Marijuana and Pain
Pain, we know, is the body’s way of sounding alarm; it announces that all is not well with our bodies, whether from causes of disease or accident. It is the most common reason that people seek medical care. Pain is a big problem.
And not just for patients. For physicians and all manner of healthcare professionals, pain is a complex, persistent and vexing challenge. It can have any number of causes, many of which are poorly understood, and it does not always respond well to treatment. The medications for pain often prove to be problematic themselves as different types of pain, and individuals, respond in any manner of ways to any given medication. Then there are the side effects, which can be significant.
The search for new and better pain relievers is an on-going quest.
There has been a lot of enthusiasm for and press over marijuana’s medicinal properties the last few decades, however marijuana has been around, and known, for it’s analgesic uses, like opium, for centuries.
Both plants have been used as medicines from the beginning of time. But…they also both have the potential to bring harm. Marijuana, although not having the capacity to cause lethal overdoses like opium, can strongly impair one’s senses, judgment and cognitive capabilities. Both drugs can lead to detrimental lifestyle habits as well.
The potential risks and concerns of Marijuana also include: sedation, psychomotor impairment, and exacerbation of impaired respiratory conditions, amongst other things as well as psychological dependence in some long term users.
For these reasons cannabis was removed from pharmacies in the United States in 1941.
Marijuana Comes of Age in the 21st Century
Within the last few years though Marijuana has been reintroduced as a legalized medicinal in almost half of the states in the US to treat various medical conditions including pain, as well as others associated with cancer and HIV.
It is the THC in cannabis that has been shown to lessen pain, suppress nausea and increase appetite. But THC has other properties which can give users a sense of euphoria and an altered mental state. Many of those qualities are often sought by those who use the herb recreationally. And some states have even legalized it for that very purpose, recreational use.
It is important to note though that Marijuana still remains illegal under federal law. Federal laws are enforced in seemingly random ways but it is important to know that it is in fact, as of this writing, still concerned a Class 1 drug, the most strident of drug classifications.
Despite that the FDA has approved various cannabis derived medications including Marinol and Cesamet. We are in a time of change once again when it comes to this well known herb.
The Future of Marijuana as a Pharmacutical Medication
Cannabis has shown significant promise in experiments on pain. According to “Medical Marijuana: The Science Behind the Controversy” published by the National Academy of Sciences, “Peripheral nerves that detect pain sensations contain abundant receptors for cannabinoids, and cannabinoids appear to block peripheral nerve pain in experimental animals. Even more encouraging, some studies suggest that opiates and cannabinoids suppress pain through different mechanisms. If that is the case, marijuana-based medicines could perhaps be combined with opiates to boost their pain-relieving power while limiting their side effects and potentially even ease certain chronic pain syndromes.”
Experiments continue however much of the clinical cannabis research does not meet the level of rigor, and professional and peer reviewed standards considered valid by the medical community here in the Unites States or those of the FDA as there are considerable and complex hurdles for such research’s approval requirements and licensing due to Marijuana’s status as a class I drug by the US Drug Enforcement Agency. At this time both the DEA and the FDA are considering changing the classification to help facilitate further research.
As you can imagine there is significant monetary incentive from growers and distributors, as well as other sectors of the marijuana “industry”, to legitimize and expand the herb’s business horizons.
Using Marijuana as a Medicine, The How To
Cannabis may be administered in numerous ways. Smoking the herb is the most prevalent method of using marijuana. Vaporization, seen as less risky for those with respiratory issues, is another method as is oral ingestion, in the form of candy and baked goods, known as edibles. Because edibles release their medicinal properties into the body more slowly and gradually it is difficult to gage proper dosage; the effects also last longer. Both factors support the idea of caution if edibles are used.
Doctors and Marijuana Use
If you have chronic pain make sure you know what the laws are in your state and do not start using marijuana if you are under a Doctor’s care without first discussing it with your physician. Like any medication the benefits and contraindications should be discussed, especially if you are currently taking other medications.
According to a June, 2016 recent article from the American Pain Society clinical practice recommendations should include such things as being clear with patients about current research and goals when using therapeutic cannabis, counseling patients about routes of administration and advising patients on cannabis strains, cannabinoid medications or extracts, explaining limitations due to lack of herbal/substance uniformity and regulatory oversight, and monitoring their use as with opioids and for side effects such as psycho-behavioral changes.
For now medical marijuana is in a state of flux with historically “known”, but, as of now, still not well testing or understood by medical science, beneficial properties for helping humans manage pain and for other health concerns too. Doctors and patients alike, not to mention the officials at the DEA, are attempting to strike a balance between these known and unknown variables. Certainly those with chronic pain are familiar with the mindset of being willing to try. Hopefully in the next few years marijuana will become more clearly understood and managed. A new, and old (we humans and our history, what else is there to say), tool in the pain management repertory is always welcome.