How cannabis can help chronic pain patients

Chronic pain can be a symptom of several diseases and syndromes, in mild or more severe conditions. Here, we tell you why cannabis is a promising treatment in these cases!

When we experience pain, it can be momentary or not. In cases where it does not go away easily, it is necessary to investigate further to figure out what is happening. One thing is certain: it is impossible to live with it without proper treatment. And, according to recent research, cannabis can be a very promising option!

Here in Brazil, this subject is not as widely talked about, but in the United States, there is a growing crisis due to some of the most used pain medication to cure the discomfort of chronic pain. Opioids, in their most varied forms and labels (such as morphine and codeine), have several side effects – one of which may be addiction. The fact is that they were the cause of more than 50 thousand deaths in 2019 alone in the USA. So medicinal cannabis is used as a way to prevent this risk.

But how does cannabis help people that struggle from conditions that cause chronic pain? Here, in our third content  in the series on medicinal cannabis, we will tell you all of this – and a little more! Come see what you need to know about this subject.

Important warning: any possibility of using cannabis as a medicine must be analyzed by a specialist who monitors the history of each patient. This post is not a recommendation for self-medication with cannabis in any way. If you believe it can benefit your condition, talk to your doctor.
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Cannabis crop

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is generally characterized by doctors as pain that persists for at least three months. Others point a minimum of 6 months to consider pain as chronic. Because of these variations, it ends up being very difficult to specify exactly where an acute (momentary) pain turns into chronic, and it is a factor that can vary a lot depending on each case.

Chronic pain can be divided into two main types: nociceptive pain, linked to tissue damage, and neuropathic pain, which is related to some nerve damage.

In many cases, there is no clear explanation as to why the pain still persists. People often associate pain as a sign that there is a disease in the body.

But another major issue about the condition is that it may or may not indicate a disease or disorder. There are cases that it may be linked to arthritis, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or even more rare syndromes – as is the case with Alice, who has chronic pain caused by ankylosing spondylitis. In others, it may have a hidden agent, and appear without a specific cause.

A common problem with chronic pain is that treatments that usually work with acute pain do not work, and in some cases they even worsen the condition. For example, rest is usually indicated for more acute pain, as in cases of fractures. In turn, in a case of chronic pain, excessive rest is contraindicated, as it can cause weakening of the muscles and ligaments.

To alleviate this condition, several types of treatments are usually used, such as radiofrequency or anesthetic blocks, physical exercises, psychotherapy, relaxation and acupuncture, accompanied by medications, such as anti-inflammatory, antidepressants, analgesics, anticonvulsants or, as we will see at next, cannabis.

Cannabis and chronic pain

One of the most talked about effects of the plant within the cannabis users community is its analgesic power, which can help both in cases of acute pain, such as menstrual cramps, and  chronic pain. In the United States, a study found that 62% of people who sought medical cannabis used the herb to treat these constant discomforts.

In this case, according to research, the plant acts directly on our endocannabinoid system, as follows:

  • Our endocannabinoid receptors (CB1) are found in several important structures for pain in our brain, in areas such as periaqueductal gray, the spinal trigeminal nucleus, the amygdala and the basal ganglia. Like them, CB2 receptors, outside the central nervous system, are also linked to pain suppression.

It is important to remember that it is not just CBD that helps the user to experience the feeling of relief: THC is also important. Both cannabinoids act together in what is called the entourage effect, highlighting the positive characteristics of each other and suppressing the negative effects. For this reason, drugs, tinctures and full spectrum oils are always more recommended.

In the study cited above, the group responded to what they liked most about medical cannabis. 36% of responses were about medical benefits – mostly pain relief. Many respondents were highly supportive:

“Changes the perception and experience of my chronic pain”

“It will break the cycle of chronic pain”

“Although it doesn’t completely remove the pain, it seems to numb it”

“I can tolerate chronic pain a little better”

Some even went so far as to say that it was the biggest improvement they had in years.

And why is this so important?

As we said at the beginning of the post, the United States faces a huge crisis related to the use of opioids – the most prescribed treatment for patients with chronic pain to date. About 30% of the world population suffers from at least one type of chronic pain, and 20% of Americans report living with this condition.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that:

  • Approximately 21 to 29% of patients with a prescription for opioids for chronic pain misuse them;
  • Between 8 and 12% develop an opioid use disorder;
  • It is estimated that 4 to 6% of those who misuse prescribed opioids turn to heroin;
  • About 80% of people who use heroin first used opioids prescribed incorrectly.

As a result, nearly half a million Americans have died of an overdose in the past decade. Finding a new way to treat pain has become crucial for the country.

A growing group of opioid users across the country find relief in medical cannabis. In 2018, a Manhattan dispensary conducted a pilot study of customers who also used opioids. These preliminary data, finding that the herb helped most users, were encouraging enough to spur a much larger project – the first federal study funded with medical marijuana to combat the high numbers of classified heroin addiction and painkillers.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, a user said he never thought cannabis would help him quit the painkillers he was taking for back pain. But still, he decided to try. Because of it, he has been without OxyContin or any other opiate since May 2015.

The $ 238,000 study funded by the National Drug Abuse Institute (NIDA) will follow more than 10,000 medical marijuana patients in New York over the next two years to see if opioid use decreases. In 2016, there was already research putting cannabis as a safer and more effective treatment for chronic pain than opioids, with a much lower chance of addiction – that is, of the user’s loss of ability to manage the substance.

Cannabis flower

But how to get medication in Brazil?

In any case, when there is a desire to have a treatment with cannabis derivatives, it is necessary to apply for authorization. Since 2015, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has allowed the import of drugs containing cannabinoids, and you can review the process here in this post.

Those who wish can still understand whether self-cultivation is a valid option for their reality. Here on the blog, we’ve talked a lot about reasons for adopting it, and we even cleared up doubts about the topic with the lawyers at Rede Reforma. If this alternative sounds better to you, you can contact a trusted attorney and apply for individual Habeas Corpus to protect yourself under the law.

Girls’ Tips

  • If you are experiencing persistent pain, consult a specialist to investigate what may be happening.
  • If you already have a diagnosis and choose to use cannabis, remember that we are in a prohibitionist environment, and that you should evaluate the best possible way for you to follow this type of treatment.
  • Cannabis can also have negative effects for some people, especially those who have some type of predisposition or history of anxiety and similar conditions, especially if you smoke high THC strains
  • Also remember that the plant has different strains – that is, species with specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Inform yourself well before deciding which one to try and try to understand which one best fits your reality.
  • Like any treatment, there is no miracle recipe that works for 100% of cases. So, take it easy, talk to your doctors and discover the option that best fits your needs.

Another important reminder!

The way you use cannabis also says a lot about how you will feel the effects of the plant. For example:

  • It can take up to 90 minutes to feel the effects of an edible, but they can last for up to ten hours;
  • Anyone who vaporizes cannabis can begin to feel its effects within five minutes, but it starts to pass in about two hours;
  • Dyes usually start working within 15 minutes. Its effects can be felt faster if it is placed under the tongue rather than just swallowed, and can last from two to six hours.

Even in a country with prohibitionist policies, it is important to maintain an open dialogue and know that this option exists – more natural and that can even be cheaper than many other medicines. Therefore, keep informing yourself and fighting for better conditions of access to medical or therapeutic cannabis, which can help in the most varied cases, from common diseases to rare syndromes.

Did you like to know all this? We wait for you next time, for even more exchanges on this theme that deserves a lot of attention and love!

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