Cannabis may ease certain types of chronic pain, including pain due to nerve damage and inflammation. Ways of taking cannabis include edibles, topical applications, and tablets to place under the tongue.
Most cannabis-based products do not have approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more evidence is necessary to confirm their safety and effectiveness.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis or its compounds may help relieve some types of pain.
There are distinct types or strains of cannabis available, which is also known as marijuana, and each may have slightly different effects on the user.
The term cannabis is preferable to marijuana, as the latter term has racist roots and connotations.
In this article, we look at the best cannabis strains for chronic pain relief.
- Cannabis indica
- Cannabis sativa
There is limited research available on the use of specific cannabis strains for pain and other symptoms. As a result, strain-specific recommendations are not medically proven.
The results of an online survey, comprising 95 participants, were featured in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2014.
The researchers found that participants preferred indica strains for pain management, sedation, and sleep, while they would opt for sativa strains to improve energy and mood.
Regarding pain management, participants reported a statistically significant effect when using indica for:
It is, however, important to note that this study had several limitations. It was small in scale, anonymous, and asked people to self-report their symptoms. Respondents did not use the cannabis in a controlled setting, potentially resulting in differences in drug composition, dosage, and potency.
Another older study examined the use of organically grown sativa and indica strains in the treatment of several medical conditions. Just over half of the participants were using cannabis to treat HIV.
The study followed participants for 3 years and asked them about the effects of the drug on their condition during this time. The results indicated that indica strains are more likely to improve energy and appetite, while both sativa and indica strains can alleviate nausea to a similar degree.
Cannabis contains compounds that may relieve pain, nausea, and other symptoms. The components of cannabis that most studies focus on for pain relief are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC vs. CBD
THC resembles the cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in the body. When people ingest or inhale THC, it stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
This activates the brain’s reward system and reduces pain levels. THC is a psychoactive compound as it binds to cannabinoid receptors and produces an elevated state of mind, known as a high.
What the research says
In recent years, many studies have looked at the effects of cannabis on chronic pain. Some studies used parts of the cannabis plant, and some have used the entire plant, so more research is needed. Using parts of the cannabis plant (like CBD oil) helps study specific actions of that ingredient, but when the whole plant is used there is what is called an
A research paper from 2016 found that cannabis use for cancer pain led to a reduction in opioid use (64%), improved quality of life (45%), and caused fewer medication side effects. It also led to participants using fewer medications.
Smaller studies have reported benefits for other types of chronic pain. For example:
- Of about 17,000 people with cancer, 70 percent reportedly experienced an improvement in pain and general well-being after cannabis use.
- People with chronic migraines
experienceda decrease in migraine episodes after using the drug.
However, there is still a need for more research into the area of cannabis use for chronic pain, especially in the use of different strains, dosages, and methods of delivery.
Using cannabis specifically for medicinal purposes might yield different results.
Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
Medical cannabis refers to the whole, unprocessed plant or its extracts.
Medical cannabis only has approval from the
The name of the drug is Epidiolex. It contains a purified form of CBD, and the FDA gave approval in June 2018.
It was also approved for the treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis (TSC) in 2020.
The FDA has also
The FDA has not yet approved the use of any cannabis drugs for pain relief.
Synthetic cannabis is also the name given to drugs such as K2 or Spice. The
Synthetic cannabis attempts to duplicate the effects of the ingredients in the plant.There is a
Cannabis use can cause some
- rapid heart rate
- breathing problems
- addiction, which occurs in 10 percent of people
- withdrawal symptoms
Cannabis is available in several different forms, including:
It is possible to
People usually take cannabis oil orally and should only need small quantities to experience benefits.
CBD is another type of cannabis-based oil that is increasingly popular among people with chronic pain.
Transdermal patches that contain cannabinoids are also available.
Cannabis edibles offer an easy way to take cannabis, but the effects of edibles can be difficult to predict.
Is cannabis better than opioids?
Medical cannabis may offer an alternative to addictive opioids. When researchers surveyed almost 3,000 medical cannabis users, they found that 30 percent had used opioids in the last 6 months.
Of those respondents, 81 percent agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis was more effective alone than in combination with opioids.
In addition, 97 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that they could decrease their opioid usage when taking cannabis.
Below are some frequently asked questions about cannabis and chronic pain.
How much cannabis should a person take for pain?
How do you deal with severe chronic pain?
There is no singular approach that is appropriate for the treatment of severe
Several studies report the benefits of cannabis use for chronic pain.
According to some research, it is as effective as opioids, which are among the most potent pain-relieving drugs.
The side effects of cannabis use are usually minimal, especially in comparison with opioid side effects. However, due to a lack of regulation for most cannabis-based therapies, the exact composition and quality of a product cannot be guaranteed.
This evidence indicates that cannabis may be beneficial for chronic pain relief.
There are several strains of cannabis available, so even if one strain does not reduce symptoms, another may. Typically, it is best for people to keep their dosage low, especially if they are new to using cannabis.
Those who wish to use medical cannabis should discuss the risks and benefits in more detail with their doctor and ensure they obtain their medications legally and from a reputable outlet.