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The Role of Cannabis Oil in Chronic Pain Management

Pain is one of the most common conditions that push people to seek medical attention. It can be described as shooting or piercing, pulsing or cutting, mild or severe, among a host of other adjectives. The International Association for the Study of Pain describes the feeling as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage,” but pain can’t truly be defined since it is a highly subjective sensation that wholly depends on who is experiencing it. However, one this is clear: pain is one of our body’s most effective ways of telling us that something is wrong.

Different Kinds of Pain

Pain is usually categorized into acute and chronic. Acute pain comes on suddenly and has a limited duration, often caused by damage to tissues like the bones, muscles, and organs. It is most often caused by external agents like blunt force or sharp objects, though other factors like stress or lack of sleep may also trigger acute pain, usually in the form of headaches. Pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are among the most commonly used medications to deal with acute pain.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts longer than acute pain and may or may not be as responsive to regular pain medications. Chronic pain is usually associated with long-term health conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis. Damaged tissue may also cause chronic pain, though most of the time, nerve damage is the primary culprit.

Pain can also be classified as nociceptive (caused by tissue damage), neuropathic (caused by nerve damage), and psychogenic (pain that is increased, prolonged, or sometimes even directly caused by stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions).

How Our Body Deals With Pain

When your body comes into contact with a stimulus, whether mechanical or chemical, the nerve endings on the affected area send a signal to the central nervous system. The brain then receives the signal -- which is sent through several neurons -- and processes the “information” that translates to an equivalent sensation and bodily reaction. Stimulus can either be nonpainful (say a massage) or painful (say a needle pricking your finger) and it is only when the body comes into contact with painful stimulus do the affected cells release prostaglandin. It is this chemical, which the nerve endings pick up along with the stimulus signal, that relays the pain information to the brain.

However, most of our bodily functions still remain a mystery even until now. In fact, it was only during the 1990s when researchers discovered the endocannabinoid or EC system, which is involved in several of the body’s physiological processes, including appetite regulation, immune system functions, and pain management.

Even then, pain is still a highly complex and subjective thing. It’s not something that can be precisely measured -- the level or amount of pain is highly dependent on the person feeling and reacting to it. This is also why there are many ways to treat or deal with pain. Some people can do well with just breathing exercises and yoga; some people respond well to acetaminophen, while others only respond to stronger medications like opioids, especially when the pain is more severe. Meanwhile, some people opt for alternative solutions like marijuana oil for pain. 

The Relationship of Cannabis and Pain

The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids, particularly THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), has been the topic of several scientific investigations since these were first identified and isolated in the 1960s. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid (EC) system in the 1990s, studies have been further expanded to include how the EC system and its components react to different cannabinoids and how these reactions affect our bodily responses and functions.

Using cannabis oil for pain management and other medicinal purposes has long been a practice, dating to as early as 10,000 years ago. In fact, cannabis is considered as one of the 50 essential herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, while Indians have long used cannabis for medical treatments, religious ceremonies, and social customs for thousands of years. It’s even used in Tantric yoga sexual acts to heighten the experience of the unity of mind, body, and spirit.

Today medical marijuana is slowly gaining acceptance, most especially in treating chronic pain. Both THC and CBD have their own pain-fighting properties. Often, the choice of using THC- or CBD-high medication comes down to matters of personal preference and medical compatibility.

THC is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis. For some, the “high” alone helps them forget about the pain they are experiencing and focus on something else. Cannabis with high THC content can also result into what is called “couch lock high,” which may help chronic pain sufferers to feel numb and experience a good night’s sleep. In fact, because THC has sedative effects, it is usually used at night as a sleep aid by those who have sleeping problems or suffer from conditions that affect the quality of sleep.

Meanwhile, CBD has completely different effects from THC. For one, it’s not psychoactive. CBD also has very little effect to the EC system, and instead allows the body to use and process its naturally occurring cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) more effectively, by either activating or inhibiting them. One such endocannabinoid is anandamide. With high enough levels in the bloodstream, anandamide -- fondly called the “bliss molecule” -- can help reduce the feeling of pain. One study showed that CBD stops the body from absorbing anandamide, instead allowing the endocannabinoid to remain in the blood and thus lessening the overall sensation of pain in the body. CBD has also been reported to limit inflammations in the nervous system, which also helps in pain management.

Chronic And Severe Pain. Find Respite With SOOTHE

Cannabis Oil for Pain Management

It’s important to note that most of the effects of THC and CBD are triggered when they are broken down by heat. This is why smoking is one of the most popular ways to consume marijuana and the quickest way to experience its effects. However, there are those who may not be too keen on smoking cannabis and smoking, with other elements that are coming with, it is not a healthy or good solution at mid and long terms. Also, smoking, whether or not it’s cannabis, still carries a social stigma that’s hard to shake off. There are also some people who suffer from chronic pain who also have other conditions like asthma, which makes smoking difficult or impossible. Prolonged smoking can also trigger allergies and diseases, especially in the respiratory tract.

Using cannabis oil for pain management may be more ideal, as it can be consumed in many other ways, which are often much safer as well. One is by simply taking it orally as a syrup or capsule, as you would other medications for quick pain relief. Another method to ingest cannabis oil is through edibles. It will take longer to experience the pain-relieving effects of cannabis oil when it’s consumed through edibles, however, as the body has to digest the food first. Either way, consuming cannabis orally will result into a more balanced, longer-lasting effect since the cannabinoids will be distributed through the bloodstream rather than the lungs.

Cannabis oil can also be used with a vaporizer, which may be as quick and convenient as smoking but with minimum negative effects. Cannabis oil can also be applied topically and absorbed into the skin, as in creams, gels, or even massage oils, allowing patients to target the pain area directly. These options make cannabis more accessible, especially to children and the elderly.

Extracting and refining cannabis oil are also scientifically guided processes, meaning that the amounts of THC and CBD can be closely monitored. Thus, dosages can be carefully controlled and cases of overdose are highly unlikely. This is most evident in cannabis oil pills and syrups, which doctors can prescribe in very specific dosages.

The Future of Cannabis Oil as Treatment for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is usually a side-condition of other ailments, making it more difficult to treat and manage. Patients with osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer are among those who suffer from chronic pain and would greatly benefit from using cannabis oil. Since THC and CBD work in sync with the body’s EC and other pain response systems, cannabis oil can also be used for effective pain relief and management, with little to no harmful side effects. Irritability is one of the most common negative effects of cannabis oil, while nausea, loss of appetite, and stomach upset are among the “worst”, though easily manageable adverse effects.

In fact, cannabinoids also offer other health and medical benefits, including anti-emetic effects, which is already well-established with THC, and neuroprotective antioxidant properties in both THC and CBD. Both THC and CBD have also been used to improve symptoms of insomnia, as well as inhibit cancer-induced angiogenesis -- the formation of new blood vessels -- which is critical in stopping tumors from getting nutrients and oxygen it needs from its host’s blood to grow and spread.

Another benefit of cannabis oil is that, while it can be addictive, the withdrawal symptoms are significantly less severe compared to those of opioid addiction. Dr. Thomas Strouse of UCLA has even said that “it does not make sense” that cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, under which opioids are also classified.

Strains for Pain Management

As a general rule, cannabis oil made from strains that contain equal amounts of THC and CBD are among the most effective pain relief medications. However, high-CBD strains are more difficult to find due to their relative newness. THC still provides wonderful pain relief effects and there are more and more hybrids that are grown to contain equal amounts of THC and CBD.

Among the most popular hybrids are Blue Widow for arthritis, Purple Arrow and Blueberry Headband for migraines, Cataract Kush for spinal injury pains, and ACDC for generalized pain. Meanwhile, Jack Herer, Superbud, Lemon Thai, and Sour Grape are strains that are ideal for dealing with neuropathic pain.

High-THC content strains that are popular for their pain management properties include Blackberry Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, Pineapple Express, and Granddaddy Purple. These strains can contain up to 28% THC, which even long-time users approach with caution.

Dealing with a disease is already difficult and complicated on its own. Dealing with a side-condition like chronic pain can make matters worse, both physically and mentally. Having multiple and safe pain management options can help make the ordeal a little more bearable. With more and more studies looking into the medical benefits of cannabis, and yielding positive results at that, it may only be a matter of time when it becomes legalized and a socially accepted solution for pain management.

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