The most common and obvious reason for seeking medical assistance is pain. Whether it is due to illness or accident, it is the alarm that announces that something is not right. Pain may sometimes be a vexing problem to deal with, because it has many causes, and certain types of pain are really hard to treat because there are no truly effective medicines yet.
People have always been searching for new and better chronic pain relievers. Sometime during that pursuit, along came marijuana. It has been used for treating various painful conditions, from the pain of childbirth to a simple headache. Among AIDS and cancer patients, people with movement and spastic disorders, and migraine sufferers, there are those who speak of marijuana’s pain-relieving effects and advocate for it as a source of analgesic medication. However, there has always been the other side of the story, about how it can even worsen pain symptoms.
Today, when the stigma around marijuana is slowly being shaken off, further scientific research is expected to provide more definite answers to the question – what can medical marijuana do for pain management.
Cancer causes pain in different ways – the invasion of sensitive tissue by growing tumors, nerve injury, and inflammation. Cancer-caused pain tends to be persistent, severe, and resistant to opiate painkiller treatments. There are a number of small studies that have shown that cannabis consummation may help cancer patients in treating vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy, and neuropathic pain. No, marijuana is not able to cure cancer, despite the stories of various pro-pot proponents, but studies have shown that people who use cannabis extracts tend to need less painkiller medicine. THC and CBD (tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol) have been proven to kill certain types of cancer cells (grown in laboratory dishes), while certain animal studies suggest that they may reduce the spread and slow the growth of some forms of cancer. Recently, it was found that CBD inflicts PCD (programmed cell death) in breast cancer cells, according to this publication by the American Association for Cancer Research. However, those who try to avoid conventional medical care and rely only on cannabinoids in their cancer treatments may experience serious health consequences.
According to a study published by the American Academy of Neurology, “smoked cannabis effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy.” There were 50 patients who participated in this study, and they were given cannabis or placebo cigarettes. Half of those who smoked cannabis cigarettes experienced a 30% or more reduction in pain intensity, while 24% of those who smoked the placebo did also. Cannabis may help AIDS patients regulate vomiting and nausea, improve their appetite, and have a positive effect on emotions and reduce anxiety (even those who manage to have their illness under control have to cope with the fact that they will suffer a chronic illness for the rest of their lives and deal with the side-effects of different medications).
Marijuana helps patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis to fight the inflammation of the joints. The Rheumatology journal published a study conducted in 2013, in which the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of CB2R (cannabinoid receptor 2) were studied. CB2 receptors are present in the joint tissues of arthritis patients at abnormally high levels (note that CB1 receptors are the only ones responsible for the “high”), thus by activating CB2 pathways, patients experience the anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana. The psychoactive effect is what represents the major barrier to its widespread use in treating pain from rheumatoid arthritis. However, smoking medical marijuana can induce other problems for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, because the disease can be associated with a greater risk of heart and lung problems. If patients regularly smoke marijuana, these problems could increase.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is one of the biggest areas of discovery regarding the consequences of marijuana. When we are exposed to some form of physical trauma, the brain has its way of extinguishing them. There are memories of discomfort and pain that remain after a painful event, but we have the ability to forget. However, people with PTSD are not able to extinguish those kind of memories, so they keep coming back in the forms of nightmares or flashbacks. The endocannabinoid system was proven to be important in extinguishing memories of traumatic events, and cannabinoids are the ones that can help with that specific brain area.
Today, using marijuana as a treatment for various health conditions and pain management is not ubiquitous. However, those who feel limited by the accessible tools for pain treatment, both non-pharmacological and pharmacological, decide to test marijuana in order to see whether it can help them manage and alleviate the pain they experience. Marijuana should not be considered a miracle cure, but only as something that can aid pain treatment.
Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition, and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogospere. When not in the gym or on the track, you can find her on Twitter at or in a tea shop.