Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Boston

Ouch! Treating Pain with Cannabis

Aug 31, 2020 09:27AM ● By Matthew Herrold
Treating pain with cannabis medicine is a controversial topic. After all, cannabis is still a Schedule I drug in the eyes of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means it is considered to be the same as heroine and remains in a category with the FDA that acknowledges no known medicinal value. Meanwhile, doctors like Ethan Russo, Raphael Mechoulam, Donald Abrams and Manuel Guzman work hard to show that this statement by the FDA is wrong. Numerous scientific papers paint a promising picture, yet until laws change, pharmaceutical companies are happy to stay away from exploring cannabis medicine’s potential.

The FDA’s infamous position on cannabis is easily credited to a lifelong mission by Harry J. Anslinger to demonize the plant. Time has shown that his efforts were destructive and required the suppression of validating research that opposed his view. Though based on false information, the propaganda campaign he orchestrated was brilliant and shaped our world’s view on cannabis. Persons interested in educating themselves can start with the documentary, Grass (1999). The film boasts commentary by longtime cannabis advocate, Woody Harrelson, and a concentrated collection of Anslinger’s actual propaganda that was broadcasted across America for decades.

Studies that counter the positive results in cannabis medicine’s success to treat pain are often flawed or target the wrong kind of pain. These studies were flawed in two ways. First, the researchers measured responses to extremes of pain, rather than to more typically painful sensations. Secondly, researchers failed to demonstrate that other painkillers could work under their experimental conditions. The objective and qualified minds of many scientists and doctors researching cannabis see a very different picture.

Pain treatment is a significant and promising area of interest in cannabis medicine. While there is a pharmaceutical called Sativex approved for pain treatment, it is important to note that this is an isolated 1:1 CBD:THC oromucosal spray. The entourage effect theory points out that cannabinoids can amplify each other for a higher cumulative therapeutic value. There’s also evidence to suggest that other compounds like terpenes and flavonoids may contribute useful effects and further compliment this theory.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, CBD may offer an option for treating different types of chronic pain. A study from the European Journal of Pain showed, using an animal model, CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat. More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims of CBD proponents about pain control.

The target of effective cannabis pain applications does not seem to be making a person impervious to pain caused by an external force. Rather, cannabis medicine brings exciting results when targeted on hard to treat pain, sometimes where opiates fail. The editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine, Jahan Marcu, Ph.D., says that cannabis medicine seems to be most successful in treating pain that’s chronic like neuropathic pain from chemotherapy, diabetic complications, pain from muscle spasms and degenerative, hard-to-resolve pain like the symptomatic pain from multiple sclerosis.

There are emerging ways to hone in on what medicines will be most effective. It is likely that in the future DNA testing will be used as a commonplace way to identify which cannabinoids and terpenes work best with individual bodies. In the meantime, the best approach is for people to talk openly with their physician while they also find a cannabis medical clinic to certify them as a patient in Massachusetts.

Individuals should work with their healthcare team to set expectations and goals for their cannabis pain treatment. The most common recommendation is to start with CBD and slowly add THC to their regimen in small increments. Common CBD:THC ratios are anywhere from 10:1 down to 1:1. People can work with a qualified healthcare agent and a knowledgeable dispensary agent to refine their serving size. A healthy lifestyle will always compliment cannabis treatments for best results.

Matthew Herrold is a certified wellness program coordinator and currently helps to develop the Massachusetts marijuana industry through branding and education. Connect at [email protected]