By Brit Francis, MS, CC
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Many of these individuals have already, or will eventually, look to cannabis for relief as an alternative to opioids. In fact, across Florida alone, chronic pain is one of the most cited qualifying conditions for Medical Marijuana cardholders. Which, as of the date of this article, surpasses 394,000 patients.
In a recent meta-analysis study, graduate students at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health reviewed nine observational studies regarding chronic pain and cannabis. The participants in these studies self-reported a 64-75% reduction in their opioid consumption after being introduced to legal cannabis. Secondly, a decrease in hospital admissions and emergency room visits was also reported. The conclusion of this study was clear. Cannabis may allow patients to seek relief from pain without the potential risk of addiction and other serious side-effects such as death from overdose, as seen in both prescription and non-prescription opioid use. If this and similar studies can be further substantiated, the impact on the medical community would be instrumental in changing the way society regards cannabis as a medicine, namely, that it may serve as an alternative to or as an adjunct treatment to opioids.
Investigation of the medicinal properties of cannabis shows promise as a natural approach to pain relief. One illustration is the phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol, or CBD. This naturally occurring compound found in cannabis plants has demonstrated the ability to modulate numerous receptors throughout the body in a non-intoxicating manner. In 2018, investigators demonstrated that CBD could act as a natural analgesic in mice models. The same group of researchers concluded that CBD limited the release of the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. Glutamate contributes to the over-activation of pain sensation and transmission inside the nervous system. Similar research completed in 2019, suggested that CBD may even reduce inflammation by limiting the reuptake of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, adenosine. Researchers propose that CBD can repress the protein, equilibrate nucleoside transporter 1 (ENT1). By slowing the reuptake of ENT1, the concentration of adenosine in the brain can increase.
In addition to pain relief, CBD offers several other therapeutic qualities. For instance, CBD has shown the potential to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, stimulate bone growth, inhibit cancer cell proliferation, and even slow the progression of neurodegenerative disease states such as Alzheimer’s. Despite the growing number of medicinal benefits of CBD, a need for a more detailed examination of its medicinal benefits still exists. However, until marijuana is rescheduled by the DEA, advancing clinical research and knowledge of cannabis will continue to wait. Regardless, the results of the investigations referenced previously are promising additions for patients and health care providers looking to supplement or modify conventional pharmaceutical treatments for chronic pain.