
This is known as central pain.
Essentially, this type of pain is triggered by moods among other factors. Fortunately, doctors have been able to formulate Cannabis-based treatment methods that can treat central pain.
Neuropathic pain is caused by nervous system damage or malfunction.
Cannabis and nociceptive pain
Inflammatory pain (nociceptive pain) arises from tissue damage.
Patients with this type of pain describe it as sharp, throbbing or aching.
How does it come about? When you get an injury, the body’s immune cells kick into action as they try to repair the damage.
As they do this, they release chemicals that trigger the nervous receptors connected to the spinal cord and the brain resulting in a sensation of pain.
How do we reduce nociceptive pain?
This type of pain is very easy to manage.
The first step is to reduce the pain signals at the site of injury. To do this, we block the inflammatory process or the signals that come from this process.
Another proven method of reducing this type of pain is by dampening its effects as it moves to the spinal cord and ultimately, to the brain.
Cannabis can be used for the above two processes.
Cannabinoids in the form of THC and CBD can be targeted at the site of injury to reduce pain because they have anti-inflammatory effects.
For THC, the inflammatory properties are triggered when CB2 receptors on the immune cells are activated.
CBD, on the other hand, blocks inflammatory mediators and activates the anti-inflammatory repair cells.
CBD and THC cannabinoids have successfully been used to treat nociceptive pain on rodents as well as in clinical trials for humans.
Additionally, THC activates CB1 receptors to reduce pain at the spinal cord level.
CBD is known to reduce pain by releasing an increased level of endogenous Cannabinoid anandamide, which activates the CB1 receptors to achieve the same pain-relieving effects as those of THC.
The endogenous Cannabinoid system (ECS) is not the only one that CBD targets when relieving pain. It also enhances GABA, the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter. CBD dampens pain signals before they reach the brain cells.
Generally, when you feel good, you’ll most likely focus on things that don’t hurt. Positive moods shift your attention away from things that trouble your mind. They also weaken pain signals as they enter the brain.
This phenomenon, commonly known as ‘mind-over-matter’, is a powerful pain-relieving tool at the beginning.
With time, it becomes increasingly harder to attain these positive feelings and gets more difficult to weaken the pain-relieving effects of Cannabis. This can be blamed on a person’s increased tolerance to a process through which THC activates CB1 receptors, a problem that can be solved when you consume cannabis with higher CBD levels.
For long-term treatment of pain, one should strive to strike a balance between THC and CBD products.
A balanced intake of the two Cannabinoids has pain relieving efficacy and reduces tolerance risk needed for long-term treatment of pain.
Additionally, CBD improves your mood as it activates stress-reducing serotonin receptors. CBD can be used as pain therapy for people with chronic pain as they tend to experience depression and anxiety.
How does Cannabis treat neuropathic pain?
While nociceptive pain is a result of damaged tissues, neuropathic pain arises from a damaged nervous system. This type of pain can arise from a pinching, forceful injury or from stabs that damage the body’s nerves.
Neuropathic pain can also be caused by underlying diseases like multiple sclerosis, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, shingles and many others.
It can also be triggered by chemotherapy. It’s important to note that this type of pain affects 7-10% of the human population.
Unlike inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain is difficult to treat.
Firstly, anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen can’t be used to treat it as there’s no inflammation.
Fortunately, Cannabis seems to effectively treat neuropathic pain.
Through human clinical trials and rodent models, Cannabis has been identified as a promising treatment method for Cancer patients and cancer-related neuropathic pain.
Cannabis rich in CBD protects against chemotherapy-induced pain as it activates Serotonin receptors.
The good thing about CBD is that it treats pain without reducing the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. It’s, therefore, emerging as a perfect prophylactic strategy for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
When it comes to non-cancer neuropathic pain, Sciatica serves as a good example.
It’s generally described as pain in your leg and back, which comes about when the Sciatic nerve is pinched. Sciatica is characterized by an increase in CB1 receptors.
Activation of CB1 receptors means that Cannabis can reduce the type of pain by dampening the pain signals in the spinal cord.
Just like it happens in treating inflammatory pain, over-activating CB1 receptors by use of THC weakens the effects of Cannabis as a treatment option. Patients are advised to balance between THC and CBD for long-term treatment.
Cannabis and central pain
When the nervous system dysfunctions, the resultant pain is known as central pain. This type of pain is hard to treat because its causes are largely unknown, although it can arise from an injury.
An example of central pain is Fibromyalgia, which is triggered by dysfunctional pain signals. The causes of Fibromyalgia are unknown.
Central pain is diverse though.
As such, a few studies have been conducted to investigate the benefits of Cannabis in treating or reducing this type of pain. Cannabis has been proven to have many benefits in treating Fibromyalgia and a recent study showed that an overwhelming number of patients with Fibromyalgia said Cannabis was beneficial to their treatment.
This goes on to prove that Cannabis can be an effective medication for treating Fibromyalgia and other central pains.
Going through the many studies conducted to gauge the effectiveness of Cannabis as a pain-relieving medicine, it’s safe to say that Cannabis is an effective medication for pain.
Smoking medical marijuana is also better than alternatives, such as opioid-based medicines because it has fewer side effects.
There are some reports that say Cannabis is ‘weak’ when it comes to its pain-relieving benefits.
This weakness could be a result of using Cannabis strains with low CBD or high THC, which weakens its efficacy as a pain reliever.
For efficient pain management, patients should always strive to balance between CBD and THC products. Better off, they could opt for products with high CBD concentration as these have been proven to give the best long-term pain treatment options.