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Pain and the analgesic potential of cannabis

One in every five people suffer from pain, can cannabis provide relief?



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With pain becoming a global health priority, Cannabis Health News explores the potential of cannabis to provide relief.

The prevalence of pain, mild to chronic, across the globe is alarming: one in every five people suffer from pain.

According to a recent meta-analysis and systematic review of population studies, one third to one half of the UK population experiences some form of pain. In the US, 50.2 million individuals suffer from chronic pain. These numbers are higher than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease statistics combined. Consequently, pain has become a global public health priority. 

Available treatments include acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and opioids. All these drugs come with adverse effects such as constipation, sedation, appetite loss, nausea, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. The opiates crisis contributes to 70 per cent of the 500,000 deaths resulting from drug overdoses. The need for a safer, natural alternative for treatment is at an all-time high.

Millions of individuals across the globe are turning to cannabis. According to anecdotal and scientific evidence, cannabis contains compounds (cannabinoids and terpenes) that possess potent analgesic properties. The market is flooded with THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids products promising relief from pain. The big question is, does cannabis help with pain relief? 

The answer is, it depends on the condition being treated, the cannabis compounds used, and the dosage. We shall explore this further below. First, what is pain? What are cannabinoids? Do you know of any terpenes?

What is pain? 

Pain is an uncomfortable, disturbing sensation that can be throbbing, stabbing, pinching, or aching. The feeling calls us to pay attention to our general health and provide relief. Pain can range from mild to chronic, depending on its cause. Pain can originate from either of these factors/conditions;

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • HIV
  • Cancer
  • Headaches
  • Exercise
  • Nerve injury
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Surgery
  • Arthritis

What are cannabinoids and terpenes?

The cannabis plant contains over 500 compounds: cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and essential oils. Cannabinoids are unique chemical compounds that interact with the human endocannabinoid system to promote normal body functioning. They are widely used in wellness-promoting products. Two of the major cannabinoids are CBD and THC. 

Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give cannabis its flavour and scent. They interact physiologically with the human body to produce calming, elevate moods, provide relief from pain, and combat inflammation. Popular terpenes include myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, and limonene. 

Does cannabis have analgesic properties? How can it help with pain relief?

Historical, scientific, and contemporary anecdotal evidence point to one conclusion: cannabis is a potent analgesic agent. In ancient times, cannabis was used to relieve pain stemming from PMS, haemorrhoids, toothaches, earaches, and childbirth. Up to date, many communities use cannabis as a therapeutic and medicinal agent. 

Unfortunately, scientific research on cannabis is still in its infancy due to the decades of stringent laws. It wasn’t until a few years ago that countries like Uruguay, Canada, and some US states began legalising cannabis and its derivatives. In the UK, the law prohibits selling or possessing products with more than 0.2 per cent THC. This makes it hard for researchers to conduct studies that would otherwise explore the plant’s full potential. Here is what is known…

The human endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, and pain relief

The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a system of cells that send signals around the body to promote normal body functioning, otherwise known as homeostasis. The ECS consists of endocannabinoids, and enzymes, which help regulate sleep, mood, pain, memory, appetite, and reproduction. 

Once consumed, the cannabinoids interact with the ECS to bring about homeostasis. THC, for example, binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The cannabinoid enhances the efficiency of the receptors, but it has also been known to cause intoxication, dizziness, and anxiety, especially in high doses. 

CBD, on the other hand, does not bind to any receptors. Instead, it affects the system by altering the functions of different components of the ECS. For example, CBD inhibits endocannabinoids reuptake and increases the activity of receptors, such as serotonin 5-HT.

Studies on cannabinoids and pain

A study published in the national library of science concluded that CBD could help alleviate neuropathic pain. The cannabinoid achieved this by targeting a3 glycine receptors. The researchers noted that the cannabinoid effectively relieved inflammation and neuropathic without having tolerance buildup on the test subjects (mice).

Chemotherapy has numerous side effects on a patient, including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and chronic pain. According to a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, CBD showed sufficient potential in alleviating pain in patients undergoing cancer treatment. The study also concluded that CBD was effective in inhibiting inflammation pain. 

TRPV1 receptors are responsible for regulating inflammation, pain, and temperature fluctuations. When researchers administered CBD to rats experiencing pain, the cannabinoid targeted the TRPV1 receptors by desensitising it. This led to a none response to the painful stimuli. 

An observatory study exploring the effectiveness of nabilone (synthetic THC) in cancer pain and symptom management concluded that the THC helped reduce pain, nausea, anxiety, and distress. Patients who did not take the nabilone had higher pain scores, and were likely to start using prescription pain medication. Nabilone consumers had lower pain scores and indicated less likelihood of getting hooked on pharmaceutical pain medication. 

Take away

Cannabis is a powerful pain-relieving agent that can help with pain ranging from mild to chronic. Scientific studies show that cannabinoids can combat pain resulting from nerve injury, headaches, HIV, cancer treatment, MS, neuropathy, among others. This presents the plant as a possible alternative to conventional pain relievers.


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