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How Does Medical Marijuana Help Pain?

Man in Pain

According to Harvard Health, the most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is pain management. With an increasing number of studies to back up subjective patient claims – the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently conceded: “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for the treatment of chronic pain in adults” – more and more people are starting to ask:

How exactly does medical marijuana work?

History and background

Marijuana as medicine dates back to 2900 B.C., with the Shennong Ben Cao Jing (an ancient Chinese text) recording prescribed uses for rheumatic pain, malaria, and other common ailments. Archaeological and historical accounts also suggest cannabis was used, in combination with wine, to anesthetize patients during surgery.

While Western medicine didn’t pick up on the treatment until the early 19th century, researchers were quick to hop on board; by the end of the century, there were over 100 publications on medical cannabis in Europe and the United States.

In 1976, the United States Controlled Substances Act classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, abruptly halting most marijuana research and making access to critical resources for future studies difficult to achieve. Surprisingly, a significant number of cannabis and pain management reports have still been published.

In 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed over 25 of those studies, concluding:

“Use of marijuana for chronic pain [and] neuropathic pain… is supported by high-quality evidence.”

Types of pain

There are three primary types of pain: nociceptive, neuropathic, and central.

Nociceptive pain, caused by body tissue damage, is the only type of pain with a reliable system for alerting the brain to specific tissue problems. In response to injury, immune cells secrete a number of neurotransmitters and other signalers which are then carried by nerves up to the brain. The patient then begins to feel sharp, aching, or throbbing pain in the affected area.

Neuropathic pain, caused by nerve damage, sends inaccurate pain messages. For instance, in diabetic neuropathy, the origin of pain is actually in the peripheral nerves, not the foot. Likewise, centralized pain (like fibromyalgia) tells the brain pain is occurring all over; however, this sensation is actually the result of an amplification of peripheral signals due to central nervous system dysfunction. (Note: Peripheral nerves are the links between your brain and spinal cord and the rest of your body.)

How marijuana helps pain

When body tissue is damaged, your cells produce endocannabinoids – a very unique type of neurotransmitter – that regulate inflammation and pain sensation through interaction with cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are the same receptors targeted by cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, in marijuana.

Cannabinoid receptors are extremely important. Receptor CB1 helps control neurotransmitter release in the brain and spinal cord; both CB1 and CB2 are widely expressed on skin nerve fibers and mast cells (cells that play a major role in allergies and inflammation).

Your body produces two types of endocannabinoids in response to tissue damage:  anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl-sn-glycerol (2-AG). When you experience inflammation and nerve injury, anandamide springs into action and helps regulate nociceptive pain signals by activating CB1 receptors. Its partner, 2-AG, plays a big role in decreasing pain during acute stress.

Since cannabinoid receptors are present across the central nervous system and in pain circuits from peripheral sensory nerve endings all the way up to the brain, endocannabinoids are able to play a moderating role in all three types of pain. (New research is particularly focused on the anti-inflammatory benefits of CB1 and CB2 in mast cells.)

As a recent Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research review explains:

“Understanding the function of endogenous [naturally produced] cannabinoids helps explain the efficacy of exogenous cannabinoids, such as those found in the cannabis plant, in treating pain.”

Summed up:

“The biologically hypothesized rationale for cannabinoid administration is whole-body exposure to exogenous cannabinoids to turn on pain inhibition.”

In other words?

If naturally produced cannabinoids can help decrease pain, introducing external cannabinoids (found in marijuana) should only make things better!

How to treat pain with medical marijuana

Approximately 25.3 million American adults suffer from chronic pain. The Journal of Pain reports that over 126 million adults experienced some degree of pain in the previous three months.

If you’re currently struggling with chronic pain, CannaMD can help. Find out for free if you qualify for medical marijuana treatment.

Find Out If You Qualify

You may be eligible for medical marijuana!

Questions or comments about today’s post? Let us know in the comments section, below!

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19 Comments

  1. I have had Fibromyalgia for 30 years.
    Cannabis helped me stop a 10 year dependency on Hydrocodone.
    Gods great medicine.

    1. HI Karen, I feel you. You aren’t the one. I am the one either. I have had my fibromyalgia for10 years. Glad Cannabis helped me and kicked the pain medicines out of our lives to protect the passion moments with family time. Glad Cannabis helps you. 🙂 Stay strong and health well.

      1. Hi Sharon! Our doctors would be happy to advise on specific product recommendations! Please feel free to reach us at (855) 420-9170. We look forward to helping!

  2. I have my appt with a doctor next week to begin the process of getting my state id card and starting treatment. I too am sick of being in pain from Rheumaid arthritis and fibromyalsia. I pray I have success and become painfree. I am also doing the U of F study and will take clinician style notes to document it’s efficacy. My hope is to help others! God bless anyone in pain 🙏.

  3. I have chronic adhesive arachnoidits the pain and neuropathy is intense I got so addicted to opioids it was so hard to get off them marijuana is not additive. So I went to Colorado and tried medical marijuana and was amazed at how good it worked now I live in Fla I moved here from Ga for medical marijuana and I’m getting my card this week I’m so excited to be almost pain free again if your thinking about it for pain I recommend it I’m 56 yrs old and will take marijuana for life it’s that good for pain control Nick lovero

    1. We’re so happy to hear you’ve found relief with medical marijuana! Please let us know if there’s ever anything we can do to help!

  4. What exactly works with Fibro. High CBD or higher THC. Does the Sativa or the Indica work better. I do vaping and the ointment. Have been to 4 different distributors and get no help. Have so many different products with no long term solution. Still having to take pain medication,

  5. I would love to have a study done to show how cannabis helps with high blood pressure. Because it does, I’ve noticed results on my own. Can’t wait to get my card, wish it was cheaper so I could get it sooner!

  6. I suffer from Degenerative joint & disk disease. I suffered a rock slide accident in 1998. By 2004 at 48 yrs old they had me on 10 Norco a day. I was desperate to decrease that. It was cannabis that helped me get down to 4-5 daily.

    1. We’re so sorry to hear about your accident, but glad that medical cannabis has helped! Please let us know if there’s ever anything we can do to assist. We’re here to help!

  7. Without insurance how can you afford the doctor’s visit to get the card and then how can you afford the marijuana.

    1. Hi Cindy! Our physician appointments are very affordable. Please feel free to give us a call at (855) 420-9170 to discuss more and see how we can help!

  8. I’m new on this, but I was my last choice after failing with conventional medicine. I have a Spinal Cord Injury while in the Army. I jumped in a parachute and the fall broke some of my discs, vertebrae and feet ending with an Incomplete Paralysis. The pain was 24/7 during these past 20 years. The VA offers me opioids, but with the opioids epidemic in the US and the side effects I refused that treatment. I went to the MD who gave me the prescription and I obtained my ID. Since I started the cannabis,( 2 weeks ago), I am feeling 40% better. It’s just a matter of finding the perfect cannabis for me.

    1. We’re so sorry to hear about your injury; thank you for your service! Happy that cannabis is helping. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our doctors if there’s ever anything we can do to assist!

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