By Anna Wilcox
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Chronic back pain is one of the most common types of pain around the world.
Approximately 80 percent of individuals in the United States have chronic back pain.
In general, chronic pain can be debilitating. Not only does it limit mobility, but pain can have a significant impact on mental health and relationships. Yet, if interpersonal harms aren’t convincing enough, chronic pain comes with a heavy economic burden.
In general, pain conditions equate to an average productivity loss of $802 per person per year. Of that, back pain equates to losses of $329 per year. Unfortunately, chronic pain is also one of the most difficult symptoms to treat. Currently, opioid pain medications remain some of the most common treatments for chronic back pain.
Opioids are not only responsible for $78.5 billion in additional medical expenses each year, but over 183,000 Americans have died in the past 16 years from the prescription painkillers. Deaths from illicit opioids like heroin are not included in this statistic.
How does cannabis work for chronic pain?
The need for safe and effective pain management treatments is one of the many reasons Mara Gordon of Aunt Zelda’s goes to work every day. Gordon is the founder of Aunt Zelda’s, a specialized cannabis extraction and dosing organization that has worked with more than 1,000+ cancer and pain patients. To help medical cannabis patients better understand how to use the plant for chronic pain, back pain, and nerve pain, Gordon shares her expertise in one of Green Flower’s most popular talks.
Normally, pain is a natural and helpful bodily response. Without pain signals, you would not be able to know that something is wrong with your body. It’s the reason why you’re able to move your hand away from a hot stove. “Chronic pain is different,” explains Gordon. “Chronic pain is where the pain itself becomes the disease. There is so much inflammation and memory in the nerves of what’s going on that no matter what you do, you feel pain.” Interestingly, it’s this inflammation and nerve memory that makes cannabis such a vital tool for chronic pain management.
The exciting part? We already know a great deal about WHY cannabis is so effective for chronic pain…
Why cannabis is key to chronic pain management
As Gordon articulates, there are five primary mechanisms that cannabis engages in order to heal chronic pain. The five mechanisms include:
1. The ability to blunt pain in the peripheral nervous system
2. Interruptions of pain signals in spinal cord nerves
3. Interruptions in chemical pain signals at the neuron level
4. Reduced inflammation
5. Improved mood and Reduced stress
These mechanisms all involve the way cannabis compounds (cannabinoids), like THC, engage cells in the body. THC is the primary psychoactive in cannabis. Cannabis compounds work by engaging specific cell receptors throughout the body. These receptors include the CB1 (cannabinoid receptor 1) and CB2 (cannabinoid receptor 2) cell sites. These receptors are abundant in the central and peripheral nervous systems, which are responsible for sending, receiving, and processing pain signals. By engaging these receptors, cannabinoids like THC actually block and lessen the pain signals sent and processed by the nervous system. “This is actually a biological effect…It’s not masking the pain, it’s actually changing what’s happening in the physiology within your body,” Gordon says.
Further, Gordon suggests that one of the most controversial “side effects” of cannabis may be tremendously helpful to those experiencing chronic pain. Gordon suggests that the psychoactive nature of THC is more of a blessing to pain patients than a curse.
“The psychoactive, euphoric effects of THC can help you have a break from the pain,” Gordon explains. This is a major contrast to opioid pain medications, which have a depressant effect that can make patients feel moody, irritable, and generally unhappy.
“It also interrupts the short-term memory, which normally is not a good thing. But, when you are having a lot of pain, interrupting the short-term memory will mitigate the stress response and give you a respite from this experience of constant, ongoing pain.”
While THC tackles pain in several different ways, the non-inebriating CBD works in others.
How does CBD work for pain?
Unlike THC, CBD is a cannabis compound which does not cause the same psychoactive “high” found in cannabis products that contain THC. Still, however, CBD can enhance mood, promote energy, and ease stress and anxiety. “CBD is such a powerful anti-inflammatory that it is 30 to 50 times more powerful than your standard hydrocortisone,” explains Gordon. “It gives tremendous relief the same way as a steroid and even more powerfully, but,” says Gordon, “without the bonus of a shut-down adrenal system, because cannabis does not shut down your adrenal system.” The adrenal system is responsible for manufacturing stress hormones, which help you respond appropriately to stressful situations and also play a role in managing the sleep-wake cycle.
In this sense, CBD can be used as a valuable replacement for anti-inflammatory drugs often taken by patients with chronic pain conditions like arthritis and old injuries.
Regular use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs is also associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and stomach ulcer, two major side effects that CBD and other cannabis medicines avoid.
How to get maximum pain relief with cannabis?
Now that you know a little bit about why cannabis works for chronic pain, how do you actually use the plant to promote healing? To better understand how to use cannabis for chronic pain management, watching Gordon’s talk on Green Flower is a must. Gordon teaches cannabis patients how to better use medical cannabis for daily pain management with limited life disruptions. Viewers can also learn more about what types of products may be beneficial for those seeking relief from chronic pain. Filled with valuable and insightful information, Gordon’s talk is a worthwhile watch for anyone who has experienced chronic pain and discomfort.
And that’s not all…
The program is one of hundreds now streaming free on the newly-launched Green Flower, where you can find informative videos with cannabis physicians, scientists, researchers, cultivators, practitioners, and more from around the globe.
You can find everything from dosing to growing, how to treat specific ailments, and much more – all free.
Find answers to your greatest cannabis questions and connect with the cannabis universe through Green Flower today.