While growing old is a privilege some of us enjoy, it can be a life stage accompanied by lots of pain.
Chronic pain from arthritis, headaches, cancer treatments, neuropathy, general wear and tear, and can diminish quality of life of people generally but the elderly in particular. It may get in the way of normal function, increase depression, and give us trouble focusing, sleeping and coping with common life stresses. Chronic pain can also worsen other conditions we may be coping with, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Advances in medicine and technology, and changes in our expectations and outlooks mean we are generally stay healthier and more active longer. So finding new ways to cope with chronic pain also contribute to having better lives.
Medical Cannabis Increasingly Used to Treat Chronic Pain
Medical marijuana is increasingly getting traction in the medical community as a way of treating various types of chronic pain. The Practical Pain Management journal points out that “in a large survey of medical cannabis users in Arizona with chronic pain, 77% of fibromyalgia patients, 63% of patients with arthritis, and 51% of patients suffering from neuropathic pain reported experiencing ‘a lot’ or ‘almost complete overall relief’ of their painful condition.”
At the same time, the survey showed that the use of cannabis reduced the reliance on other heavy-duty pain medications, including opioids. In fact, the journal claims that “75% of medical cannabis users who experienced opioid dependency reported a lot or almost complete overall relief.”
Smith Falls, Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp. is conducting a study on the use of use of medical cannabis by seniors in long-term care facilities across the province. Hilary Black, the chief advocacy officer at the company, points out that her 104-year-old grandmother is “living her best life” due to the cannabis she is taking in soft-gel form.
“Every afternoon she takes a CBD and a very small amount of THC,” Black says in a newspaper interview. “She tells me that the soft gels really help with her pain — she has arthritis. She sleeps well, but her health-care workers tell me that for them it’s her mood. In the afternoon, she’s happy and kind and loving. They just have fun in the afternoon because she just feels better. She tells me that it is improving the quality of her life.”
Pain Relief Without Cognitive Impairment
In some cases, the elderly are reluctant to take pain-relief medications because of worries about side effects or dependency. In the case of medical cannabis, some seniors worry about cognitive impairment of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient found in many kinds of marijuana.
They will be happy to hear that many kinds of medical cannabis have low or no doses of THC, so cognitive impairment isn’t an issue. In fact, a growing number of medications use CBD (cannabidiol), a chemical naturally found in cannabis and hemp that is non-impairing.
Some researchers believe that CBD works with receptors in a person’s cell-signaling system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to provide medical benefits, such as the relief of different types of chronic pain. For example, a review of studies between 1975 and 2018 show that CBD was effective in overall pain management for cancer pain, neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia.
Other studies show that CBD oil and other products may also be useful in treating arthritis and migraine headaches (when paired with THC).
If you want to learn more about the pain-relieving potential of cannabis and any possible side effects, speak to a Medical Cannabis by Shoppers health-care practitioner to find out all you need to know.
Painful Conditions That May Be Helped by Medical Cannabis
While much more research needs to be conducted to fully evaluate how useful cannabis is in treating different types of chronic pain, what little that has been done is promising for conditions that include:
Not only can medical cannabis help with long-term pain, it may be able to relieve short-term, acute pain, like a toothache or post-operative pain. In a systematic review published earlier this year in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Canadian researchers found there was a small but significant reduction in pain scores with medical marijuana compared to placebos in patients suffering acute pain.
The Toronto-based Arthritis Society points out: “Since 2001, medical cannabis has been a legal treatment option in Canada for certain health conditions, including arthritis. While cannabis can’t cure arthritis or slow disease progression, some people report that it helps to alleviate their symptoms.”
Research for how cannabis helps with arthritis has involved animals and needs to be reproduced in human studies, which the Arthritis Society is pushing for, to address some of the “unanswered questions.” It adds: “For people living with chronic pain, the options for medication to assist with pain management are limited, and each has its drawbacks. For these people, medical cannabis offers a potential alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen and opioids.”
The Canadian Cancer Society says that research does not give a clear answer on the effectiveness of cannabis in treating cancer, but there are some promising indications. For example, several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both — the side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
It points out that “some clinical trials showed that cannabinoids help reduce pain in some people.” Sativex, for example, a combination of delta-9-THC (Tetranabinex) and cannabidiol (Nabidiolex) has been approved for use in Canada as a spray that can be applied to the cheek inside the mouth. Savitex may be used to relieve pain from advanced cancer that can’t be relieved with the strongest dose of opioids.
Some studies show that medical cannabis can help with the pain of migraine headaches. For example, a study at the University of Colorado looked at 121 people who regularly got hit migraine headaches and used marijuana daily to prevent attacks. Approximately 40% of these said the cannabis cut in half the number of migraine headaches they suffered each month.
Another study, led by Carrie Cuttler, a Washington State University assistant professor of psychology, published last year in the Journal of Pain, revealed that inhaled cannabis reduces self-reported headache severity by 47.3% and migraine severity by 49.6%. In this instance the researchers wondered if the pain relief was provided by THC or CBD, or another cannabis constituents such as terpenes.
Last June, Medscape concluded, “Experts may be moving toward accepting cannabis as a useful tool to treat neuropathic pain.” While the two experts debating its usefulness in treating pain caused by damage or disease affecting the somatosensory nervous system (such as spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis), they both agreed that “some patients do benefit.”
Among the positive studies cited was one citing cannabis as a “good” substitute for opioids in pain relief, and another that determined that "the quantity and quality of evidence is such that cannabis-based medicines may be reasonably considered for chronic neuropathic pain.”
Take the Pain Out of Learning About Cannabis for Pain Relief
With the learning on how medical cannabis can be used to treat chronic pain constantly evolving, and new treatments coming onto the market, it’s tough to know what’s the best options for your particular condition.
To get find out what you need to know about using cannabis for medical conditions, contact one of the Medical Cannabis by Shoppers’ knowledgeable health practitioners for a free phone consultation. We will help to take the pain out of learning about chronic pain management.