The practice of medicine is based on science. As a result of cannabis being illegal in the U.S. since 1937, the science of cannabis medicine is still relatively sparse as it relates specifically to its efficacy for treating chronic pain.
However, a 2017 comprehensive landmark study entitled, The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research; a Report of The National Academies of Sciences–Engineering-Medicine, placed cannabis as an analgesic on solid scientific ground.
This study evaluated over 10,000 cannabis research papers published since 1999. The authors concluded that: “In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.”
This conclusion closely correlates with my own professional and personal experience. For the past 7 years, in my Fully Alive Medicine practice in Boulder, CO, I’ve worked with more than 7500 chronic pain patients, using medical marijuana (MMJ) to relieve their suffering. Whatever their chronic pain condition has been, the results have been remarkable for both pain relief as well as a significant reduction or total elimination of their prescription opioids, anti-inflammatories, benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs), muscle relaxants, and sleep medication.
Yet, in spite of seeing thousands of these success stories it wasn’t until I developed a severe case of shingles in late March 2015, that I became a fervent believer in the pain-relieving properties of cannabis medicine. This pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and I’ve had broken bones and acute appendicitis. On a scale of 1to 10, it was consistently between an 8 to a 10+ for the first 2 months unless I used MMJ. If I vaporized it, within a few minutes it was dramatically reduced to 2 to 4. It was truly miraculous. Pain above a 5 is all-consuming and makes it extremely difficult to focus on anything other than the pain. The MMJ not only quickly relieved the pain, but I was able to function quite well, lead a relatively normal life, and even enjoy life in spite of living with some degree of chronic pain.
Another conclusion of this 2017 study is that “there are no accepted standards for the safe and appropriate use of cannabis.” With my patients and in my book, Cannabis for Chronic Pain, I present what I believe to be the standard of care for the appropriate use of cannabis for treating chronic pain.
The most effective cannabis products for relieving pain are the CBD:THC/1:1 products – tinctures, tablets, sublingual and nasal sprays, and transdermal patches; or vaporizing Hybrids, strains that are 50:50/Sativa:Indica, or 60:40/S:I, or 60:40/I:S.
Other effective products for pain relief include 2 other cannabinoids: THCa, which is not psychoactive, but is the most potent anti-inflammatory of all the cannabinoids. It’s best taken as a tincture or with juicing the raw plant. CBN (Cannabinol) which is also not psychoactive is excellent for both pain and sleep. CBN is available as a tincture or in a transdermal patch.
Each of these pain-relieving options can be enhanced by adding CBD alone (without THC) to the medical marijuana product.