Marijuana for pain: essential guide to cannabis pain management
Here are some eye-opening statistics from the American Academy of Pain Medicine:
“There are 1.5 billion people around the world suffering from chronic pain.”
“Approximately 3-4.5% of the global population suffers from neuropathic pain…”
There is nothing worse than pain, be it constant pain or the one that keeps coming back.
There are many conventional ways for treating it, but sometimes these methods are not as efficient as they should be.
Hence, many people turn to medical marijuana for pain management, due to its lack of addictive components and its organic nature.
Marijuana has been known as a natural painkiller for centuries.
Throughout the history, in almost every corner of the world, people discovered marijuana’s painkilling properties and have been using it ever since, for different types of painful conditions, from headaches to childbirth.
Marijuana also has a wide range of purposes in modern medicine. Today, one of the most common applications is for managing pain, be it inflammation, migraines, neuropathic pain, sore muscles, cramps or even spinal injury and arthritis.
As it seems, with increasing number of research proving its efficiency as a painkiller, medical marijuana is gaining acceptance by more and more medical experts, each year.
One of the major discussion points on this topic was the fact that patients had different experiences with strains for pain management, which is largely due to all of us being unique.
The simple truth is this:
Marijuana does help relieve certain types of pain, but an effective treatment lies in the combination of strains, dosages, your sensitivity to the herb and your overall health state.
This complete guide on marijuana for pain will help you better understand how your condition fits into marijuana treatment and, ultimately, find the best strain for getting rid of that annoying pain, once and for all.
What is pain and why do we feel it?
Pain is a distress physical feeling caused by an injury, illness or some other external factor and it is transmitted to the brain by our nervous system. It is our natural response to a real or potential threat to the body.
Pain actually gives us a lot of information about the injury or the illness itself. Our perception of pain helps us locate the damaged tissue or organ, an intensity of the illness and its nature. This is all very important when it comes to diagnostics.
There are different ways of classifying pain. First of all, depending on duration and the cause, pain can be either acute or chronic.
Acute pain is usually the result of an injury, such as a broken bone, hurt muscle or a burn. Headaches are also considered as acute pain. Acute pain is usually resolved when the damaged tissue is healed.
On the other hand, chronic pain is persistent and keeps coming back, even after the injury or illness is healed. This type of pain usually occurs after surgeries and is typical after surviving cancer.
At this point, you should know that marijuana is usually used as for relieving chronic pain.
Based on the way pain signals travel to the brain, medical expert distinguish three types of pain:
- Somatic pain usually feels like a dull ache in the injured region.
- Visceral pain occurs as a result of damaged internal organ tissue in the area of the abdomen. This kind of pain usually feels like pain in stomach.
- Neuropathic pain is caused by the changes in the nervous system and is present even when the injury heals. It mostly feels like burning and is usually associated with skin sensitivity.
Can cannabinoids provide pain relief?
Pain seriously impacts the quality of people’s lives and our conventional painkilling drugs do not always have a complete impact on easing the aches. Some are even known to cause serious addictions.
Because of the “opioid epidemic” during the past decade, people have started to turn to more organic solutions, like marijuana.
Many patients (including the general public) believe that marijuana is a legitimate treatment option for people suffering from chronic pain.
But what does the science say?
Fortunately, weed’s painkilling properties have been studied the most, out of all its effects.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors in the human body in the last two decades of the 20th century made clinicians think — can marijuana be used to treat pain?
So that’s when the research started…But it progressed slowly.
A number of studies have shown that cannabinoids have an impact on pain signalling cells in our body, turning off those signals so we don’t feel the pain. Cannabinoids have been proven to be very effective at reducing neuropathic pain and inflammation. They triumphed where common pharmaceutical painkillers failed.
As it turns out, cannabinoids have antinociceptive mechanisms that are different from common, artificially made, painkillers. This leaves a lot of space for promising research on treating neuropathic and inflammatory pain with weed.
One recent clinical trial with significant results was done by McGill University in Montreal and led by Mark Ware in 2010. The Canadian team compared four groups of patients suffering from neuropathic pain. Namely, they analyzed their responses to placebo and different doses of THC.
The patients were told to inhale marijuana in turn with three different doses of THC. This was compared to the placebo group. After taking the medication, patients were asked to rate their pain on the scale of 0 to 10.
After processing their answers, the results showed that higher doses of THC reduce pain more efficiently than low doses and even more so than no doses at all (the placebo group), proving that marijuana is a very efficient analgesic.
It is also important to point out how marijuana has been efficient in repressing “opioid epidemic”, whose numbers are disturbing since more than 16 thousand patients die from overdosing on painkillers each year.
In the last 15 years, there were a lot of rumors across North America that more and more patients were turning to marijuana for pain relief.
This caught the interest of an assistant professor of medicine, Marcus Bachhuber, at the Montefiore Medical Center. He and his team decided to investigate whether legalization of marijuana in some states made any difference in opioid overdose number of deaths.
The results of their compared study were remarkable:
In states which have legalized marijuana, between 1999 and 2010, opioid overdose deaths were decreasing by 25% each year, compared to states which have not legalized marijuana yet.
Considering all of this, we can safely say that marijuana has been proven to both reduce chronic pain as well as positively reduce the negative side effects of pharmaceutical painkillers and opioids.
Indica or sativa for pain?
Indica and sativa are the two most common subspecies of marijuana, both can also be crossed to create hybrid breeds. There has been a widespread debate on which of these two species of marijuana are best for relieving pain.
While both indica and sativa strains can have painkilling characteristics, it all depends on the type of pain, overall tolerance of marijuana and desired effects.
In general, indica strains provide a full-body pain relief, while sativa’s provide a cerebral high with mild painkilling effects.
With that in mind, indica is usually recommended for more severe pain.
Indica strains mostly have high levels of THC and CBD. The percentages, of course, vary from strain to strain.
Anyhow, this subspecies of the herb has become very popular among different kinds of patients suffering from pain: from persistent chronic pain and muscle spasms, including more severe illness like multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Indicas are recommended for nighttime use, as they make users sleepy, while easing pain and relaxing muscles at the same time.
Sativa strains, on the other hand, with their high levels of THC, are usually preferred by most recreational users because of their famous, uplifting high.
Still, Sativa has a therapeutic effect on minor pain, such as post-workout muscle cramps and localized aches. Although the experience is mostly subjective, sativa strains are also used for neuropathic pain and headaches.
Unlike indica’s, sativa’s are usually recommended for daytime use because of their cerebral, mind altering effects which will keep you awake and alert.
Depending on the type of pain and your overall health, your best strain for pain management might be a trustworthy hybrid (combination of indica and sativa).
There are number of strains crossed between indica and sativa, providing beneficial effects of both of them.
So, if you are suffering from minor pain, clinicians also recommend indica-dominant hybrids.
Indica-dominant hybrids bring a full-body pain relief (from their indica genetics) with just a slight head high (as a sativa’s effect).
Later in this article, we will explore exactly which strains are the best for pain relief.
THC vs CBD for pain?
Two of the most common chemical compounds in marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), both have potent painkilling properties.
Again, in general, THC is the main player in pain management, while CBD makes people relaxed and contributes to that pain relief feeling. We can often hear how the best strains for pain contain high levels of THC and are low in CBD.
But nothing is ever black-and-white, especially when it comes to cannabis.
As most patients using medical marijuana for pain are choosing THC rich strains, CBD is also considered as the compound for minimizing other symptoms of pain, such as reducing stress.
In fact, these two cannabinoids have a synergetic relationship.
THC gives you a cerebral high, but CBD is the one to diminish that effect by making your mind clear and also letting THC do its painkilling job in fighting pain.
CBD still has an effect on the brain, but it’s calming and uplifting at the same time and is proven to have a comforting outcome on cramps and muscle spasms.
Some patients suffering from pain find THC-rich strains more helpful but complain about being too “high”, while others had much more success with CBD rich strains in reducing inflammations while improving their mood.
CBD has pain relief properties in itself. One of the first studies on CBD as a painkiller was done in London, back in 1988.
The study compared two painkillers — CBD chemical and aspirin. As it turned out CBD was 4 times more effective, especially for inflammatory pain.
Most strains for generalized pain are made to contain 1:1 ratio of both THC and CBD. When combined, these two cannabinoids amplify effects of one another and become more helpful in fighting arthritis pain and other diseases. They both reduce inflammation in the brain and regulate pain signals coming from your cells.
From some patients point of view, strains containing 1:1 ratio of both compounds have been more beneficial than the ones containing the majority of THC.
But not just THC and CBD are useful for pain relief. In fact, there are other compounds in marijuana, as well as other aromas and flavor molecules which have proven to be very beneficial.
Like every other vegetable or fruit, marijuana also has terpenes which make its unique flavor. Those terpenes are actually vitamins and recent studies have shown that they have an analgesic effect as well.
Best cannabis strains for pain relief
When it comes to choosing the best strain for pain relief, some are definitely better than the others.
Every person has a unique experience with marijuana and its wide variety of different strains.
Unfortunately, it’s hardly unlikely that you will find the strain that works best for you straight away.
Many patients have to take time and experiment with different kinds of cannabis before finding the one that works the best for their pain and specific situation.
Also, it is important to experiment with different forms of marijuana — maybe smoking will not be a pleasant experience for you, so you could maybe try vaping or edibles.
Some strains are recommended for daytime consumption and will make it very hard for you to fall asleep. These are usually pure sativa’s or sativa-dominant hybrids.
On the other hand, certain strains will relieve you from the pain and muscle tension but will make you “locked to the couch” and very sleepy. You can bet that these are indica-dominant strains.
To help you find the right relief for your pain, here are the best marijuana strains for different types of pain.
The list below contains indica’s, sativa’s, as well as hybrids that are proven to be the best in pain management.
Harlequin (THC 10%, CBD 12%)
Best for: Arthritis, inflammation
Harlequin is one of the most popular medical strains in general, with its vast range of health benefits. It’s usually the first choice of patients suffering from pain. It is a Sativa-dominant hybrid with 5:2 CBD to THC ratio. What does that mean? It means that this strain will not get you as high, your mind will stay clear, and you can even use it both in the day and in the night.
Blue Dream (THC 15%, CBD 2%)
Best for: Generalized pain, neuropathic pain, migraine, inflammatory arthritis, back pain
Perfect for daytime use, Blue Dream has become very popular among the patients suffering from different kinds of pain. This sativa-dominant strain with high THC to CBD ratio makes you happy with calm euphoric feeling, thus making you forget about the pain and easily go through all daily activities.
Jack Herer (THC 23%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, chronic pain, stress
A sativa named after the famous marijuana activist and enthusiast, Jack Herer is well known as the nature’s painkiller. Dominant in THC and terpene pinene, which is proven to have an analgesic effect, while also reducing inflammation.
White Widow (THC 20%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, neuropathic pain, inflammation
This very popular strain comes from Netherlands and has an immediate effect on your mood and pain sensation. It is a half-and-half hybrid between Sativa and Indica making your full body relaxed. This is why this type of strain is the best after-work choice. If you have sore, inflamed muscles, White Widow is perfect in providing relief from swelling and protecting your muscle tissue.
Girl Scout Cookies (THC 25%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain
Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) has been proven to be very effective in reducing severe pain. It is a very common choice among patients looking for marijuana as a painkiller. With high levels of THC, this strain does not make you sleepy, which makes it great for the day. However, GSC is not a beginner strain as it is very potent and can get you very high in just a few puffs.
Blackberry Kush (THC 19%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, severe pain
Blackberry Kush is high in THC but it numbs you down and reduces pain sensation. This is also a strain which should be avoided if you have important work to do that day since it is recommended for nighttime use.
Sour Diesel (THC 25%, CBD 2%)
Best for: Chronic pain
Sativa-dominant hybrid with very high levels of THC to CBD, Sour Diesel is a good choice for mild and persistent pains. While giving you a pain-free feeling, it also provides an uplifting effect making it one of the favorites among medical marijuana patients.
Bubba Kush (THC 25%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Back pain, Multiple Sclerosis, muscle tension, headache
Bubba Kush is an indica that provides very strong narcotic effect, making it perfect for easing all sorts of pain, especially for severe pain. Keep in mind that it is best to use Bubba Kush after work hours since its relaxing property will probably make you sleepy. Also, get some snacks before taking it — it increases appetite.
ACDC (THC 3%, CBD 19%)
Best for: Back pain, chronic pain, Multiple Sclerosis
This sativa-dominant strain, with 19% of CBD, ACDC has almost no psychoactive effect and has proven to be very helpful for controlling pain. If you have work to do, this strain will make you focused and communicative, while allowing you to go through your day undisturbed.
Redwood Kush (THC 13%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, inflammation, muscle spasms
This indica-dominant strain is perfect for minor pains and inflammations. It provides gentle sedative and relaxing effects. It is not recommended for daytime use because you’ll probably want only to chill and relax once you smoke it.
Granddaddy Purple (THC 20%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Chronic pain, muscle spasms
Pure indica with high levels of THC, Granddaddy Purple is mostly used for fighting stress, sleepless nights, as well as pain. With its painkilling attributes, this strain is perfect for patients looking for that “chill and relax” high.
OG Kush (THC 24%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Back pain, generalized pain
OG Kush is a famous hybrid, that’s rich in THC and also perfect for all sorts of pain, especially for back pain. OG Kush also provides strong cerebral effect and should be avoided by those who are sensitive to THC. If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to skip this one as well.
AK-47 (THC 15%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain
The name sounds dangerous, but actually, this strain makes you rather tipsy and relaxed. Beside all its different medical benefits, AK-47 is effective in easing different kinds of pain, leaving your body relaxed but your mind uplifted.
Northern Lights (THC 17%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Severe pain, chronic pain, back pain, arthritis
Northern Lights is a strain that provides a relaxed and calming effect, leaving your body feeling peaceful and making you forget about the pain. This is an Indica strain and is best used in the evening. It is also very beneficial in fighting stress, a factor that’s accompanying many people suffering from chronic pain.
Blueberry (THC 18%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Fibromyalgia
Blueberry is an Indica hybrid and it is a proven pain assassin. Even though this strain leaves your body relaxed, it does not provide that sleepy feeling, thus making it a perfect daytime painkiller. It is also effective in relieving of everyday stress.
From after-workout cramps to chronic neuropathy, marijuana is proven to be very effective in pain management.
The way you approach this matter is entirely up to you. But my final advice would be to find a pain relief cannabis friendly doctor that can give you a proper check up and prescribe the best strain for your type of pain.
Like millions of people on this planet suffering from the same condition, finding a natural relief from pain might seem impossible at the moment. But just have in mind that medical marijuana is a completely organic solution that may significantly improve your quality of life and even completely eradicate your pain.
It just might. And you have absolutely nothing to lose.
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