Medical Cannabis and Why We Need a Better Understanding of Pain

Using cannabis for medicinal purposes is no longer an outlier. It is mainstream. Today, millions of patients around the country rely on cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of their medical conditions. Managing pain tops the list. Yet how much do we really know about pain and its mechanisms? If we knew more, would increased knowledge better inform our decisions about medical cannabis?

Our Knowledge Is Limited

Our collective knowledge about pain is more limited than most people know. We all know what pain is simply from personal experience. But we do not always know what causes it. We also don’t have a thorough understanding of the mechanisms behind pain. That is a problem when it comes to revolutionary medications like cannabis.

Although evidence in support of cannabis as a pain reliever is mounting, science still has not discovered the mechanism behind it. In other words, we haven’t yet figured out how cannabis works to relieve pain. Yet mounting evidence proves that it does.

Perhaps we haven’t discovered the mechanism because we are looking in the wrong places. And maybe we are looking in the wrong places because we don’t know as much about pain as we think we do. Our limited knowledge is preventing us from fully understanding the pain-relieving benefits of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

Three Types of Pain

Just to illustrate the difficulties of figuring out medical cannabis’s potential as a pain reliever, let us look at three different types of pain. All are treatable with cannabis in states with legal medical cannabis programs.

1. Cancer Pain

Cancer is a horrible disease that claims lives and destroys families. Unfortunately, cancer patients can experience debilitating pain as a result of both the disease and its treatments. Some have even said that treatment-related pain is worse.

Disease-related pain is the result of cancer damaging healthy tissue. Treatment-related pain is the result of chemicals, radiation, and surgical procedures doing even more damage. Regardless of the details, cancer pain is extremely challenging.

2. Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage. It is a routine symptom in a number of different diseases, most notably diabetes. Nerve damage results in pain signals being sent to the brain. Interrupt those signals and it is possible to relieve the pain to some degree.

The most unfortunate aspect about neuropathic pain is that it’s usually a lifelong condition. Once the damage has been done, reversing it is nigh to impossible.

3. Inflammatory Pain

Finally, inflammatory pain is the result of some sort of inflammation. A well understood example is arthritis pain. As arthritic joints grind on one another, inflammation ensues. Now the patient suffers from the pain of the damaged joints as well as the additional pain created by inflammation.

Chronic and Acute Pain Can Be Treated

Pain can also be categorized as either chronic or acute. From a medical cannabis perspective, the distinction is irrelevant. Both can be treated.

According to Zion Medicinal in Cedar City, UT, the Beehive state is one of a number of states that allow treating acute pain with medical cannabis. A good example would be the pain brought on by joint replacement surgery. For as long as the pain persists and would otherwise be treated with prescription painkillers, Utah regulations allow treating with medical cannabis.

We certainly know a lot more about pain than we did hundreds of years ago. And yet, our knowledge is still limited. Perhaps a better understanding of pain would lead to a better understanding of how medical cannabis relieves it. Is it time for cannabis science to shift its focus?