More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain with a cost of approximately $600 billion in lost productivity and medical treatments a year. These are staggering numbers, and it’s no surprise that those who experience chronic pain are turning to medical cannabis for help.
Currently, 33 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions including chronic pain.
If you are a resident of one of these states, are over 18 years of age, and have a physician verification that you suffer from chronic pain, you could be approved to legally buy marijuana as a treatment.
How Does Medical Cannabis Work for Pain Relief?
The human body has a natural system called the endocannabinoid system that is involved in nearly every bodily function from breathing to metabolism to regulation of mood.
Cannabis consists of chemicals called cannabinoids that can bind with certain receptors of the endocannabinoid system, mimicking the body’s own chemicals and producing a number of positive effects.
The two most-studied cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and activates the reward systems of the body. Along with creating a psychoactive or “high” effect, this also is effective in reducing pain levels.
CBD, on the other hand, does not interact with the pain receptors in the brain to the extent that THC does, so it does not produce the same psychoactive effects. However, it can attach to other receptors throughout the body, producing pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
What is the Difference Between THC and CBD for Pain Relief?
Both THC and CBD can be used to treat pain. Depending on the type of pain, cause, and the individual’s unique biology, one or the other or a combination of both may be a more effective treatment.
When used alone, CBD is usually best to treat inflammatory pain that comes from injuries or conditions such as arthritis. Many patients apply topical CBD to their joints or muscles to spot reduce inflammation and pain while others find that smoking or otherwise ingesting CBD has been shown to suppress chronic inflammation and pain from neuropathy.
THC has been found to relieve central and neuropathic pain as well as pain experienced by those suffering from cancer, AIDS, fibromyalgia, and types of pain that are resistant to other forms of treatment.
THC impacts the body’s glutamatergic, dopaminergic, and serotonergic systems, boosting these “feel-good” chemicals and easing pain. THC can also have an anti-inflammatory effect.
When used together, THC and CBD have what is known as an “entourage effect”, meaning they enhance the effectiveness of each other. This is why many of those suffering from chronic pain use medical marijuana strains that are high in both THC and CBD to best treat their symptoms.
How to Start Using Medical Marijuana for Pain Relief
To legally buy and use medical marijuana for your treatment of chronic pain, you must first obtain a medical card.
The requirements for getting a card include being a resident of a state that has legalized medical marijuana, being at least 18 years old, and speaking with an approved physician either in person or via a telehealth system who can verify for your condition and determine if medical marijuana is right for you.
Once approved, you can register for your card and, once you receive it, use it to purchase medical marijuana at any licensed dispensary in your state for 12 months.
After this time, your card expires you will need to renew it. Learn more about medical marijuana card renewal here.
Best Types of Marijuana for Treating Pain
The type of pain you experience is a determining factor in what type of marijuana is the best choice for your treatment.
As mentioned above, CBD is often used for neuropathic pain or inflammation. While THC is a common solution for pain related to cancer, AIDS, and centralized pain.
Many of those who use cannabis for pain relief find that a strain that has both high CBD and THC levels works the best for relief.
In addition to THC and CBD levels, cannabis also falls into one of three categories: indica, sativa, or a hybrid of the two.
Users of marijuana report that indica-dominant strains tend to have more pain-relieving properties than sativa-dominant strains, especially when the pain was caused by headaches, neuropathy, spasticity, or arthritis.
Indicas are also known to enhance sleep, which is helpful for those who experience insomnia due to their chronic pain. Some of the most well-known strains for treating chronic pain include the hybrid ACDC, the indica-dominant hybrid Purple Kush, and the sativa strain Harlequin.
Alternative to Smoking Marijuana for Pain Management
In some states, smoking marijuana is illegal even if you have a medical marijuana card. In others, you may purchase smokable types of marijuana but cannot smoke it in public.
If one of these laws applies to the state where you live or if you do not like smoking marijuana, there are plenty of alternative forms of cannabis you can use to treat your pain.
These include topical treatments such as lotions, balms, salves, and transdermal patches, edibles that you can use to infuse your cooking or baking, sublingual forms that are absorbed by your body when you place them under your tongue, and oils that you can ingest.
Chronic pain can be difficult to treat and can have a very negative effect on your overall quality of life. If you qualify to use medical marijuana, you can treat your pain in a more natural way and finally find relief.