If you were to look at the bare facts, it seems as if America is a nation wracked with pain. We take up to eight times as many painkillers as the French and Italians, yet Americans suffer chronic pain at roughly the same rate! The brutal reality is that opioid painkillers are extremely potent and very addictive.
An estimated 140 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States every single day. With this sobering statistic in mind, it seems incredible that marijuana, a potential analgesic with a far lower rate of addiction, remains federally illegal. Thankfully, medicinal marijuana is now legal in 33 states plus D.C., although it is still hard for research teams to conduct studies on weed.
Funding is becoming available, however, which means there is a greater rate of cannabis studies than ever before. In this article, we look at recent studies into weed’s potential for providing pain relief.
Finally, the Feds Get Involved in Marijuana Research
The feds have hampered marijuana studies for decades, but at long last, they are trying to gain an insight into how weed works. More specifically, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) (part of the DHHS) said it was in the process of reviewing evidence on chronic pain; especially alternatives to opioid-based painkillers.
The agency has asked the general public to provide supplemental evidence and submissions of data. What’s exciting is that the AHRQ specifically asked for studies on the comparative effectiveness of using non-opioid methods of pain relief, including marijuana. It wants to know how the damage caused by prescription medication varies for medical marijuana patients. The agency posted a total of three notices on the Federal Register in March.
The second notice said it needed assistance in completing a review of different non-pharmacologic and non-invasive chronic pain treatments such as acupuncture, mindfulness, exercise, and weed. The last notice included cannabis in a list of non-pharmacologic treatment steps that the agency is looking to explore. The public has been asked to provide data and studies on the risk of misuse, dependence, overdose, and withdrawals for medical marijuana, along with topical and oral treatments.
Cannabis & Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder that affects up to 12 million Americans, and the majority of patients are female. A pair of recent Israeli studies looked at the impact of weed on fibromyalgia. In the first study, by Habib and Artul, published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology in August 2018, 26 patients were given weed for 11 months.
The researchers discovered that half of the patients had stopped taking prescription medication for pain by the end of the treatment period. The conclusion was that weed had a “significant favorable effect on patients with fibromyalgia, with few adverse effects.”
Of course, the above was a relatively small study. This was not the case with a second Israeli study into cannabis and fibromyalgia by Habib and Avisar, published in the journal Pain Research and Treatment in July 2018. The researchers provided 2,705 patients with questionnaires. Of the 383 people who responded, 84% admitted using marijuana. The average amount smoked per month was 31.4 grams (plus or minus 16.3 grams), and 80% of the respondents smoked pure weed or mixed it with tobacco.
Overall, an incredible 94% of cannabis users said they enjoyed pain relief, while 93% reported improved sleep quality. Moreover, 87% reported improvement in depression and 62% had reduced anxiety levels. According to Habib and Avisar, 94% of patients had reported ‘adverse effects’ to other pain medications, but only 12% had negative side effects when they used marijuana.
Astonishingly, 85% of the patients either reduced their dosage of pain medication or stopped using it altogether. It shouldn’t take an experienced scientist to see the link. In both studies, patients reported improved pain relief and were able to reduce or eliminate their use of prescription drugs. If further studies can prove a link between marijuana usage and reduced opioid intake, there is no reason why the herb shouldn’t be legal medicinally across the United States.
“THC is Crucial to the Therapeutic Effects of Marijuana”
That was the conclusion of a study* by Sith et al., published in the journal Scientific Reports in February 2019. The research team completed the study at the University of Mexico and used mobile software technology to analyze the ‘real-time’ effects of cannabis-based products used by several million people each day.
Overall, the study found that the THC and CBD content of weed were the most important factors in optimal symptom relief for a variety of medical conditions. The app is called ReleafApp and has been available since 2016. Across approximately 20,000 measured user sessions and a total of 27 symptom categories, the average weed user showed an instant improvement in their symptoms of 3.5 points on a scale of 0-10.
Interestingly, it appeared as if THC was even more beneficial than CBD for combatting health problems. While cannabidiol is still a very useful and effective cannabinoid, THC’s therapeutic effects may be even greater. The main issue, of course, is that CBD is legal across the U.S. while THC is not.
THC Makes Neuropathic Pain Medication Better
There is a huge range of pain ‘types.’ Neuropathic pain causes pain signals to attack the brain and can significantly and negatively impact an individual’s quality of life. At present, medications such as gabapentin are used as a treatment but often come with side effects. THC is also linked with side effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and motor impairment.
Medical researchers are constantly trying to find ways of combining treatment strategies to enhance pain relief and potentially reduce the overall side effects as one treatment counteracts the negative effects of the other, and vice versa. In Australia, a study by Atwal et al., published in Neuropharmacology in January 2019, tested a combination of gabapentin and THC on mice with neuropathic pain.
The team tested the effects of THC and gabapentin alone before trying a combination of the two. Not only did the combination work better than either method alone, but it also worked 1.7 times better than what was predicted, a sign that the two treatments worked synergistically to reduce neuropathic pain. Also, the combination increased the therapeutic window where you could use the drugs; and negative side effects were minimal.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana and Pain Relief
It would be wonderful to live in a world where people had the choice of whether they could use marijuana for pain or not. At present, unless you live in one of the few countries in the world (or one of 33 American states) where medicinal cannabis is legal, your main option seems to be addictive painkillers.
Although weed is used to treat a wide array of symptoms, a study** by the University of Michigan, published in the journal Health Affairs in February 2019, discovered that the main reason for using medical marijuana was to treat chronic pain. In fact, it made up over 62% of all patient-reported qualifying conditions.
Finding a study that shows the analgesic effects of weed is becoming easier by the day as new research is conducted. Eventually, the pile of evidence will become so high that even the feds will have to act and legalize medical marijuana; itis surely just a matter of time.