Does Cannabis Actually Relieve Pain?

Does Cannabis Actually Relieve Pain?

Updated: 01/17/2024

Are you seeking relief from chronic pain by using medical cannabis? You’re not alone. Millions of people across the United States, including Illinois State, turn to cannabinoids, the main active compounds in cannabis, with the hope of finding solace from their persistent discomfort.

Yet, despite an increase in use, there are conflicting reports on the effectiveness of using the cannabis plant to treat chronic pain. This blog aims to provide a general overview of medical cannabis laws, the findings of clinical trials of cannabis for pain control, and the potential benefits reported from using medical cannabis.

How Does Cannabis Relieve Pain?

Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to provide pain relief. Think of the endocannabinoid system as a control center, constantly receiving messages from different parts of the body about pain and inflammation.

CB1 receptors are found in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are primarily in the immune system and peripheral tissues. When cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they trigger biochemical reactions that relieve pain.

The most well-known cannabinoid in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the plant. But there are many other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), that have been shown to have pain-relieving properties.

Cannabinoids can also stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine, further decreasing pain perception.

Types of Pain Cannabis Can Successfully Aid

Types of Pain Cannabis Can Successfully Aid

Cannabis may be used to treat the following types of chronic pain:

  • Neuropathic pain – caused by damage or dysfunction in the nerves and is often described as a burning, shooting, or tingling sensation.
  • Inflammatory pain – conditions like arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Cancer-related pain – such as chemotherapy-induced neuropathy or pain associated with tumors.
  • Migraines – may alleviate the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraines.
  • Fibromyalgia – widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) pain – a neurological condition that can cause chronic pain, spasms, and muscle stiffness.
  • Post-operative pain – managing post-operative pain and reducing the need for opioid pain medication, which can have harmful side effects and lead to addiction.
  • Anxiety and PTSD-related pain – pain associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How Much Cannabis Do I Need to Take to Relieve Pain?

Many studies suggest that the use of cannabis may be a helpful tool for managing pain rather than eliminating it. Some researchers have referred to this as the “Restored Self,” where a person regains a sense of control over their life while using cannabis.t

The amount of cannabis needed to alleviate pain depends on various factors, such as individual body chemistry, genetics, lifestyle, meal timing, tolerance, and the method of consumption. In general, experts recommend starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it over time to achieve the desired effects.

It is also important to be mindful of the potentially addictive nature of cannabis use and manage it responsibly through moderation.

Different Forms of Cannabis that Are Best Suitable for Pain Relief

Different Forms of Cannabis that Are Best Suitable for Pain Relief

Finding the perfect type of cannabis for pain relief is a crucial aspect of achieving wellness. Different consumption methods have varying effects and dosages.

Whether through smoking, topicals, or edibles, understanding these differences empowers you to make informed choices that align with your unique pain management needs.

Smoking Cannabis

Smoking and vaping cannabis reduce the central nervous system’s sensitivity to pain signals because the active compounds pass quickly through the blood-brain barrier, hence why this form of cannabis ingestion is beneficial for hard-to-treat conditions such as neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia.

Most feel the effects of cannabis within two minutes of inhaling and a peak after 30 minutes. It’s important to note that cannabis vapes produce more intense effects. This is because smoking cannabis prerolls involves heating and burning the plant material, which causes some of the active compounds to break down and decreases the potency.

Vaping, on the other hand, does not involve combustion and, therefore, does not affect the potency of cannabis in the same way. First-time medical cannabis users here should keep in mind it means that less cannabis is needed when vaping.

Cannabis Edibles

Cannabis Edibles

By consuming cannabis-infused edibles, you can avoid any negative impact on your lungs and the unpleasant smell associated with smoking cannabis.

Additionally, cannabis edibles have a longer-lasting effect on the body compared to smoking because the body takes longer to process the cannabinoids through the digestive system, providing pain relief for several hours.

The only downside is that the onset of effects may be delayed, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour. The effects of edibles can vary significantly from person to person depending on factors such as body weight, metabolism, and tolerance.

Instead, start with a low dose and wait at least two hours before consuming more, as too much can lead to unpleasant effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and dizziness.

Cannabis Topicals

Using topical application is recommended for reducing pain and inflammation in specific areas. Unlike consuming or inhaling marijuana, it is not absorbed into the bloodstream and does not produce a feeling of being high.

When applied to a source of joint pain, cannabis topicals can effectively relieve pain. Some examples of marijuana-infused topical products are lotions, creams, oils, and salves.

Topical creams come in varying strengths and formulations, so be sure to choose one that best suits your needs. Some may also contain additional ingredients such as menthol or essential oils for added pain relief or fragrance.

What Are the Best Cannabis Strains for Pain?

What Are the Best Cannabis Strains for Pain

Cannabis comes in different strains due to genetic variations among plants, the influence of growing environments, cross-breeding, selective cultivation methods, and specific medical properties. This variety provides consumers with options to suit their preferences and needs.

For chronic pain, the best strains are:

  • ACDC
  • Cannatonic
  • Harlequin
  • Northern Lights
  • White Widow
  • Blueberry

Scientific Research on Medical Cannabis for Pain Control

The impact of cannabis pain medications has varied results in different studies. While some show that cannabis does not affect pain intensity, other studies suggest that it does.

These differences may be due to a variety of factors. Bear in mind that pain is a complex experience that can vary among individuals, making it difficult to determine the effectiveness of medical cannabis use for everyone.

We recommend talking to a knowledgeable healthcare professional when treating severe pain. Like all pain medication, cannabis cannot cure pain but, in some cases, may reduce the symptoms.

How Long Does Cannabis Take to Work for Pain?

How Long Does Cannabis Take to Work for Pain

Generally, smoking or vaping cannabis can provide relief within minutes, while edibles may take 30 minutes to an hour to take effect. The duration of pain relief also varies, but it typically lasts between 2-4 hours. Note that dosing and strain selection impact the speed and efficacy of pain relief with cannabis, hence why you should start with a low dose and gradually increase it if needed.

Can Cannabis Kill Pain Without Getting You Stoned?

The short answer is yes. Cannabis can kill pain without getting you stoned. Cannabis contains a variety of compounds called cannabinoids. These chemical compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce several effects, including pain relief.

The most well-known cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. However, there are other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), that do not produce a “high” feeling.

Is Cannabis Better than Painkillers?

The National Institutes of Health states that “Medicinal cannabis is not an FDA-approved medication, although a licensed practitioner can prescribe it.” Because studies are ongoing, there isn’t sufficient evidence to categorically state it is 100% better than painkillers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found cannabis helps treat neuropathic pain, but more research is needed to know whether it works better than other pain management options. Some studies claim cannabis use leads to decreased opiate medication.

And while it is less addictive than prescription opioids, users can still develop a psychological dependence on it. For this reason, cannabis should be used as part of a holistic chronic pain treatment plan devised by a qualified health practitioner.

Legal Considerations for Medical Cannabis in Illinois

Legal Considerations for Medical Cannabis in Illinois

You can only receive medical cannabis in Illinois with a valid medical cannabis registry identification card.

The requirements include:

  1. Being a resident of Illinois with a valid ID or proof of residency.
  2. Having a debilitating medical condition listed by the Department of Public Health.
  3. Obtaining a written certification from a licensed physician stating that the condition qualifies for medical cannabis treatment.
  4. Registering with the Illinois Department of Public Health and paying the applicable fee
  5. Undergoing a background check.
  6. Meeting any other additional requirements set by the state.

Individuals under the age of 18 can also qualify for a medical cannabis card with the consent of a parent or legal guardian.

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