Patient Condition Guide: Cannabis and Chronic Pain

Brian Pietrus | September 30, 2018 | Leave a Comment


Any time you touch a hot frying pan, stub your toe or experience any other painful sensation, your body sends messages through your nervous system between the brain and the injured appendage.


The ability to feel pain is vital to our survival; it’s why we learn at a young age to recoil from something that’s hot to the touch.


This type of pain experience is called acute pain: a typically short-lived sensation limited to a specific location on or within the body. Acute pain is generally treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and it usually tapers off after a few minutes, hours, or days.


Chronic pain and neuropathy are different.


People experiencing chronic pain struggle to find relief, even after several weeks or months of rest and rehab. Individuals living with neuropathy are also at risk of further injury as certain digits or limbs lose sensation; it becomes increasingly easy to fall, suffer external burns, and experience other types of trauma due to neurological numbness.



What Is Chronic Pain?


Chronic pain is a continuous sensation that does not involve a constant external stimulus. In order to qualify as chronic pain, the sensation must persist for over 12 weeks. Often times, chronic pain is the lingering result of an old injury – the initial wound or sprain has healed, but there’s lasting pain that can persist for months or years.


There are four main categories of chronic pain:

  • Mechanical/compressive pain: pain experienced while stretching or touching affected parts of the body. If you have a tumor or a fractured bone, you may experience mechanical pain when you touch the affected area.
  • Inflammatory pain: due to internal inflammation caused by arthritis, injury or infection.
  • Muscle pain: injury or frequently repeated movement can cause chronic muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, back, arms, hips or legs.
  • Neuropathic pain: primarily affects the nervous system and may be caused by several factors.


Most forms of chronic pain vary in terms of how patients experience pain: it may be dull or sharp, achy or burning, constant or intermittent. Neuropathy, on the other hand, is typically experienced as a burning, shooting or stabbing sensation often accompanied by tingling or “pins and needles.” It may also include an intense sensitivity to touch or temperature.


What Causes Chronic Pain and Neuropathy?


Chronic pain is frequently caused by the following:

  • Injuries
  • Arthritis  
  • Back problems  
  • Illness (including cancer)


Chronic pain can also be caused by other conditions. It can even appear without any clear external injury or illness.


Some common causes of neuropathy include, but are not limited to:

  • Diabetes
  • Traumatic injuries (car accidents, athletic injuries, etc)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infections
  • Organ or thyroid complications
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Alcoholism
  • Tumor growth
  • Sciatic nerve complications
  • Certain pharmaceutical medications, including medications used in chemotherapy


Only your doctor can properly diagnose whether you have chronic pain or neuropathy. He or she will evaluate your symptoms and may perform blood work, imaging examinations (like an MRI or a CT scan), nerve function evaluations, or biopsies.


How Are Chronic Pain and Neuropathy Treated?


If chronic pain is caused by an injury, infection or illness, your doctor will need to treat those underlying ailments in to reduce your pain. In other cases of chronic pain, medication and lifestyle changes (acupuncture, exercise, massage, etc.) may be recommended. There is no single course of action for treating chronic pain, and your doctor will determine what treatment plan is best for you.


Some common medications to treat chronic pain include:

  • NSAIDs
  • Opioid/Narcotic pharmaceutical medications
  • Topical treatments (balms, creams, patches)
  • Antidepressants (if the chronic pain is causing depression)
  • Sedatives, anxiolytics, and sleep medications (if the pain is causing trouble sleeping)
  • Corticosteroids


Doctors treating neuropathic pain may recommend any of the following treatments:

  • NSAIDs
  • Opioid medications
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Creams, balms, or salves for topical use


Your neurologist may also recommend physical therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, plasma exchange or surgery, depending on the cause of your neuropathy. In addition to these options, some individuals with chronic pain or neuropathy turn to cannabis for symptom relief.


Which States Allow Cannabis for Chronic Pain and Neuropathy?


Many states allow doctors to recommend MMJ to treat chronic pain. Other states have laws governing medical cannabis use specifically for patients with neuropathy. States that legalize cannabis for all chronic pain include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia


Of those states, the following permit medical cannabis specifically for neuropathy:

  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia


Current Research About Cannabis and Chronic Pain/Neuropathy


Generally speaking, there haven’t been enough conclusive clinical trials for the medical community to universally accept cannabis as a legitimate treatment option. However, a number of individual studies have shown promise.


One research study found that cannabis produced some neuropathic pain relief for a number of people with neuropathy caused by HIV. Some chronic pain studies found that cannabis helped patients reduce pain, with one study also concluding that some individuals reported greater quality of life scores as a result of their pain relief.


Other studies found that cannabis treatments reduced opioid use/dependence. One report found a 64% reduction in opioid use for chronic pain patients who used cannabis. This aspect of chronic pain treatment may be particularly significant, as opioid use has the potential to cause dependence, addiction, overdose, slowed respiration, lowered heart rate and death.


By contrast, cannabis use may lead to dependence in some, but it doesn’t pose the severe, potentially fatal risks that opiates do.


How Do I Find the Best Cannabis for My Needs?


First, get a diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pain or neuropathy, talk to your doctor about a treatment plan and find out if cannabis would help your symptoms.


Live in a medical cannabis state? You may qualify for a cannabis rec. If you live in a state with legal recreational marijuana, you can easily access numerous treatment options with or without a doctor.


If you qualify for medical cannabis in your state, learn more from Nugg’s Cannabis Concierge service. The Nugg team can help you find dispensaries and can provide information about individual strains, edibles, topicals and other cannabis products. Reach out to learn more about how you can use cannabis to treat your condition.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only. While the content is accurate and true to the best of our knowledge, the author is not a medical professional. There may be omissions, errors, and mistakes. Therefore, never solely rely on the information in this, or any other post on our site or affiliated sites, for medical advice. This post does not create a physician/patient relationship with any of Nugg or NuggMD’s affiliated staff or physicians.

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