From new injuries to chronic pain reducing quality of life, pain is a complex condition that frequently leads people to see a doctor.
Over the past decade or so, the way practitioners view and treat pain has drastically changed.
The well publicised opioid crisis1 has brought sweeping changes that have brought mixed results.
On the one hand, gone are the days of medical providers writing open-ended prescriptions for powerful pain relievers, such as opioids and muscle relaxers.
This is a good thing, since statistics show an average of 130 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose. Decreasing access to these dangerous and addictive drugs is a definite win.
On the other hand, revisions in how practitioners prescribe pain medications have left many patients suffering from great pain, with nowhere to turn but over-the-counter aspirins (more on this later).
Similarly, people who have learned about the dangers of opioids simply don’t want to take them, even if prescribed.
So where do you go for relief?
As we’ve discussed in both seasons of our docuseries, and go into more deeply in our new digital book, Medical Cannabis for Pain: A Patient’s Guide, medical cannabis, when used correctly, is another safe option for pain relief.
Significant progress is being made in how doctors and patients view this ancient healing plant, leading to other positive changes.
For example, many states with medical cannabis programs are adding chronic pain to their list of approved conditions. Patients with medicinal access in these states can trade in their narcotics for cannabis.
Much more progress and access is needed across the country, but the future looks bright. Right now, let’s look a bit closer at pain itself, and traditional pain relief.
When you go to a physician for a pain-related condition, he or she will prescribe a treatment plan based on the type and severity of the ailment. Pain is classified as either acute2 or chronic.
Acute pain has a specific cause, varies in severity, and resolves in less than three months.
Chronic pain doesn’t always have a direct reason, lasts longer than three months, and doesn’t respond well to traditional treatments.
A common misconception is that most injuries and acute pain conditions require narcotics or other prescription relief such as muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medications.
There are many complementary treatments for pain that can accompany NSAIDs for (what should be) short-term use. For example, patients recovering from muscle strains and sprains often use a combination of NSAIDs, ice, elevation, massage, and physical therapy.
In contrast, one of the characteristics of chronic pain is that it is more resistant3 to traditional treatments, such as narcotics. In these cases, even high doses can leave patients with breakthrough pain.4
Little wonder why many patients are turning to medical cannabis to help safely reduce pain and inflammation.
It’s safe to argue that medical cannabis is safer than prescription pain medications. Even the DEA5 admits there are no known overdose deaths from cannabis.
In contrast, patients taking opioids often develop a tolerance to these powerful painkillers which results in higher doses to get the same relief. Super high doses can lead to respiratory failure6 and death. And, they are highly addictive.
What may be news to you is that medical cannabis is far better for your body than even over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. These (NSAIDs) are safe for occasional use, like to reduce a fever or treat the odd headache. But, too many NSAIDs can lead to severe gastrointestinal issues such as peptic ulcers.7
Even the relatively “harmless” over-the-counter pain reliever Tylenol (acetaminophen, by non-brand name) has been found to have worrying effects on our bodies, with chronic or overuse.
According to Dr. Melisa Lai Becker, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and specialist in emergency medicine and toxicology at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, “People don’t realize that these doses all add up, and before you know it you’ve exceeded the recommended dose of acetaminophen8.”
Many people may also not realize that while acetaminophen does help with pain, it does not treat inflammation. Perhaps this is why people inadvertently take too much.
The downside of taking too many Tylenol, for any reason, according the an article published by Harvard Medical School, “…acetaminophen also has a narrower window of safety compared with ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs can make you sick, too, but it takes a larger amount to reach a dangerous overdose. Taking too much acetaminophen can damage the liver, sometimes leading to a liver transplant or death.
The body breaks down most of the acetaminophen in a normal dose and eliminates it in the urine. But some of the drug is converted into a byproduct that is toxic to the liver. If you take too much—all at once or over a period of days—more toxin can build up than the body can handle.”
To replace your ibuprofen or Tylenol with cannabis, Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a leading medical cannabis professional, recommends in an August 2018 article for ProjectCBD,9 “. . . one can take cannabis medicine that is THC-rich, CBD-rich, combination CBD+THC, THCA, CBDA and/or CBG.”
We dive into the ways medical cannabis can be used for alternative pain relief in our new digital book (coming soon). And…
In Part 2 of this article we’ll explore some specific pain conditions and several practical ways to use medical cannabis for pain relief, like carpal tunnel and migraines, including specific methods of use, and how they work.
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