In the United States today, the most common prescription for chronic pain is opioids, powerful and highly-addictive drugs that are, increasingly, the cause of severe dependency and even overdose in patients for whom they’ve been prescribed (and in many cases, over-prescribed). This is what American physicians and politicians often refer to as the “opioid crisis” — a drug epidemic as severe today as the crack-cocaine crisis was in the 1980s. But promising research into the relationship between cannabis and pain relief suggests new treatment options that may not only reduce the harm done by opioids, but can help patients safely manage their pain symptoms as well.
In a recent clinical trial comparing opioid and cannabis as pain treatments, 97 percent of participants said they could reduce or eliminate their opioid use when treating pain issues with cannabis, and 81 percent could eliminate opioids entirely, making cannabis a viable pain treatment. This information is not new. In fact, scientists have been studying cannabis’s effect on pain management for years — in one trial from 2004, two cannabis-based medicines created from CBD and THC, cannabis’ main compounds, were developed specifically to treat neuropathic pain. They succeeded in significantly improving pain symptoms.
In addition to treating pain, CBD “prevented the later development of pain and nerve damage in … osteoarthritis joints” according to a 2007 study published in the Foundational Medicine Review. Unlike opioids, CBD doesn’t carry the same risks of addiction or overdose and, in fact, it actually could help cure addictions already present in patients.
According to the European Journal of Pharmacology, CBD has anti-inflammatory effects which can help fend off diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, which develops from chronic inflammation and causes joint pain. CBD oil has clear advantages for pain sufferers, but another reason to consider it in your own pain management is because it’s safe to use: in 2015, the European Journal for Pain reported that CBD applied topically — like in a cream or salve–had potential in treating arthritis pain, neuropathy, and inflamed joints without side effects.
When it comes to treating pain with cannabis, there are multiple options. The most common are made from extracts of THC or CBD — which can work alone or in tandem — each containing specific pain-fighting characteristics, according to Current Neuropharmacology.
It’s important to note that, although THC has pain relieving benefits, it also has psychoactive properties which can cause adverse effects — the “high” we all associate with cannabis — if a patient receives a strong dosage. CBD doesn’t share this psychoactive trait, so it’s considered more accessible.
Vaporizing, often referred to as “vaping,” is a popular form of consuming cannabis or CBD oil because it efficiently transports therapeutic cannabinoids directly into the bloodstream, unlike oral or transdermal methods. If you’re suffering from joint and muscle pain and want fast relief, vaporizing could be the method for you.
Tinctures are liquid solutions of cannabis extracts that are typically administered by placing a few drops under your tongue. A 2003 study published in Drugs in Research and Development focused on treating different kinds of pain using sublingual applications of THC and CBD. Like vaping, this method allows the medicine to bypass the digestive system, so beneficial cannabinoids enter your bloodstream immediately to relieve pain faster.
If you need to avoid inhaling or ingesting cannabis, topical creams and salves — often CBD oil-based — are a good relief option for pain in specific parts of the body, like arthritic joints. They can be applied directly to the skin of the affected area and, according to a study in the European Journal of Pain, their effects are long-lasting.
Edibles are the result of mixing cannabis extracts or concentrates into food products — which come in the form of candy, cookies, or lozenges — and regular users tout them as the “normalized” way to treat health issues with cannabis in daily life. Published research on oral administration of CBD shows promising health benefits, especially for neuropathic or inflammatory pain, so if you’re treating joint or muscle pain with other methods, this could be an additional option for you for effective relief.
Research suggests that cannabis and CBD oil are safe alternatives to pharmaceutical pain relievers and effective at treating chronic pain and inflammation. If you’re one of millions of chronic pain sufferers in the U.S. and are considering treating your muscle or joint pain with cannabis or CBD products, it may help to read the advice of one Harvard Medical School doctor for patients seeking treatment with cannabis despite its stigma or consult this patient guide for approaching your cannabis treatment thoughtfully.
The content on cannabisMD is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.