Medical Marijuana Insights for Chronic Pain Patients
Chronic pain impacts millions of people and many report that cannabis helps manage it, despite a lack of research on the topic. September marks Pain Awareness Month which makes it a good time to explore different options for managing chronic pain.
What is Pain? What Types of Pain Do People Experience?
Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells the body something may be wrong. A lot of what we experience as pain is in response to everyday wear and tear on the body, or can be due to something more serious like an injury or illness. Pain is categorized into two common categories: acute pain or chronic pain. Doctors may also further diagnose more specific types of pain such as neuropathic pain, nociceptive pain or radicular pain. Some types of pain can fit into more than one category.
While patients feel pain in different parts of the body, pain originates entirely in the brain. The brain creates what your body feels, and in cases of chronic pain, the brain helps perpetuate it.
According to Harvard Health, how one feels pain is influenced by factors like genetic makeup, emotions, personality, and lifestyle, and past experiences. Over time, the brain can actually rewire itself to perceive pain signals even after the signals aren’t being sent anymore.
Chronic Versus Acute Pain
Acute pain typically comes on suddenly in response to an injury such as a cut, bruise, burn, muscle strain, or bone break. Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts longer than three months and can continue after the injury or illness has been treated. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that over 20 percent of Americans have some form of chronic pain.
How is Chronic Pain Typically Treated?
If you go to an internal medicine physician or pain management practitioner, they may recommend a variety of treatment techniques to help treat your pain. Pharmaceutical medicines may be part of that plan. Many options exist for treating pain pharmacologically.
Chronic pain that’s mild in nature is often managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical analgesics, muscle relaxants, and other over-the-counter remedies. Moderate to severe chronic pain may be treated with opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. Opioids often become a part of a patient’s treatment plan following a surgery, serious injury or for certain health conditions. However, these medications carry serious risks of addiction and overdose, especially with prolonged use.
Natural Remedies for Chronic Pain
Even over-the-counter pain medications carry some risk of side effects, which has led many doctors and patients to explore natural medicines and techniques for controlling pain. People have used essential oils, herbs, and alternative therapies as natural pain relievers for hundreds of years. Researchers have not fully explored these options, but evidence suggests that certain remedies may help.
Capsaicin: Capsaicin, found in chili peppers, has been used herbally for natural pain relief for centuries. A 2011 study notes that capsaicin topical creams and patches have played an effective role in pain management.
Turmeric: Curcuma, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, also has pain-relieving qualities. A small-scale 2014 study found curcuma extract just as effective as ibuprofen for pain management in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis when taken orally for 4 weeks. Turmeric is also a common herbal remedy for reducing inflammation.
Cannabis: Some studies have concluded that medical cannabis may be an alternative for opioids in certain situations, while other studies conclude there is insufficient evidence. The legalization and expansion of medical cannabis continue to create a greater need for more research, but even still, more and more patients are adding medical marijuana in as an alternative or complementary treatment option.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound of cannabis, is thought to be effective at pain control because it mimics the action of natural cannabinoids that the body produces in response to a pain stimulus. THC binds to “CB-1” receptors in the brain. Another compound in cannabis called cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to have more indirect pain relieving properties. THC seems to have a greater effect on the way the mind perceives pain, whereas CBD may work to ease pain at the local source.
It’s also thought that medical marijuana may be effective in helping chronic pain patients use less opioid medications.
Other Activities to Consider: Because pain involves both the mind and the body, combining holistic therapies such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga may have the capacity to alleviate chronic pain by changing the way you perceive it. Chronic pain can have a significant mental effect on those who suffer, and so managing mental health is also of great importance. An emotional tie exists between pain and your thoughts, and by altering your thoughts, you may be able to alter or reduce pain levels.
Chronic pain is a qualifying condition for all states that Duber Medical serves. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic pain, talk to one of our doctors about whether medical marijuana might be worth considering for your pain management therapy.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.