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12 Types of Pain Cannabis Can Help Treat

Pain is a subjective sensation, which is evident in the various ways it is described by those suffering from it. One patient may complain about a shooting pain in his back, while another may say that she feels a throbbing pain in her stomach. However, no matter how it is described, pain is one of the human body’s many indicators of something going awry, like an injury or an impending disease or infection.

Depending on the kind and intensity of pain, a patient may be prescribed various medications and methods to manage it. Acute pains, which are often short in duration and resolve as soon as the injured tissues are healed, are usually treated using over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen. On the other hand, chronic pains, which last for more than 12 weeks and are usually associated with long-term diseases and disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS), fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, are more responsive to opioids or steroids.

Alternative treatments may also be used for both acute and chronic pains. Acute pains like minor headaches and muscle tension, in fact, are perfect candidates for natural pain killers such as ginger or turmeric. Sometimes, even a massage or a deep-breathing exercise may help relieve acute pain. On the other hand, popular alternative pain management options for chronic pain include acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment. Setting aside its controversial nature, cannabis has also been shown to possess analgesic properties that are immensely helpful in addressing both acute and various types of chronic 

Pain Management Using Cannabis

One of the most common effects of cannabis is pain relief, which is perhaps why it is also among the most studied aspects of the drug. One such research was led by Dr. Donald Abrams in University of California, San Francisco, which suggested that greater pain relief may be achieved if cannabinoids -- the primary chemical compounds in cannabis -- are used to supplement an opiates-only treatment. The small-scale study also revealed that a combined therapy of cannabinoids and opiates may lead to a lowered dosage of opiates in the long run.

Meanwhile, a Harvard Medical School study found that medical marijuana was effective in relieving pain in patients suffering from various chronic pains and neuropathic pain. The study also showed the effectivity of cannabinoids in addressing muscle spasticity and other symptoms of MS. Researchers at the McGill University Health Center, on the other hand, found that cannabis helped reduce the intensity of pain in patients with chronic neuropathic pain.

The two most prominent cannabinoids -- THC and CBD -- act in different ways to make pain more bearable. The former, being the primary psychoactive agent in cannabis, provides pain relief by relaxing both the mind and body so that patients can essentially “forget” the pain. Meanwhile, CBD has been found to reduce pain by stopping the body from absorbing the “bliss molecule” called anandamide. When there’s a surplus of anandamide in the bloodstream, it can reduce the intensity of painful sensations by delivering a calming, uplifting effect. This just means that all cannabis strains have pain-fighting properties -- the patient only has to choose the pain-relieving effect that they want.

However, there is also some research that explores the synergistic effects of THC and CBD. In theory, the “entourage effect” is the result of all the various chemicals in the cannabis plant working together to deliver a multitude of positive effects, including pain relief. These phytochemicals include the cannabinoids THC, CBD, cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabinol (CBN), as well as terpenes -- organic compounds that give various strains of cannabis their distinct smells and flavors -- like myrcene and beta caryophyllene.

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That being said, whether you opt for a THC- or CBD-high strain, and whether you choose to smoke, vaporize, snack on edibles, or ingest cannabis oil for pain, you can be sure to receive some level of relief. Here are just a few examples. 

1. Multiple Sclerosis

MS patients deal with both neuropathic pain, which is caused by nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord, and nociceptive or musculoskeletal pain, which is caused by damage to the muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue. The former is unavoidable with the condition, while the latter can be a side effect of muscular weakness, spasms, and prolonged immobility.

Cannabis helps with pain management in MS patients by reducing the damage to myelin sheaths caused by inflammation, as well as slowing down the degeneration of nerve cells.

2. Migraine

Migraine is a headache disorder that causes moderate to severe pain, usually on just one side of the head. Most people suffer through debilitating migraine attacks at least twice a month, with the pain lasting anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. This makes painkillers a critical component in migraine treatment. The analgesic properties of cannabis are especially valuable for migraine patients because not only do they combat pain, they also help fight nausea and vomiting, another common symptom of the disorder.

3. Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis

A 2014 study published in the medical journal Rheumatology found that arthritis patients have an unusually high number of CB2 receptors in their joint tissues. Using cannabis to activate these CB2 receptors, the drug helps fight joint inflammation and in turn combat arthritic pain.

Meanwhile, researchers from Dalhousie University explored the potential of medical marijuana in repairing arthritic joints. The study, led by Dr. Jason McDougall, aimed to discover if cannabis can fight inflammation and repair the joints at the same time that it dampens the perception of pain in the brain.

4. Peripheral Neuropathy

Patients with peripheral neuropathy — a condition that occurs when one’s peripheral nerves are diseased or damaged — often feel tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected areas, usually the hands and the feet. Pain is also a common symptom, which patients often describe as a constant burning. Cannabis has been found effective against neuropathic pain, and may even be a viable recourse for patients who suffer from neuropathic pains that don’t respond well to other treatments.

5. Cramps and Spasms

Sometimes, muscle cramps and spasms only cause a temporary discomfort, especially when they’re caused by overuse (such as in exercise) or by staying in one position for too long. However, painful muscle cramps may also be caused by hormonal imbalances, inadequate blood supply, nerve compression (particularly in the spine), dehydration, and insufficient minerals in one’s diet.

Research has found that cannabinoids, THC in particular, can act as muscle relaxants, thereby reducing or eliminating the painful contractions of muscle cramps. This is especially helpful in patients that experience severe bouts of PMS, as well as medical disorders that cause painful cramps and spasms like cerebral palsy and MS.

6. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, along with other symptoms like fatigue, sleep loss, and mood swings. Researchers haven’t discovered the cause of fibromyalgia at present, although it is believed that the disorder affects the way the brain’s pain signalling process, which results into amplified painful sensations. Fibromyalgia patients also suffer from tension headaches, anxiety and/or depression, and even irritable bowel syndrome.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, although most of its symptoms can be treated by a combination of therapy and medications. The latter method usually involves any combination of painkillers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs -- the effects of which have been also been found in cannabis. Some research also shows significant improvement of fibromyalgia symptoms in patients who used cannabis, contributing to a better quality of life.

7. Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injury (SCI) has various symptoms, including severe pain, numbness, insomnia, incontinence, and depression, all of which can affect the quality of life of patients, whether they have complete or incomplete SCI.

Several symptoms of SCI can be addressed by cannabis but most especially pain. CBD, in particular, has shown not just effective pain relief but also capabilities to reduce spasticity and enhance motor function in persons with SCI.

8. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

While muscle stiffness, twitching, and weakness are the most common symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), pain is also a primary concern among patients. And while there isn’t any cure for the condition yet, alternative treatments like cannabis can help ALS patients manage physical pain, appetite loss, insomnia, and muscle spasticity.

9. Cancer

Whether or not cannabinoids have the ability to kill cancer cells remains to be seen, although some studies have shown that cannabinoids may lessen the growth and number and slow down the spread of tumors. However, cannabis can still offer cancer patients some relief since it can be used to manage symptoms like pain, mental health issues, sleeplessness, nausea, and vomiting.

10. AIDS and HIV

There aren’t any cures for HIV and AIDS yet, although there are promising studies in recent years. In the meantime, there are treatments that help keep the virus under control, while medications can be taken to address some of the symptoms such as pain.

AIDS- and HIV-related pains are often caused by the diseases themselves, AIDS/HIV medications, or associated diseases or disorders contracted after AIDS or HIV. These include, but are not limited to, peripheral neuropathy, abdominal pain, and joint and muscle pain. A small study found that AIDS/HIV patients who used cannabis experienced less neuropathic pain caused by sensory neuropathy, while another research studied HIV-positive marijuana smokers and concluded that they not only slept better, but also had healthier appetites and better moods.

11. Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that can be characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. There can also be symptoms that occur beyond the gastrointestinal tract, like anemia, arthritis, and eye inflammations.

In rare cases, remission is possible for patients with Crohn’s disease. But most of the time, treatments for this yet-incurable disease include medications to help deal with the various symptoms and improve quality of life. The most popular medications for Crohn’s include anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, and strong antibiotics. However, cannabis has also shown promise in easing various symptoms of Crohn’s disease. A small preliminary study showed that cannabis improved the quality of life of patients with Crohn’s disease by easing pain, controlling diarrhea, and helping with weight gain.

12. Osteoporosis

In its early stages, osteoporosis doesn’t exhibit too many symptoms. However, as patients get older, they also become more prone to suffering from severe pain since the bones also become more fragile. Depending on the intensity, pain in osteoporosis patients may be managed through physical therapy, massages, and medications.

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With Chronic And Severe Pain.

Popular medicines used to treat osteoporotic pain include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen although prolonged use can cause stomach irritation in some patients. Cannabis is also effective in managing osteoporosis, not only by reducing pain but also reversing bone loss.

Long story short, if you have a medical condition with pain as one of its symptoms, or have suffered an injury or underwent a medical procedure with resultant pain, then cannabis can help you get some relief. What is even better is that, compared to high-grade or narcotic pain relievers, cannabis has less adverse effects especially if you’ve already found the right dosage for your condition.

The only major hurdles that remain to be overcome are legalization and social acceptance. Otherwise, with all the anecdotal and scientific evidence supporting the potential of cannabis to treat pain, the drug should be considered by both patients and doctors as a viable treatment for pain.