Chronic pain affects 25.3 million American adults, according to data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. About 17.6% of American adults say they suffer with “severe levels” of pain on a regular basis.
To combat the pain, doctors prescribe opioids. But a trend of overprescribing the drugs has led to a new epidemic. In 2014 alone, 28,000 people died from an opioid overdose. That was the highest rate in history.
But as medical and recreational marijuana continue to become legalized in the United States, more people are turning to medical cannabis to combat the pain.
THC and CBD – Understanding the Difference
Cannabis is effective at treating inflammation and pain. Why? Because it works with the endocannabinoid system, which manages pain and inflammation.
It’s not surprising then that people use marijuana to ease pain, nausea and chemo induced neuropathy.
While there are more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis, the most well-known ones are CBD, THC, CBN, and CBG.
THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana; the compound that makes you “high.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is non-psychoactive and known for its medicinal effects. CBD actually helps counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
THC gets a bad reputation, but this cannabinoid is a strong pain killer and has potent anti-inflammatory effects. THC has 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin and double the anti-inflammatory power of hydrocortisone.
High-CBD strains of marijuana provide more potent therapeutic effects without the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD on its own has strong anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-depressant and anti-emetic properties. CBD can also help keep blood pressure levels under control and is cytotoxic to breast cancer.
Depending on the desired effects, growers will buy cannabis seeds for strains that are higher in CBD to provide therapeutic effects without the “stoned” effect.
How Effective is Medial Marijuana at Alleviating Pain?
A Harvard-led systemic review of 28 studies looked at the effectiveness of exo-cannabinoids to treat pain and other medical issues.
Among the studies reviews, all five of the neuropathic pain and all six of the chronic pain studies found a significant improvement in symptoms.
But can cannabis serve as a viable alternative to opioids?
New studies provide evidence that yes, cannabis may be a viable alternative to prescription pain pills. For many, cannabis provides the same level of pain relief. In the very least, most patients are able to reduce their dependency on opioids.
A study from the University of Michigan in 2016 found that cannabis improved quality of life, decreased the side effects of medications and reduced the use of opioids by 64% on average.
Of course, everyone responds differently to marijuana. Some find that smoking makes the symptoms worse, but low-dose edibles provides the desired relief. Patients may have to use trial and error to find what works for them and their symptoms. Some patients prefer to use a vape designed to consume dry herbs or concentrates as vaporizers tend to produce fewer toxins than smoking. Others like the water filtration provided by a bong or dab rig.
While cannabis may be a viable alternative to opioids for pain relief, experts recommend working with your doctor to make the transition. If you’re currently on opioids, a change of protocol should only be done under medical supervision.