Medical Marijuana (MMJ) for Pain Management – How Does it Work?
There have been many claims through the ages that cannabis can alleviate chronic pain. But what does science say? In this post, our Colorado Springs MMJ doctors will set the record straight about how medical marijuana works for pain management.
How Does Medical Marijuana (MMJ) Help Pain?
The relationship between medical marijuana (MMJ) and pain relief is complex. Below, we’ll cover how cannabis can interact with the forces that cause pain. First, we’ll discuss how the medical community defines pain. Then, we’ll show how cannabis interacts with the body’s pain systems.
Pain in a Medical Context
On the surface, pain seems like a pretty simple concept. You know when it’s happening – something hurts.
But the medical concept of pain is actually much more complex. Before we can understand how medical marijuana can affect pain, we need to understand what pain is in a medical context.
Researchers actually classify pain in three different categories.
- Pathological Pain – This type of pain comes from some kind of error in your nervous system. Pathological pain usually involves situations where there is nerve damage but no inflammation. Medical marijuana may be an effective way to alleviate pathological pain.
- Nociceptive Pain – Pain as the result of some bad stimulus. This is the kind of pain you feel after stubbing your toe or burning your hand on a hot stove. Nociceptive pain is actually extremely useful for the body. It acts as an alarm system, telling you to stop performing the action that caused it.
- Inflammatory Pain – Inflammation is a way that the body heals after damage. It makes an injured body part tender, discouraging touch or use of the area. Inflammatory pain most commonly affects joints. Inflammation is often useful to the body. But sometimes, it can be overwhelming. When that happens, it can make normal tasks difficult.
Inflammatory pain is the type that medical marijuana (MMJ) is the most useful against. That’s because certain components of cannabis plants can “hack” the body to reduce inflammation. And they have a special bodily system all their own to do it.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis works by sending messages throughout the Central Nervous System (CNS). Think of the CNS as your body’s own information superhighway. The messages that travel through the CNS control everything from voluntary movement to unconscious actions, like breathing and heartbeat.
If the CNS is a highway, think of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as an HOV lane. The ECS carries specific messages throughout your body, and only certain inputs allowed to enter.
Those inputs are called endocannabinoids. Some common endocannabinoids include:
- 2-Arachidonoylglycerol – An endocannabinoid that may have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
- Anandamide – One of the best-known endocannabinoids. Some research has shown that anandamide may relieve pain and cause a “runner’s high.”
Endocannabinoids are proteins that act as neurotransmitters, telling the body to do certain things. Two important functions that the ECS regulates are pain and inflammation.
To do that, endocannabinoids connect to specialized receptors throughout the body. There are two types of these receptors. You can find CB1 receptors throughout your CNS. In contrast, CB2 receptors mostly reside in other locations, like the immune system.
One interesting side note: every vertebrate has an ECS. Some of them (like fish or whales) never come in contact with plant-made cannabinoids in their lives – there are no aquatic plants that produce THC or CBD.
CBD and Pain Relief
Ok, so we’ve established the ECS can regulate certain immune system responses like pain relief – but how does medical marijuana fit into all this? CBD seems to hold the key.
CBD is the second-most common cannabinoid in medical marijuana after THC. Some strains of cannabis, like hemp, actually contain more CBD than THC. Unlike its cannabinoid cousin THC, CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effects.
Instead, research shows that CBD has a wide variety of other properties. CBD can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body. This “tricks” the ECS into thinking that it’s receiving information from actual endocannabinoids. Then, the ECS sends the same messages through the body as it would if a real endocannabinoid triggered it.
The end result of this chain of chemical commands is a reduction in inflammation and pain. It’s important to note that CBD appears to be more effective at managing chronic pain than THC is.
There are many different health-related claims about cannabis. Unfortunately, some of them don’t have research backing them up. That’s not the case with medical marijuana’s pain management properties, though. Documents from ancient times show that we’ve been treating pain with cannabis for a long time.
Medical Marijuana and Pain Relief in Ancient Times
We may think of the 21st century as the cutting edge of cannabis medicine. In many ways, that’s true. But we’re not the first people to think of using medical marijuana to alleviate chronic pain.
In fact, Humans have used cannabis to alleviate aches and pains for millennia. One of the first recorded medical applications for cannabis appears in ancient Chinese medical tradition.
Nearly 5,000 years ago (about 2600 BC), Chinese emperor Shen Nung wrote an ancient textbook on medicine. Shen Nung is widely regarded as one of the fathers of the Chinese medical tradition, and some of his discoveries remain common practices in folk medicine today.
Shen Nung used himself as a test subject, cataloguing the effects of about 300 herbs, including cannabis. In his book, called the Ben Ts’ao, he recommends cannabis for:
- Rheumatic pain
Unfortunately, Shen Nung’s curiosity eventually got the better of him. According to legend, he died of an overdose in the course of his research. But he continues to live on through his work as one of the first doctors in recorded history.
The Truth about Medical Marijuana and Pain Relief
At the end of the day, what can we say for sure about medical marijuana (MMJ) and pain management? There’s actually some promising research about CBD’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. This evidence goes back thousands of years, seeming to verify medical marijuana’s ability to manage pain.
Before you self-prescribe medical marijuana (MMJ) for your pain management, consult one of our doctors. At Medical Alternatives Clinics, we make it easy to get the treatment you need. With flexible appointments and telehealth exams, relief for your chronic pain may be minutes away. Don’t suffer any longer – book an appointment today.