The majority of patients using cannabis as a medicine use it to treat chronic pain. But its effectiveness as a pain reliever isn’t necessarily black and white. Pain is too broad a symptom to address with a single therapy. That is why medical cannabis patients usually have to experiment with different things.
Understanding the relationship between pain management and medical cannabis starts with understanding that there are different types of pain. These include:
- Nociceptive – Pain resulting from inflammation and tissue damage.
- Neuropathic – Pain resulting from damage to the central nervous system.
- Non-Specific – Central nervous system pain without a known source.
The first two types of pain are easier to recognize because their sources can be traced. Non-specific pain is a bit more challenging. The pain associated with fibromyalgia is a good example of this kind of pain.
Cannabis As an Anti-Inflammatory
Because nociceptive is often the result of inflammation, treating it by reducing said inflammation is common practice. That’s what drugs like ibuprofen do. Yet studies suggest that some of the cannabinoids found in certain cannabis strains have anti-inflammatory properties.
It is believed that cannabis is an effective pain reliever for inflammatory diseases. However, the extent to which the drug can relieve inflammation depends on number of factors. Just like ibuprofen, it may work for some people but not others.
Cannabis As a Pain Blocker
The other two types of pain can only be treated effectively by managing the nervous system. Both CBD and THC (the two most commonly known cannabinoids) are utilized for this purpose. The Qualified Medical Providers at Utah Marijuana say that the goal of using medical cannabis to treat neuropathic and non-specific pain is to block pain signals.
Pain is not a tangible thing. It is actually a neurological response triggered by some sort of physiological event. If you cut your finger, your brain interprets signals coming from the affected area and translates them into the physical sensation you feel.
That being the case, it stands to reason that you could achieve pain relief by either blocking those signals or reducing their strength. That is exactly what cannabis does for chronic pain patients. Cannabis does not fix the problem responsible for causing the pain. It might not even offer 100% pain relief. But it does block some pain signals and significantly reduces others.
Affecting Receptors in the Brain
How does cannabis block or reduce pain signals? By affecting receptors in the brain. Receptors are biological features within the brain that convert energy into electrical impulses. Those electrical impulses control a myriad of biological functions, including the way you feel at any moment in time.
For example, dopamine receptors create positive feelings of enjoyment, happiness, etc. Doing something you thoroughly enjoy triggers dopamine receptors in the brain. In turn, those receptors send electrical signals telling the brain to produce dopamine. The dopamine is what makes you feel good.
Cannabis affects those receptors responsible for producing feelings of pain. Prevent those receptors from doing their job and you end up with a reduced perception of pain.
Trying Different Things
Managing chronic pain is a complex task. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for doing it. When cannabis is the choice, patients and their medical providers have to try different things to find what works best. It is not black and white by any means.
Fortunately, they have dozens of cannabinoids and terpene profiles to work with. They also have multiple strains along with the many different formulas produced by medical cannabis processors. There are enough options that most patients can find a way to manage their chronic pain.