Cannabis and Chronic Pain

Cannabis and Chronic Pain | Dr. Ali Ghahary

While it is an often-controversial subject, cannabis is something that individuals who suffer from debilitating chronic pain and other health ailments have found to be beneficial in relieving their symptoms and giving them back their quality of life. Along with firsthand accounts, many studies have been done to determine how this now-legal drug has been benefiting those who have not responded well to regular treatment methods, or those who have exhausted all other options presented to them.

Fibromyalgia, for example, is a very common but oftentimes complex chronic pain condition. It is characterized as widespread, constant body pain, as well as sleep disturbances and extreme fatigue, along with other symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, sensitivity to temperature, lack of concentration, memory loss, muscle weakness, and even mental health-related symptoms such as depression and anxiety – all of which can become debilitating. While fibromyalgia mostly affects women between the ages of 20 and 50, it can occur in individuals of all ages and genders – including men, children and teenagers. It remains a mystery as to what causes fibromyalgia, but health experts continue to do research to identify probable causes. There is no known cure for fibromyalgia, so the treatment is often based on relieving the symptoms that are associated with it, such as pain. In many cases, doctors will recommend that patents try low-impact exercise, medication, heat and massage to relieve pain, as well as suggest the use of over-the-counter pain relief medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. However, because fibromyalgia pain can be so severe, these over-the-counter medications are usually not strong enough, and this then turns to the use of stronger medications, such as opioids, which are not recommended for long-term use as they are addictive and can actually worsen pain over time.

That’s where cannabis comes in. In recent years it has become an increasingly popular alternative to treating certain medical conditions including chronic pain, and health experts have seen as much as a 70% decrease in pain, along with a decrease in the use of over-the-counter pain relief medications and opioids since making the switch to cannabis.

Despite its effective medicinal properties, there are both pros and cons associated with cannabis use and things that first-time users should be aware of beforehand. First, know that not all cannabis is the same. There are three primary strains of cannabis including Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid, and the effects of each of these will vary. Indica, for example, has a higher concentration of CBD, and is recommended for individuals who are wanting to relax or have an easier time sleeping (this strain can be beneficial if you suffer from chronic pain that keeps you awake at night.) Alternatively, Sativa is the type of strain that would be recommended if you’re wanting to feel more alert and active and is better to take during the daytime. Hybrid is a mix of both strains as well as a mix of different parent strains.

Depending on the condition you’re trying to treat, the ratio of THC or CBD that you need can also vary. If you suffer from things like chronic pain, inflammation, headaches, migraines, nausea, inflammatory bowel disease, mental disorder such as depression, and even seizures, then it’s normally recommended that you choose a strain that has a higher content of CBD; while THC is also recommended for pain and anxiety, along with muscle spasticity, poor appetite, insomnia, and eye conditions such as glaucoma. CBD is generally well-tolerated, even in higher doses, while THC can cause temporary side effects such as slowed reaction time, memory loss, increased heart rate, dry mouth, red eyes, problems with coordination, and will produce a “high” feeling due to its psychoactive properties.

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