Medical professionals have been prescribing cannabis for pain relief for quite a while (for around 6,000 years if you look back far enough).
More recently, scientific methods have developed the capability to modify growing strains so that they are particularly suited for specific kinds of pain.
How do you know what strain of marijuana is useful for combating a particular pain symptom?
Step 1: Assess your pain
The 1-10 smiling to frowny face pain chart that you see in the doctor’s office is not really sufficient for assessing pain properly. The real issue is that pain is subjective, people have different levels of pain of tolerance.
In his paper, Individual Differences in the Subjective Experience of Pain: New Insights into Mechanisms and Models, Dr. Robert Coghill discusses the many factors that change pain tolerance including genetic, sociological, psychological and neural mechanisms.
Dr. Coghill compares the experience of pain to the types of food people enjoy. While some like chocolate others may find it distasteful. Levels of pain have that kind of personal variance.
There are a number of useful pain assessment tools that go beyond the smiley to frowny face that can assist in your understanding of pain levels.
However, severity is not the only factor to consider when assessing pain. It’s useful to understand the three categorizations of pain that physicians have created to clarify pain symptoms.
- Nociceptive pain — this is commonly associated with injury and tissue damage. It is the pain you feel when something is wrong with your body, like you’ve stubbed your toe, or when you are doing something dangerous like putting your hand too close to the fireplace. Muscle tears and strains are examples of this kind of pain. Usually, this pain has a healing component and while it can be bad initially, it feels better over time.
- Neuropathic pain — this is pain that comes from the central nervous system when, for example, illness affects the body. It’s not tissue damage that causes this pain but rather a direct nerve contact due to sickness. Diabetic patients can feel pain in their feet, but that is not a result of external injury, it is the nervous system sending fake pain reports to the brain. This can be aches and pains that come and go, often chronically.
- Central pain — When the central nervous system itself is damaged some nerves can undergo an amplification of peripheral signalling that results in chronic pain. Again this is not from specific injury to tissue, but rather damage to the nervous system itself.
Step 2: Know more about cannabis
Once you have defined your pain type and level you can begin to assess what strain of marijuana is a good match for you. However, at this point, it’s important to understand a little more about the active compounds in cannabis and the main types of this medically useful plant.
More CBD or THC?:
The main active chemicals in cannabis that help in pain relieve are the cannabinoids Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) and it is worth understanding a little bit about their effects.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This is the chemical most associated with a traditional marijuana high and can induce a (usually pleasant) mind-altering and sedative effect.
Cannabidiol (CBD): is not psychoactive but does interact with pain receptors and is a natural anti-inflammatory. It has a more stimulating (rather than sedative) effect.
Usually, these are found in some varying percentages within strains of cannabis. Strains that feature more CBD will create less of a psychoactive effect while those that feature more THC create a more full-body high.
There are also three main strains of cannabis:
Indica: Recognised by its shorter and wider leaves, indica strains of cannabis generally have a higher concentration of THC (though not always). Use is typified by a “full-body” high that creates a foggy sedative effect. Generally, this means indica strains should only be used before going to bed. These are often used for high-grade nociceptive pain symptoms that come from injury.
Sativa: With leaves that are longer and thinner, sativa is known for creating a more stimulating feeling. This makes sativa strains more useful for suppressing day-to-day chronic pain associated with neuropathic symptoms. With a sativa high (usually due to a larger percentage of CBD) the user is likely more able to continue with daily tasks.
Hybrid: Cannabis growers have created hybrid strains to try to combine the effects of sativa and indica strains into one convenient package. The goal is to create a level of sedation combined with stimulation that both combats relatively intense pain, but allows you to go about your day without too much of a fog. Depending on your pain level, a hybrid might be the right strain for you.
Step 3: Pick your variety
There are so many names of different varieties of marijuana that it can be intimidating to try to choose the right one. This makes going to a dispensary for the first time a little overwhelming.
The site Marijuana Doctors has a comprehensive article that discusses some of the classic and popular varietals that match one-to-one with specific pain symptoms. They’ve also created a handy infographic which makes a quick reference.
Any dispensary will have heard of the strains they highlight. If they do not have it in stock they will be able to point you to a similar strain (even if the name is slightly different).
Here is a quick overview of some of the strains they recommend for pain relief.
For headache or migraine relief:
– Blue Dream: A hybrid strain, this creates a relaxed feeling while still offering a stimulating cerebral high. It is good for relief of stress and is often used by headache sufferers.
– Grandaddy Purple: An indica strain has a relatively strong full-body high, and with a higher THC content (20%) is best used by intense migraine sufferers before going to seep.
For cramps and muscle soreness:
– White Widow: This very popular hybrid strain is also one that features high levels of THC (18-25%) and creates a full-body high. It is very useful for severe pain and again, should only be used before bed as it gives the user a sedative feeling.
– Redwood Kush: This calming indica dominant hybrid strain is great for combatting muscle strain. It can leave users feeling foggy so should be used before sleep.
– Harlequin: The relatively high CBD content of Harlequin means it is useful for chronic aches associated with arthritis and inflammation. It features a more cerebral high that doesn’t significantly affect the user’s ability to perform tasks.
– ACDC: A significant percentage of CBD content (19% CBD to 3% THC) means that ACDC creates a cerebral high with almost no numbing effects. This is perfect for low-level aches and pains if you want to go about your day.
For severe pain:
– Purple Arrow: If you have suffered an injury or recently gone through surgery, this indica strain is recommended for you. It provides fast-acting relief from high-grade nociceptive pain symptoms. Accordingly, it is high in THC and will have a sedative effect.
– OG Kush: Sufferers of severe chronic pain swear by this strain, though it is also useful for any intensive pain symptom. With a high level of THC (24%), this is not for a novice user as it creates a relatively intense psychoactive high.
For chronic pain:
– Jack Herer: This hybrid features a cleverly manipulated combination of sativa and indica. By regulating levels of THC and CBD it works well for fighting daily chronic pain and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory.
– Blackberry Kush: An indica strain, this is only recommended for before sleep but has been proven to effectively combat chronic pain symptoms.
– Sour Diesel: A sativa dominant hybrid, this creates a cerebral and energetic high that fights pain while allowing the user to continue with daily tasks
There are online resources available to get a more comprehensive idea of how these strains work to fight pain if you want to do more research. For beginners, check the quick reference below by Marijuana Doctors.
You can even show this to a budtender at a distributor and they will be happy to help point you to the best medical marijuana strains for your personal pain relief.