You don’t really understand chronic pain until you experience it. As a kid, I thought that my grandma was just a little achy here and there throughout the day. I had no idea that a person could actually hurt, in some way or another, throughout the entirety of the day. Then, by the time I was 15, I started having a lot of health problems that I really had no business having at that age: I got severe migraines for days at a time, I experienced pain in every last joint in my body, my muscles ached, I had nerve pain, my skin was super-sensitive, I had severe digestive issues and I was seemingly allergic to sunlight. It took several years for doctors to determine that I had Lupus, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and Rheumatoid arthritis. While I was kind of bummed out that I wasn’t going through the change and turning into a vampire or something cool, it was kind of comforting to understand why it felt so bad. But, unlike most supernatural beings in movies, I never stopped feeling like death. I was in pain every single day from one thing or another, and it took another several years for doctors to figure out what to do about that.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is generally considered to be a secondary condition that is symptomatic of other conditions, such as: diseases, disorders or injuries. It’s pain that persists for twelve weeks or longer, and it varies in degree from mildly annoying to debilitating agony. For instance, my pain generally ranges from around a 5-8 on a 10-pointpain scale. The problem becomes how to treat it on a long-term basis. You cantake over-the-counter medications for it, but they’re not very effective. I cantake Aleve and it’ll last for around 12 hours, which is great, but I’m still inpain and I’m always waiting for that next dose. There are lots of side-effects frompain medications, as well, prescribed or over-the-counter. I tried narcoticpain medications. I ended up with migraines, (which I already had) it messed mystomach up to the point that I didn’t want to eat, I was a doped-up zombie, andI had opioid-induced constipation, which isn’t great with Crohn’s disease. With fibromyalgia and other nerve pain, a lot of what’s prescribed are either anti-depressants or anti-seizure medications. Guess what one of the side-effects of anti-seizure medications is? (I found out the hard way.)Anti-seizure medication can result in seizures. It also made me very grouchy, I felt sick all of the time, I had migraines (which it was supposed to prevent), and- worst of all- when I decided not to take it anymore, I had terrible withdraws.
Cannabis to the Rescue!
With all of the side-effects from medications typically used to treat chronic pain, lots of patients are looking for alternatives, and one that more and more people are finding to work is cannabis. Yes, chronic is being used to treat chronic pain. Scientific andmedical studies around the world are showing that cannabis is effective totreat pain, but the research is pretty limited in the United States. 31 stateshave passed bills legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, but it’s still notlegal on the Federal levels. So, this is resulting in some faulty testing. There are so many different types of pot, and so many ways to administer itthat simply having patients smoke a joint and recording the results isn’tcomprehensive enough anymore. But, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. What is helpful, however is the fact that they’re conducting surveys, as well,and from those we’re getting more information than the clinical trials haveprovided. The National Academies of Science did a study and concluded thatcannabis reduced chronic pain symptoms significantly, while other studies areshowing that it can sooth the pain related to fibromyalgia, cancer andmigraines. A survey of 3,000 patients, 1/3 of which had been taking opioids,revealed that 81% of them said that marijuana alone was more effective attreating their chronic pain than the combination of marijuana and opioidstogether. And another 97% of them were able to lower the amount of opioids theytook because they had used marijuana.
Why is Cannabis so Effective?
Cannabis itself is made up of a lot of different compounds, two of which being CBD and THC. There’s a lot of science behind what each of the chemicals does, which you probably already have some understanding of, but in case you don’t: basically, one effects the mind, while the other effects the body. A lot of people who have never had any experience with cannabis tend to be pretty concerned about getting high. In a medical journal called Practical Pain Management, Dr. Bearmen says that he tells new patients to try a 1-to-1 ratio of THC to CBD for pain. (The precise measurement he prescribes is 7.5mg of both.) And, he tells patients that they most likely won’t get high off of this ratio, but their pain won’t go away, either. I was actually surprised to find, in print, that a doctor actually said this because that’s been my experience, as well.
I’m not saying that CBD oil doesn’t have its place. It does have a lot of great health benefits. But, chronic pain results in a lot of psychological effects, on top of the pain itself. If you’re in pain all the time, and you’re not able to do a lot of the things you love or be able to even go out with your friends, it’s very easy to get depressed. THC helps with this. The cannabis plant, as a whole, is medicinal, and asking for the part that makes you “high” to be left out is like asking the pharmacist to re-formulate a pain pill just because you don’t like feeling dopey. We can do that with cannabis now, but it’s still a ridiculous request. Rather than taking the THC out entirely, experimentation helps. If you smoke some weed and find that you’re so lethargic that you spent the day on the couch, you should give that feedback to your doctor. They can play with the ratios and prescription until they find some combination that works for you. There’s also more than one way to get marijuana into your system now. Sure, you can smoke it, and that gets it into your system pretty instantaneously and also causes a bit of a “head high”, but edibles and vaporizing it are now options, as well. Edibles, even with THC intact, provide a body high, instead of a head high, because it isn’t carried to your brain as quickly when it’s digested as it is when you smoke it.
Scientists and doctors in America are just now finding out what those of us who have used cannabis recreationally already know: experimentation is not only fun, but the absolute best way to find what works for you. You may find that you still need pain medication, either over-the-counter or prescribed, along with cannabis. But, if you do, you’ll likely find that you won’t have to use other medication as much or as often. Personally, after smoking a joint, I tend to forget I have limbs for about four hours, let alone that they hurt. So, if you’re experiencing chronic pain, chronic may actually be a great way to get some relief.