Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional
Pain relief is the number one health condition for which doctors recommend medical cannabis. It is estimated that one out of every five Americans are affected by some sort of pain condition. Altogether, it is thought about 100 million Americans must live with chronic pain. Most of these patients have other health issues that worsen the extent of pain experienced like the bowel inflammation seen in Crohn’s Disease. Pain can often lead to other health problems like insomnia and depression. This can lead to needing more drugs with their potential side effects- effectively creating a vicious cycle and cascade of other health problems. Despite government and medical organizations’ denials, there have been multiple scientific studies completed regarding the effectiveness and safety of cannabis use in pain conditions. Historical records show cannabis has been used safely and effectively throughout human history for many conditions- including pain.
History of Pain Treatments With Cannabis
Historical writings of the effective pain relief provided by cannabis includes the use of “bhanga” 2500 years ago in China. Other cultures documented benefits as well. The Greek and Roman dynasties recorded use for conditions like ear pain, arthritis, painful breasts, and joint contractions. Historical use continued to be documented in Islamic texts, echoing the Greek and Roman reports of health benefits. One famous Muslim, Avicenna, added that cannabis was effective for epilepsy, inflammation, as a muscle relaxant, and laxative. Europeans described African, Indian, and Persian use of cannabis for ailments such as anxiety, head/ stomach distempers, stress, wound treatments, toothaches, and more. In 1811 Samuel Hahnemann was the first scientist to publish a clinical trial for pain using an ethanolic tincture of cannabis flowers.
Cannabis traveled with the European explorers to North America. In 1850 the US Pharmacopeia (USP) included an alcoholic extract of cannabis. This listing of drugs and their effects did include a note that, unlike opium, cannabis provides pain relief “without future misery.” This alluded to opiates’ potential side effects and strong risk of addiction. Cannabis was praised in the first issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). One of the most successful patent drug remedies of all time was Chlorodyne, a combination of Indian hemp and opium. All of these facts support the claim that cannabis held medically accepted value. Despite this, cannabis was removed from the USP in 1942 after the government began its racially and financially motivated campaign against drugs (which included cannabis). This effectively eliminated 28 cannabis-containing pharmaceutical products.
Treatment of Pain in Modern Medicine
Newer studies are revealing the mysteries of how cannabis helps with pain. A simplified explanation is that persistent signals continually activate certain pain receptors in our nervous system. These signals can come from inside us (such as the release of certain body chemicals) or outside our body (such as with cold, heat, or pressure). This causes nerve cells to become over-stimulated leading to “excited” nerves that can fire at will and cause pain. Normally, our body manufactures chemicals (called endocannabinoids) in response to these pain signals. These activate specific receptors in the body and stop this pain cycle. When the body is not working correctly from the constant stimulation from these chronic pain signals, this manufacturing does not happen like it should. Cannabis contains chemicals (called phytocannabinoids) that can be used as a substitute. They act in the place of endocannabinoids by activating these receptors for us and effectively stopping the pain.
Modern studies on patients who use opiates to help manage chronic pain show that cannabis use has a “synergistic effect”. This means that they boost each other’s pain relief effects. Studies show many patients are able to reduce their opiate dosages too. Interestingly, studies using rats have shown that rodents tolerant to morphine actually regained pain relief when a synthetic (man-made) cannabinoid called CP55 was added. More human studies are needed to see if this effect transfers over in humans.
Debunking The Myths and Misinformation
It is a tragedy and outrage that many pain sufferers who could benefit from using cannabis to help manage their pain conditions don’t have the option. Many who could benefit from this miraculous plant continue to suffer in the ignorance that prohibition forced on us. Fear, misinformation, and propaganda continue to hinder cannabis legalization and education efforts world-wide. One of the most important roles we have in the cannabis community is to continue promoting education and debunking the myths and misinformation.
—“It is by a thorough knowledge of the whole subject that [people] are enabled to judge correctly of the past and to give a proper direction to the future.” James Monroe, Fifth President of the United States
Written By: Melissa Cornwell