Though studies have found that CBD is invaluable in helping manage certain seizure disorders and that THC is a near-miracle treatment for those suffering from nausea and loss of appetite, there is one issue that cannabis users always come back to: pain management.
Chronic pain is one of the worst diagnoses imaginable. Often, the source of chronic pain is difficult for medical professionals to identify, which makes it almost impossible to treat effectively. Current pain management solutions include opioids and NSAIDs, both of which can have devastating impacts on health and well-being in the short and long term. Thus, it makes sense that natural, safe cannabis is rapidly becoming a popular pain management solution for those suffering from chronic pain.
Yet, the jury is still out with regards to whether cannabis does actually positively affect the experience of pain. Here’s a rundown of current research regarding pain relief and cannabis, so you can make an informed decision for your health.
Pain Reception and the Endocannabinoid System
You might believe that pain reception is solely the realm of the nervous system. Nerves throughout your body help you sense and experience the world around you, so why wouldn’t nerves be responsible for detecting and communicating pain? It seems that it is slightly more complicated than that.
Closely associated with the nervous system — and several other systems within the body — is the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. The ECS has many responsibilities essential for maintaining life, chief among them being the management of homeostasis, or internal balance despite external change. To accomplish this, the ECS can shift core temperature, moderate metabolism, elicit stress responses and, most germanely, signal pain.
Since discovering that the endocannabinoid system is affiliated with the experience of pain, many studies have sought to better understand its role. Though knowledge surrounding this issue continues to evolve, at present researchers believe that the ECS has control over blocking or permitting the sensation of pain. It does this by creating a compound called palmitoylethanolamide, or PEA, which binds to receptors in the nervous system to send messages about pain to the brain. PEA has analgesic properties, meaning it essentially blocks the experience of nociceptive pain, or pain that develops as the result of physical stimuli, like a hot pan or a strained muscle.
There is another type of pain, called neurological pain, that results from a malfunctioning nervous system possibly caused by damaged nerves. Though less is understood about the ECS’s role in moderating neurological pain, there is some evidence that endocannabinoids can impact this pain experience as well.
Analgesia Through THC and CBD
Through history, marijuana has been used as a tool for managing pain, and many sufferers of chronic pain vociferously argue that weed is one of the only truly effective treatments for their condition. As a result, research has sought to better understand what compounds within cannabis function as analgesics and how.
Unfortunately, science has not yet revealed all of these secrets. Currently, the two most-studied compounds unique to cannabis are the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD.
THC is the dominant compound responsible for getting marijuana users high. It binds directly to the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors, which are located primarily in the brain and digestive system. In contrast, researchers aren’t certain how CBD interacts with the human body; it seems to encourage either the ECS or the nervous system to release endocannabinoids or neurotransmitters.
Both THC and CBD can be valuable in mitigating the experience of pain. THC has an almost identical structure to the neurotransmitter anandamide, also known as the bliss molecule. Thus, those suffering from chronic pain can use THC as a distraction for their brains, a way to feel good. Further, there is evidence that the endocannabinoids and/or neurotransmitters released by CBD help eliminate inflammation and block pain temporarily, which can be an immense relief.
Science will continue to reveal more about how the ECS interacts with pain expression and how compounds with cannabis can be applied to make chronic pain more manageable. If you suffer from chronic pain, you might want to take advantage of free resources like Weedmaps, which not only has information on the best medicinal marijuana strains but also compiles maps of nearby dispensaries as well as updates on cannabis research.
Pain remains a frustratingly difficult subject to study, but the discovery of the ECS, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids have rocketed research forward. Chronic pain could have a solution in your lifetime, and the solution could be based on weed.