Medical Marijuana & Pain Management: Top Reasons People Are Turning to Cannabis for Self-Medication
Pain is a part of life. It helps us to understand when something is wrong with our bodies. Most of us have experienced varying degrees of pain, from the ache of sore muscles following activity or the twinge of a joint bent too far in the wrong direction to the dull throb of a headache or the acute pain of a cut or scrape.
For some people, however, pain conditions can be much more severe and difficult to manage. Significant pain could result from a short-term illness or even medical treatment (such as cancer and chemotherapy). It could also be linked to chronic conditions like migraines, MS, HIV/AIDS, and more.
A range of therapies may be prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain, but one option more patients are starting to consider is medical marijuana for pain management. Why are people interested in this option, and what are the potential benefits?
One reason marijuana pain management has grown in popularity over the past couple of decades could simply be greater availability.
To date, only a handful of states have yet to legalize marijuana in some capacity. Most allow for medical use, although typically with some limitations related to qualifying conditions, possession volume, product types, and so on.
Several states have also legalized recreational marijuana, which means residents can purchase cannabis for pain management without a prescription. There are, of course, perks to registering for medical marijuana, such as higher possession limits and reduced tax, for example.
Then, there’s hemp cannabidiol (CBD). Thanks to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it is now federally legal to cultivate, distribute, possess, and transport hemp and hemp-derived products containing 0.3% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Patients dealing with pain and other symptoms now have access to a wide range of cannabis products, depending on their state of residence. That said, if you’re eligible for medical marijuana, you stand to gain the most advantages in terms of pain management.
It’s not unusual for patients interested in pharmaceutical alternatives to explore the links between marijuana and pain management. Cannabis plants offer a non-pharmaceutical option that may appeal to patients for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, many pharmaceuticals could have undesirable side effects, ranging from mild to significant. Some of the most common pharmaceutical side effects include headache, dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, skin irritation, or digestive disorders like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
In addition, medications may have interactions with food, herbal supplements, or other medications.
Unfortunately, some medications also have risk factors for much more serious side effects, from heart arrhythmia or high blood pressure to suicidal thoughts and even increased risk for certain cancers. These risks could be higher in some patients due to medical history or other factors.
Then, there’s the chance of physical addiction common to certain painkillers, like opiates.
In such cases, it’s normal for patients to have questions about alternatives, and one natural option to consider is cannabis for pain management. Although marijuana is not without potential side effects, they are generally considered mild, especially when following the amounts recommended by a medical professional.
Medical marijuana may not be the ideal choice for every type of pain. For example, it is not recommended for acute pain following a surgical procedure.
That said, it can effectively treat discomfort and other symptoms associated with various medical conditions, from ALS and MS to HIV/AIDS and cancer to chronic migraines, glaucoma, and more.
How does it work? The cannabis plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids like THC and CBD. When you consume marijuana for pain management, these compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system in a variety of ways.
Cannabinoids in marijuana primarily bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are linked to brain activity, so when certain cannabinoids bind to these receptors, effects like relaxation, reduced feelings of anxiousness, euphoria, and other psychoactive effects can occur. Reduced sensitivity to pain is another potential benefit.
CB2 receptors are largely linked to the immune system. When cannabinoids bind with these receptors, they could help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. This can also contribute to a reduction of pain symptoms.
The intersection of cannabis and pain management will vary from one patient to the next and could be significantly impacted by the products you choose. It’s important to understand the different strains and product types so you know what you expect.
Options for Preferred Form of Consumption
Pain treatment of the pharmaceutical variety often comes in only one or two forms. In a hospital setting, it could be administered intravenously, while at-home medication is typically in pill form (although liquid may be an option in some cases).
When it comes to marijuana and pain management, you may have a lot more choices for product types. First, it’s important to understand that many states have restrictions on the types of cannabis dispensaries may sell — smokeables like flower and vapes are sometimes excluded, as are edibles.
Even so, you may have options for capsules that offer pre-set serving sizes or liquid tinctures that allow you more control over the amount you take, as well as the option to mix with beverages for more pleasant consumption. In some cases, flower is also available for certain uses like vaporization or nebulization, rather than typical smoking.
In addition to whole-body relief, many states allow access to topicals like lotions, salves, lip balms, and bath products for targeted external relief.
Additional Health Benefits
Although many pharmaceuticals serve up a laundry list of potential side effects, few offer added benefits beyond their primary function. When you choose marijuana, on the other hand, you could enjoy a bevy of additional benefits.
Indica strains, for example, have been linked to greater relaxation, improved sleep, and even reduced worry. Both indica and sativa strains could help treat nausea and boost appetite, which might be helpful for patients coping with conditions like cancer and HIV/AIDS. Sativa is also linked to increased energy and elevated mood.
Hybrid strains offer a bit of both. While each patient will have to determine which options are right for their needs, opting for marijuana pain management could infer a range of additional desirable benefits.
Although there are some exceptions, marijuana for pain management is rarely covered by insurance. This means patients choosing this option will have to cover out-of-pocket costs.
That said, for patients who have no insurance or those with basic health coverage, the cost of medical marijuana could actually be lower than prescription drugs for the same purpose.
Control Over Health Decisions
Suffering from a short-term illness or long-term pain condition can not only be debilitating but incredibly frustrating. It can make you feel hopeless. You may feel like you’re at the mercy of your doctors when it comes to treatment options, and western medicine can be limited to clinically tested and approved pharmaceuticals.
When you begin to research alternatives, you may find that medical marijuana for pain management appeals to you for a variety of reasons. In addition to the many practical benefits associated with full-spectrum cannabis products, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to take control of your own health and wellness journey.
You may ultimately find that pharmaceuticals work better for your particular condition and body chemistry. You might prefer medical marijuana or a personalized combination of therapies. The point is that you open the door to choices that help you address pain, regain a sense of control, and live more fully.
How to Get Medical Marijuana for Pain Management
If you’re interested in exploring cannabis and pain management, the place to start is by registering with your state’s medical marijuana program (if your state has one). Often, this entails a consultation with a medical professional who certifies your condition and approves you for a medical ID card or provides you with a necessary prescription.
Pennsylvania residents interested in registering with the Department of Health Medical Marijuana Program can start with a convenient phone consultation with Green Choice Medical. Book an appointment today.