As per estimates, about 50 million US citizens live with chronic or severe pain. Hence, it’s only natural that patients & doctors are looking for alternative treatments for pain management other than potent prescription painkillers such as opioids.
This is where medical marijuana comes into the picture!
Medical Marijuana Use for Pain Management
The human body comprises several cannabinoid receptors, which are a constituent of the body’s endocannabinoid system. These receptors sense a wide range of physiological processes such as pain, memory, mood & appetite. Marijuana alters the way in which these nerves function in the body, which helps in pain management.
Barth Wilsey, MD and pain medicine specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Center states that pain is the main reason people ask for a prescription. The pain could be due to headaches, chronic ailments such as cancer, glaucoma, nerve pain, etc.
For those unaware, the human body already makes marijuana-like chemicals that impact pain, inflammation & many other body processes.
Doctor Laura Borgelt, PharmD, of the University of Colorado says that marijuana can sometimes help those natural chemicals work better.
Still, many doctors across the US are hesitant to advocate cannabis as a treatment for pain management due to the lack of sufficient, quality research.
What does Existing Research say?
In February 2021, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) issued a statement stating, “There is not enough high-quality human clinical safety and efficacy evidence to allow IASP to endorse the general use of cannabis and cannabinoids for pain at this time.”
The IASP followed a comprehensive, methodical approach to their task, particularly considering the predominance of anecdotal evidence claiming marijuana can help patients deal with pain.
Alluding to the pharma companies which fueled the opioid crisis and the resultant trauma due to the ensuing addictions, psychologist Dr. Judith Scheman says, “The pain management community is keenly aware of making recommendations based on claims made by people who may have other motives.”
On the flip side, Dr. Scheman also states that a wealth of literature has been found demonstrating that cannabis can be an analgesic (a drug that relieves pain). In addition, evidence was also found from lab studies indicating that cannabis & cannabinoids, in a biochemical sense, may be effective in helping deal with pain.
Donald Abrams, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco also stated that it makes sense that marijuana may help relieve pain because the body has cannabinoid receptors or places where the chemical attaches to cells.
Nonetheless, the issue remains as Dr. Scheman pointed out that on checking the evidence from clinical trials, they concluded that the available data was of insufficient quality. “It can be confusing for the public because there are so many articles about the potential connection that relies on anecdotal evidence,” she says.
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