As more states begin the process of marijuana legalization–and others only now contemplate the idea of medical marijuana legalization–it’s important to learn more about the use of marijuana when it comes to managing pain. Is marijuana better for pain management than the opioids we tend to use today? What do doctors prefer, and why? The answers don’t come so easy, especially since our access to reliable information about the long-term effects of marijuana use are so very limited. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to using marijuana for pain management!
A recent report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (or NASEM) concluded that either cannabis or cannabinoids can be effectively used in order to treat a variety of chronic types of pain. That’s probably not so surprising. Even so, doctors still aren’t convinced that marijuana is the best solution for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Pain is treated in a number of ways, all with potentially different effects for the user. If you use anti-inflammatory medications, those drugs will cut off production of chemicals that cause inflammation after some type of injury. When you use marijuana, the cannabinoid receptors in your body seem to help dull your pain–although we’re not entirely sure how. When you use an opioid to combat any type of pain, the drug can cause pleasure in addition to reducing your pain. This sensation can be highly addictive, while marijuana has no such similar quality.
You might think that the less addictive qualities of marijuana might leave doctors on that side of the fence, but we’re not quite there yet. The problem remains: we don’t know enough about the drug, which types of pain it can be used to treat or how, or its long-term effects to guarantee its helpfulness. The medical community wants answers to these questions, especially since marijuana can be delivered into the body in a number of ways with seemingly different outcomes for pain management.
It’s important to realize that many people who become addicted to the opioids they use to combat chronic pain cannot kick the habit once they begin. In 2014, it was documented the 14,000 people died from an overdose of prescription opioids. No one dies directly from any amount of marijuana use, and so the reluctance of doctors to get on board with weed might be in part due to the simplicity of writing a prescription for painkillers. Especially in the U.S., we have the tendency to combat the symptoms instead of the underlying problem causing those symptoms. Until we do the latter, this epidemic of opioid deaths is likely to continue.
The fact remains, though, that marijuana certainly has a place in the future of pain management. In order to reduce the rising costs of damage done by opioids, we need to learn as much as we can as quickly as possible.