Relief for Chronic Pain: What Research Reveals About the Alleviating Powers of Cannabis
Cannabis has been used for centuries by people living with chronic pain, and modern research explores the connection.
Cannabis was a popular analgesic long before pharmaceutical companies flooded the market with addictive painkillers. It’s easy to find anecdotes from people who have utilized cannabis for pain relief to great effect, and in recent decades, scientific research has come to the same conclusion.
With over one in five Americans suffering from some form of chronic pain according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and nearly two-thirds of U.S. medical marijuana patients in 2016 having listed chronic pain as a reason for seeking care, it’s worth assessing what we currently know about using cannabis for chronic pain.
How Cannabis Relieves Pain
Pain is a broad term that can take numerous forms and come from a wide range of sources, but cannabis has proven successful in mitigating a large variety of pain types, such as from cancer treatment, inflammation, neuropathy, joints and arthritis, and injuries.
Because pain itself is so diverse, and cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of compounds that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), it is difficult to pin down the exact processes through which cannabis relieves pain. However, researchers can give us a general sense of what’s going on.
The ECS consists of a network of receptors located throughout the body; the receptors interact with endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body as well as phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. The analgesic action in cannabis is believed to stem from the plant’s interaction with ECS receptors in the brain.
The body’s neural hub has numerous functions, including suppressing inflammation and the sensation of pain, as well as promoting relaxation, hunger and sleep. Researchers are currently exploring how cannabis could potentially help people wean off of brain-numbing opioids.
Most research on pain and cannabis has focused primarily on the role of the cannabinoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). More recently, studies have examined non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) and found it promotes a sense of calm and relaxation, but doesn’t appear to have comparable pain relief qualities of THC.
However, it’s easy to find anecdotal reports touting the pain-relieving benefits of CBD-heavy strains, probably due to a combination of their relaxing traits, and the fact that many of those strains also have significant levels of THC.
A 2017 review of studies found that inhaled cannabis, which takes effect more quickly than other consumption methods, is the most consistently effective pain killing method, while oral consumption, i.e. edibles, works for some types of pain but not others.
How to Select the Best Cannabis Strains for Pain Relief
To find a cannabis strain to alleviate pain, the short answer is to try different ones, paying attention to the THC percentages, indica and sativa mix, terpene profiles and strain families. Cannabis affects everyone differently, and it’s worth investing some time in figuring out what works best for you. And you might find other beneficial effects and strain favorites along the way.
While strains are most often described in terms of their balance of sativa and indica, and the ratio of THC to CBD, terpenes play an important role in the flavor and experience of cannabis. Look for myrcene, very common in cannabis, which has been shown to relieve pain in mice. The same is true of caryophyllene, which is present in Veritas Cookies, Sour Diesel and Miracle Alien Cookies, among others.
Dosage matters too, and it doesn’t always follow a linear path. A study on diabetic neuropathy found that pain perception had a “U-shaped” relationship to cannabis intake: Too little wasn’t effective (as would be expected), but too much did not have the desired effect either. This suggests that, for at least some types of pain, there is a sweet spot in how much and how strong a dose of cannabis should be used.
Though the mechanisms are complex, and more research is needed before we have a comprehensive understanding of how all cannabis compounds interact with the body, the pain-alleviating quality of cannabis has been demonstrated for decades. And today’s cannabis consumers are the ones who are benefiting from an array of options.
At Veritas Fine Cannabis, we’ve organized our library of over 90 strains into categories based on the experience. We’re also currently building out our cannabinoid and terpene profile information. For help with pain relief, explore the Alleviate and Rejuvenate categories for indica strains and hybrids that provide a body high and mental relaxation, as well as CBD-heavy strains.
Check back regularly to see what’s currently in the rotation, as we like to mix it up.