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Overview of Pain and Cannabis Treatment
Studies indicate that cannabis effectively lower pain levels in patients suffering from neuropathic and nociceptive pain, and has even shown it has efficacy in managing pain that had otherwise shown to be resistant to other traditional treatments. Research also suggests that cannabis could address the nation’s opioid painkiller crisis by simultaneously reducing pain and curtailing opioid cravings10.
Pain is a feeling of discomfort — such as a prick, tingle, burn, ache, or sting — that develops after an injury, illness, or in association with a chronic health condition. Pain has the capability of limiting productivity and adversely affecting one’s well-being, and health care costs for treating pain in the U.S. take a toll of $560 billion to $635 billion every year.28
Pain is classified as either acute or chronic. Acute pain develops as a result of an injury of trauma event and will typically subside once its cause is identified and treated. Chronic pain is discomfort that develops in accordance with a chronic disease, such as arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic pain often persists over a long period of time and is resistant to many medical treatments.
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Cannabis’ Effects on Pain: What Research has Found
Cannabis’ Potential in the Global Pain Market
The volume of studies supporting cannabis’ efficacy as a pain reliever are vast. In particular, two of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — have been found effective at lowering pain levels associated with an array of conditions, including some cancer, neuropathy, spasticity, headache, migraines, and other acute pain and chronic pain conditions4,7,21. THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system’s two main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) to regulate central nervous system immune cells and the release of neurotransmitter to manage pain levels46.
Studies indicate that cannabis use is prevalent among the chronic pain population, with improvements in pain, sleep and mood reportedly the top reasons for use. Canadian researchers conducted an online survey with sufferers of chronic pelvic pain syndrome and discovered that 75% reported an improvement in symptoms with cannabis use35. In another study, 12 of 15 chronic pain patients who smoked herbal cannabis over a 6-week period reported an improvement in pain40.
Researchers used a questionnaire study to examine cannabis’ effects in HIV-positive patients, and found that cannabis improved muscle pain in 94% of patients, while 90% of patients reported that their nerve pain had improved47. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study, multiple sclerosis patients that used a THC/CBD spray and experienced significantly reduced pain ratings23. In another study, 23 patients with post-traumatic or postsurgical neuropathic pain saw significant improvements in their daily pain intensity rating scale and reported an improved ability to fall asleep and improved quality of sleep41.
Studies have also demonstrated that using cannabis for pain management is safe13. In one study, after a year of regular use, patients with chronic pain were found to be at no greater risk of serious adverse effects than non-cannabis users40. With the high risk of abuse of pain medications claiming the lives of over 40 Americans everyday, studies suggest that cannabis could prove to be a non-addictive way to treat chronic pain1,25. Most recently, researchers discovered that vaporized cannabis containing THC caused a “significant analgesic response” in a clinical trial involving 42 patients that had previously found conventional pain-relieving medications, like opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to be ineffective45.
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- Anand, P., Whiteside, G., Fowler, C.J., and Hohmann, A.G. (2009). Targeting CB2 receptors and the endocannabinoid system for the treatment of pain. Brain Research Reviews, 60(1), 255–266. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549801/.
- Baron, E.P. (2015, June). Comprehensive Review of Medicinal Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and Therapeutic Implications in Medicine and Headache: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been… Headache, 55(6), 885-916. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/head.12570/full.
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- Boychuck, D.G., Goddard, G., Mauro, G., and Orellana, M.F. (2015 Winter). The effectiveness of cannabinoids in the management of chronic nonmalignant neuropathic pain: a systematic review. Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache, 29(1), 7-14. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/R28LWD.
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- Langford, R.M., Mares, J., Novotna, A., Vachova, M., Novakova, I., Notcutt, W., and Ratcliffe, S. (2013, April). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of THC/CBD oromucosal spray in combination with the existing treatment regimen, in the relief of central neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neurology, 260(4), 984-97. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00415-012-6739-4.
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