Using Cannabis to Manage Chronic Pain
Ankylosing Spondylitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Psoriatic Arthritis can all cause permanent and irreversible joint damage. Unfortunately, this damage often leads to chronic pain. Chronic pain lasts for weeks, months, and even years. Although it is not fully understood, faulty nerve frequencies and chronic inflammation are thought to be involved in treating chronic pain. For those with bone or joint damage, chronic pain often comes from the body physically changing in a way that irritates nerves and exacerbates inflammation.
Traditional Pain Medication
There are many ways to treat chronic pain. Frustratingly, many painkillers, including opiates, are not particularly good for treating chronic pain. Opiates can cause tissue dependence, meaning the body becomes so accustomed to them that it becomes dependent or addicted. Opiates also suppress organ function, putting the body under the added strain and making it more difficult to recover from things like the flu. Additionally, evidence shows that opiates are best for treating short-term pain, such as that experienced immediately after surgery. They have not been shown effective in treating long-term pain and, given their side effects, are too risky for most doctors to prescribe them for chronic pain. Although Tylenol and ibuprofen can help with some pain symptoms, taking high doses of either medication for a prolonged period also carries several risks.
One option for pain management that is often ignored by traditional medicine is cannabis. Cannabis has been legalized for the treatment of pain in many states. Unlike opiates, cannabis has not been shown to cause tissue dependence. It is beneficial in treating glaucoma and cancer pain and is being developed to manage many other chronic conditions. In California, patients would not go to their general practitioner or family doctor to get a medical cannabis recommendation. The patient must go to a particular physician to obtain the recommendation. In states where recreational cannabis use is legal, it is not necessary to get a medical cannabis recommendation. There are, however, still advantages to getting a medical recommendation, including HIPPA rights protection (Health Information Privacy Protection Act).
Precautions and Side Effects
Like many other pain medications, cannabis has several precautions. Chief among these is that one should not operate heavy machinery or drive a car after consuming cannabis. It has similar effects to alcohol on one’s reaction time. Cannabis can also make a person dizzy, so it is best to start with tiny doses at home until the patient learns how cannabis affects them.
Cannabis can also affect blood pressure. Anyone with low blood pressure can experience even more reduced blood pressure when using cannabis products, leading to fainting, which is extremely dangerous. Those being treated for low blood pressure should discuss cannabis with their doctor and consider whether it would be a safe option for them. Pregnant women and those breastfeeding should not use cannabis as it can be passed on to the baby and may affect development. Anyone with heart disease, rapid heart rate, or cardiopulmonary disease should discuss cannabis use with their specialist physician before use, as it may not be safe for these individuals.
CBD vs. THC
There are several naturally occurring phytochemicals in the cannabis plant that have pain-relieving properties for humans. THC is one of these, but it can lead to a feeling of being ‘high’ or ‘drunk.’ This sensation is unpleasant for some but enjoyable for others. Unfortunately, the high production tends to make it difficult for one to be productive and fully functional at work or around the house. Therefore, many people prefer CBD instead of THC or CBD with a meager THC percentage. CBD, another phytochemical, has excellent pain-relieving properties without the psychotropic effects (feeling high). How CBD work for patients varies dramatically. Some people can drive on CBD, while others feel tired when using it.
For this reason, it should be started in low doses on the patient’s day off when they do not have to operate a vehicle. The quality of the cannabis can cause differing results. Whenever possible, it is best to purchase CBD products from dispensaries to ensure fresh, quality ingredients are processed to industry standards. Many over-the-counter drug store varieties do not actually contain enough CBD to be effective.
Some cannabis advocates falsely believe that cannabis can heal everything in the body. Not only is this untrue, but all smoke is carcinogenic, and anyone prone to infection, such as those with autoimmune diseases, should not smoke as it can predispose them to respiratory infections, pneumonia, secondary infections, and complications. Vaping is just as bad for lung tissues as smoking. For these reasons, it is best to avoid consuming cannabis by smoking it. Smoking also leads to coughing, which can be unpleasant for those with chronic pain aggravated by sharp movements.
Fortunately, there are several other ways to consume cannabis, and none are bad for your health. Most people have heard of “pot brownies,” or brownies made with cannabis. This might be the earliest human-made form of cannabis edibles. Edibles are any food or beverage made with cannabis. Typically, the cannabis is processed with food-grade oil (butter, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) and then used to cook or bake. With the legalization of medical marijuana, there are now a variety of pre-made edibles at dispensaries. There are also thousands of do-it-yourself edible recipes online. Even small appliances are available to assist in processing homemade cannabis butter, which can then be used in any way traditional butter is used. Edibles come in low THC and high CBD varieties as regular dose THC. The downside to edible consumption is that effects vary depending on the patient’s stomach and what they have eaten. Edibles are the slowest method of introducing cannabis into the body, which can be frustrating if the pain is from something like a migraine. It can also be challenging to figure out exactly how much cannabis is in each dose with edibles. Some dispensaries carry cannabis in pill form, which does help with this issue.
Another way to consume cannabis for pain management is sublingually (under the tongue) as a tincture. A tincture is typically an oil-based liquid with cannabis mixed into it. These can be obtained from a dispensary or made at home. Because the tincture is placed under the tongue, it is absorbed into the patient’s bloodstream faster than it would be when ingested as an edible.
An average dose for a medical marijuana user varies from 5 to 100 milligrams of THC and/or CBD daily. This is a wide range because each person responds differently. The lowest effective dose should be used when possible to avoid building up a tolerance, necessitating a higher dose. Anyone new to cannabis should start with the smallest dose possible and wait 1-2 hours before consuming more. Remember, it is always possible to consume more, but it is not possible to consume less once it is in your body. Proceed slowly and with caution. Over time, patients can build up a tolerance to cannabis and must increase their dose or refrain from taking it for a period to bring their tolerance back down.
For this reason, it is best to avoid consuming cannabis every day, if possible. Traditional insurance does not always cover many doctors who write cannabis medical recommendations. Nor does it cover cannabis, so keeping one’s tolerance low is the best way to minimize costs.
The YouTube video below provides an overview of medical marijuana and the usage of cannabis for chronic pain.
California Personal Injury Attorney
I’m Ed Smith, a Northern California Personal Injury Lawyer. If you or a family member has been seriously injured in a traffic accident and developed severe chronic pain, call our law office at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly case advice.
Our knowledgeable legal team has helped injured Californians receive maximum verdicts and settlements since 1982.
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