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Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain Management

Chronic pain is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Surveys show that chronic pain affects more people than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. That is an alarming amount of Americans suffering from pain with no hope for relief. What can be done to help alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain?

What options are available for chronic pain management?

Treatment of chronic pain should encompass a variety of approaches which address a person’s body, mind, and spirit. “What the brain perceives is indisputably modifiable by emotions,” notes Judith Scheman, Ph.D., program director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. When we focus only on the sensory aspect, we fail to appreciate the suffering component of the pain, which is important to recognize because pain is not what occurs at the periphery.” That means that people who are fearful of pain, depressed, or anxious may experience pain differently, and perhaps more severely, than someone who has pain but isn’t experiencing those other emotions. (1)

Medication combined with therapy and other pain management options (i.e. meditation, TENS, relaxation techniques, YOGA, massage) is usually the most effective approach.

What medication is available for chronic pain management?

  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), including ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Antidepressants, which can improve sleep and alleviate pain
  • Anti-seizure medications, which can be useful in treating pain related to nerve damage or injury
  • Steroids, like dexamethasone and prednisone, to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Opioids (narcotics) and benzodiazepines (1)
  • Medical Marijuana

How can marijuana treat pain?

Medical marijuana is growing in popularity as an alternative drug treatment for chronic pain. Marijuana contains compounds called cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body. These receptors reduce pain and stimulate the pleasure and reward center in the brain. CBD does not cause a high or have any psychoactive effect. Instead, it interacts with pain receptors in the brain and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Alternatively, THC is a psychoactive drug that produces an elevated state of mind or a “high.” It activates the brain’s reward system and reduces pain levels. (2)

Does marijuana work for chronic pain?

There is insufficient medical evidence and studies to prove the effectiveness of medical marijuana. However, the FDA has approved medications containing synthetic THC cannabinoids for cancer patients. They have also approved medical marijuana for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. Aside from those specific uses, the FDA has not yet approved medical marijuana for pain relief.

Independent research studies show positive results for participants. Marijuana seems especially useful for people suffering from neuropathy (nerve pain), chronic migraines, and cancer treatment. It also appears that using medical marijuana for pain management allowed participants to decrease opioid use significantly.

There is a need for additional research before medical marijuana is a viable option for pain management. It is important to consider the risks associated with using medical marijuana before choosing this option. Schedule a consult at Essentials Medispa & Salon to discuss all your options.