Medical Cannabis & Pain

A promising option for managing pain, offering a natural alternative to traditional treatments.

Overview

Medical cannabis has been proven to provide pain relief for chronic pain conditions, improving the quality of life for people living in pain and support them to manage their symptoms. Patients may be prescribed painkillers but find that they are ineffective in treating their pain. These drugs can be incredibly strong painkillers, with far-reaching side effects. Sometimes, even these cannot help patients to manage pain, leading them to explore other avenues.

For example, medical cannabis can be used to modulate pain through the use of phytocannabinoids, which are a class of lipophilic molecules that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system is a network which interacts with the body’s central nervous and peripheral nervous system. In short, this means that phytocannabinoids hold incredible pharmacological potential.

One example of this is outlined in this study from 2019 in the United States, ‘Medical Cannabis: Effects on Opioid and B-Requirements for Pain Control’ where the authors, M. O’Connell, M. Sandgren, L. Frantzen, E. Bower, and B. Erickson, found evidence shows that patients suffering from chronic pain exhibited a significant reduction in pain symptoms when treated with medical cannabis.

On top of that, opioids are often a common choice for helping with chronic pain. Medical cannabis is already being put forward by experts as an alternative medication to opioids, reducing the risk of developing a dependency and other unwanted side-effects.

This study, written by Philippe Lucas and titled ‘Cannabis as an adjunct to or substitute for opiates in the treatment of chronic pain’, states that cannabis can help lead to a greater cumulative relief of pain. That means fewer opiates are used and reduces the impact of the associated side-effects. Pain is a debilitating symptom that can be linked to any number of complex conditions, causes, or other symptoms. Living with certain pain conditions is a common reality for many people in the UK, with over eight million people stating they live with chronic pain.

For persistent pain conditions, medical cannabis can be a source of relief. Many people are not just uncomfortable as a result of their pain, it can make it difficult to complete various everyday tasks that other people might find simple. Treatment with medical cannabis helps to manage and minimise symptoms of pain and drastically improve the quality of life for these patients.

Conditions
There are certain conditions that make chronic pain a part of everyday life, to a point where it becomes hard to manage. Some of these pain conditions include:
  • Arthritis
  • Back pain and Sciatica
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic regional pain syndrome
  • Ehlers Danlos syndromes
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Neuropathic pain
Symptoms

Depending on the specific type of pain condition, a person may suffer from:

  • Reduction in quality of life
  • Low mood
  • Sleep disruption, fatigue and insomnia
  • Changes in sleep, appetite, and energy levels
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Tremors or spasticity

These symptoms can come and go in periods known as relapses and flare-ups. Relapses refer to a loss of treatment gains or a regression to pre-treatment baselines whereas flare-ups refer to when symptoms are particularly severe.

Treatments

Treatment for pain will largely depend on the root cause of the pain or the underlying condition it’s related to. The most common treatment plans often include combinations of the following treatment options:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Prescription medications are often used to manage pain. However, for many people, a combination of treatments is most effective.
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Psychological counselling

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