In order to understand why marijuana might be a good choice for pain relief, let’s look at how marijuana can provide pain relief.
Marijuana’s ability to decrease pain is made possible by chemicals in the cannabis plant called cannabinoids. Interestingly enough, our bodies have a system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is involved in bodily functions such as:
The ECS is a very complicated system that affects both the nervous and immune systems and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it works. But what they do know is that the cannabinoids found in marijuana are so chemically similar to the endocannabinoids in the human body that they are able to talk to each other. When this interaction takes place, neurotransmitters – tiny chemical messengers – are released and affect the brain’s interpretation of pain.
Cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the endocannabinoids in your body and release neurotransmitters in your brain.
CBD vs. THC
CBD and THC are the two most prominent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and, while they are chemically identical, they are structurally different. That means they act in the body differently.
The ECS contains two main receptors called CB1 and CB2.
- CB1 receptors mainly communicate with the nervous system.
- CB2 receptors mainly communicate with the immune system.
CBD and THC interact with these receptors differently, thus causing different outcomes. THC binds directly to CB1 receptors and is psychoactive, while CBD does not bind to either receptor and actually inhibits the body’s receptors from binding with other cannabinoids.
Both CBD and THC are used to treat conditions like:
but CBD specifically treats:
and THC can treat conditions like:
- low appetite
CBD and THC act differently in the body. THC is psychoactive, CBD is not.
Potential Side Effects
If you decide to stick with CBD exclusively, there are virtually no side effects. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), any side effects are likely caused by interactions with other medications, not from the CBD alone.
Because THC is psychoactive, it has some side effects, such as:
- increased heart rate
- coordination issues
- slow reaction times
- red eyes
- dry mouth
- memory loss
- long-term psychiatric effects (mainly in adolescents)
What Does the Research Say
Because marijuana remains federally illegal in the United States, there are limits on researchers as to its use in treatment studies, but they have shown significant promise in basic experiments on pain. Specifically, marijuana appears to help nerve pain and cancer pain the best.
A Few Studies
- According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) study on the treatment of cancer pain with THC, the team discovered that, unfortunately, patients reported feelings of sedation and hallucination while on the highest dosages. But the treatment did decrease their pain while also decreasing nausea and vomiting and increasing appetite.
- Results in a German study on chronic nerve pain were similar. While participants reported a decrease in pain they also reported sleepiness, dizziness, and confusion.
- The European Academy of Neurology found that cannabinoids could lessen migraine pain by 40% or more.
- According to WebMD, several small studies have found CBD to assist rheumatic patients with morning pain, sleep, and lowering joint inflammation. But the research is so limited that there is no official recommendation for the use of cannabis to treat things like rheumatoid arthritis as of yet.
While pain symptoms are shown to decrease, it may not be enough to overlook the psychoactive side effects.
Marijuana and Opioids
One big question to consider is, “can marijuana replace opioids to manage pain?” The answer seems to be… maybe.
While there are ethical and logistical difficulties when it comes to studying pain, the limited research available suggests that cannabis and opioids mitigate pain through different systems. So, at the very least, they could be used in conjunction to hopefully create a better pain management experience. But the research does not suggest that marijuana decreases pain so much more than opioids that it is a suitable replacement at this point.
If you think medical marijuana could aid in your pain management, we can help you get a medical marijuana card. MD Berry is here to listen to your needs and get you access to what you’re looking for. At MDBerry, you can contact a licensed medical marijuana doctor to assess your condition and prescribe you medical marijuana. Everyone deserves effective pain relief and we are here to help.