“Cannabis is the single most versatile herbal remedy, and the most useful plant on Earth. No other single plant contains as wide a range of medically active herbal constituents.” – Dr. Ethan Russo, Neurologist, Botanist and Cannabis Expert – Cannabinoid Research Institute
Chronic pain can result from an accidental injury, disease or medical therapy. To be defined as severe and chronic pain, the pain must last longer than three months. Of the 76 million Americans who suffer from severe and chronic pain, more than half cannot find relief despite seeking treatment. While cannabis has been used for thousands of years to treat pain, only in the past few decades have we begun to understand exactly how this amazing plant works.
Cannabinoids not only act as natural painkillers, they contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that further reduce pain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are just two of 85 known cannabinoids that work with our body’s own endocannabinoid system and receptors to regulate the immune system, peripheral organs and nervous system.
I spoke with Stacy, a fibromyalgia patient who came to Bloom after suffering from chronic pain for over four years. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness and fatigue. “All I was able to do some days was lie in bed in pain”, she told me. The side effects of her prescriptions drugs only added to her misery. Stacey heard about medical marijuana as an alternative therapy for chronic pain and decided to get her medical marijuana card in September of 2013.
Since then, she has had remarkable success using marijuana to manage her fibromyalgia. Her pain levels have decreased tremendously and she has experienced many other beneficial effects. “I feel focused and awake. Marijuana helps me function and take care of my family- a few months ago I couldn’t do that,” she explains. Feelings of depression have lifted and a she has a more positive outlook on life.
What you may not realize is that the emotional toll of chronic pain can also make pain worse. Although not a qualifying condition in Arizona, depression has been directly linked to over 50% of patients suffering from chronic pain syndrome- and over 73% of Arizona cardholders cited chronic pain as one of their reasons for getting a medical marijuana card. In a 2012 study, researchers found that the cannabinoid THC showed lower brain activity in response to negative stimuli and increased response to positive stimuli. More research is still needed, but this is a promising step in the right direction.
The Reverse Gateway Hypothesis-The name may sound like an episode of The Big Bang Theory, but a large number of patients report being able to wean off and/or completely eliminate opiate usage while using marijuana. This theory has proved true for Stacey as well; she has been able to reduce her medications and dosages even after just a few months.
What this means for Stacey and millions of patients is that not only is medical marijuana an effective tool for pain management, but it can also improve quality of life without the serious side effects of most prescription painkillers.