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How Medicinal Marijuana Can Help with Chronic Pain

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October 26, 2016 9:00 AM

How_Medicinal_Marijuana_Can_Help_with_Chronic_Pain.jpgWhile it was once recognized by the general public mainly for its recreational use, marijuana has become a valid and quite respected form of medicine in the last couple of decades, as evidenced by its gradual legalization in Canada and many parts of the U.S.

Medicinal marijuana’s benefits are multitudinous, ranging from scientifically grounded physiological effects used to treat conditions as serious as multiple sclerosis, to the simpler fact that its use helps people feel good, which can make a genuine and important difference in fighting nausea, headaches, and other symptoms or conditions.

Here we’ll offer a deeper look at some of the specific and surprising ways medicinal marijuana can help alleviate chronic pain.

How Marijuana Can Help With Headaches

There is emerging research that appears to confirm something many migraine sufferers have already known for some time: Marijuana helps fight severe and painful migraines.

In a study by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and picked up by publications such as LiveScience, 103 out of 121 people examined experienced a reduction in migraines after they began using marijuana, with a fairly significant average drop from 10.4 headaches to 4.6 a month.

While the above study didn’t detail how cannabis helps with headaches, the prevalent theories include marijuana’s activation of CB2 receptors, and the more obvious fact that stress is a known trigger of migraines, and marijuana helps with stress.

In the U.S., medicinal marijuana’s role in migraine relief may soon grow stronger: In July, a judge ordered state officials to consider adding migraines to the list of conditions that allow someone to obtain a prescription.

How Marijuana Can Help with Nerve Pain

Some argue that the calming effects of marijuana, which may play a fundamental role in its ability to reduce pain, make it more akin to a placebo than an actual effective medication. While the role of a simple calming agent shouldn’t be understated, newer research also aims to eschew that this is all there is to marijuana.

A much-cited study at McGill University in Montreal looked deeper into how marijuana can help dull chronic pain relating to nerves (yet another unsurprising confirmation for long-time users).

This study looked at 21 people who suffered from chronic neuropathic pain, often caused by surgery. Essentially, the people received a rotation of different potencies of marijuana for five days each, without knowing which potency they were receiving–including five days with a placebo. The potency of the marijuana made a tangible, recordable difference in the people’s pain levels, with the placebo having the least effect.

So how does marijuana reduce this pain? According to doctors at Oxford University, the drug doesn’t eliminate the source of the pain, but it makes the symptom far more bearable. The THC in cannabis temporarily reduces activity responsible for experiencing pain in some people’s brains.

What this research highlights is that by acting as an intermediary between cause and painful effect, marijuana can lighten chronic pain in some patients regardless of its cause (or its curability).

Looking Forward

Of course there’s debate about how effective marijuana is for chronic pain. We can’t neglect the fact that its modern usage is still inevitably tied to its past, when it was demonized by society for its more pleasurable uses.

It appears expert reviews are finally catching up to the anecdotal evidence that has been around for years. Some of the science is simple: It’s never been doubted that marijuana can help assuage stress, which can lead to bodily tension and high blood pressure, and these in turn can lead to innumerable, uncomfortable symptoms. But some other science is revealing bold new findings. 

Topics: medical conditions

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