The benefits of cannabis for people coping with chronic or severe pain are no longer in doubt.
That’s why the majority of doctors surveyed now agree that pot is an acceptable option for their patients, and it’s why medical marijuana is legal in about two-thirds of U.S. states. Even the states which have legalized it for recreational purposes started by allowing registered patients to buy weed in dispensaries.
But even those who’ve only tried pot a few times – and had a different experience each time – know that all flower is not the same.
Different strains have vastly different properties since each marijuana strain (and there are well over a thousand of them) contains different levels of THC and CBD, the cannabinoids which give weed its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Each also contains different terpenes and flavonoids, which are additional natural sources of health benefits.
Which strains are the best for pain relief? Let’s find out.
Which Are Better For Pain: Strains High in CBD or High in THC?
Just like pot strains, all pain is not the same.
Some pain is caused by inflammation, and studies have shown that CBD and THC can each help fight that pain. Most importantly, both cannabinoids are believed to help relieve inflammation directly at the site of the wound or infection (by different methods). In addition, CBD is able to ease pain signals as they make their way to the brain and are recognized, while THC can regulate pain at both the brain and musculoskeletal level. For inflammation, a strain with a good balance of CBD and THC is optimal, with more THC possibly better for muscle pain.
Other pain is caused by damage to the nervous system. It’s sometimes caused by damage to the nerves themselves (sciatica is a good example), and at other times it’s triggered by diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. Strains containing both THC and CBD can help regulate and ease that pain, but there are some times of nerve pain – most notably, the pain caused by chemotherapy – which should only be treated with CBD. THC can interfere with the performance of chemotherapy drugs.
Finally, there’s the catch-all category of “central pain,” which is another way of saying “we’re not sure what causes it.” The best example is fibromyalgia, for which cannabis can be an extremely effective treatment. However, there’s not enough information to know whether THC, CBD, or both are responsible.
That’s not the end of the story, however. There are other factors to consider.
- Sativa strains with high THC-to-CBD ratios may seem to be the most effective for pain relief because you can get so high that you don’t think about the pain. However, they can become less effective over time, and you’re missing out on most of the medicinal benefits of non-psychoactive CBD.
- The majority of patients participating in pain studies report better results when using Indica strains (particularly for migraines, neuropathy and joint pain). And Indica strains that are CBD-rich are believed to carry the bulk of the burden when cannabis is used purely for pain relief. However, there’s still enough evidence to suggest that a more balanced CBD/THC ratio could be the most beneficial choice.
- It’s hard to get much productive work done when you’re stoned out of your mind. For that reason, many patients who want to relieve pain but “remain functional” opt for strains that are low in THC. However, there’s a danger; the majority of low-THC Indica strains are also known for their sedative effects, so instead of getting blasted, you may end up falling asleep. Again, finding the right balance for your personal situation is the key.
- The terpenes contained in a strain have a lot to do with the amount of pain relief provided. The ones to look for include myrcene, limonene, and caryophyllene.
- Finally, THC isn’t legal in lots of places, while CBD is basically unregulated and available nearly everywhere.
With that background, let’s look at some strains to consider.
The Best Weed Strains for Pain
This is one of those balanced Sativa/Indica-dominant hybrids which is highly effective both for pain and the depression that often accompanies it. White Widow produces a pleasant body buzz but a noticeable mental high which is uplifting and cerebral, allowing you to deal with the pain without becoming completely spaced out. Many believe this is one of the best choices for migraines, although we’ll focus on another top-notch strain for headaches next.
There’s an important caveat here, though: this strain is quite potent, so it should be used in moderation for pain-moderating effects. Otherwise, plan on spending some quality time pacing or on the couch, trying to control your racing thoughts.
One of White Widow’s offspring, The White, is another strain with a terrific terpene profile (limonene, myrcene, caryophyllene), which is also quite effective for chronic pain sufferers.
There’s a lot to like about Blue Dream even before you get to its pain-relieving abilities, like its sweet blueberry taste and its high THC content that leads to a potent, relaxing high. Don’t let that fool you, though, since this isn’t a strain that puts you flat on your back. There’s also an increase in focus and motivation, so the balance alleviates chronic pain while allowing you to function well.
Blue Dream may be the best strain available if you’re dealing with migraine headaches. But its ability to deal with almost any type of pain makes it a popular choice for depression (unless accompanied by anxiety), muscle pain and injury recovery.
Master Kush is Indica-dominant, but its THC content is pretty high – that may be why it’s Snoop Dogg’s smoke of choice. However, what we’re more interested in is its efficacy for treatment of body pain, particularly arthritis – much like Purple Kush. Its blissful high has a numbing effect on the body, exactly what’s called for when your joints are aching badly. The numbing doesn’t extend to the brain, though, and you’re able to function quite nicely while this strain is onboard.
Over-consumption can lead to dizziness or anxiety, and any consumption of Master Kush can most definitely lead to the munchies. In fact, it’s a great choice to treat eating disorders or restore appetite after an illness. But it’s best for body aches and pains – and for a very cool high.
Many who try a strain with high THC content find they just can’t overcome the psychoactive effect and get anything done, no matter how uplifting or energizing the high may be. Harlequin is the perfect alternative; it’s Sativa-dominant but also very high in CBD, with less than 10% THC so there’s no real risk of brain fog while the CBD works on pain issues. Any impact you may feel will be mild and pleasant.
There’s a wide range of conditions for which Harlequin is effective: fibromyalgia and nerve pain, muscle and joint pain, menstrual cramps and nausea. And it’s ideal for use when you have chores or work to do.
By contrast, this is a go-to strain if you want the pain to subside before you crawl into bed. It’s Indica-dominant with high THC content, which numbs the body and sedates the brain for a few hours. That makes Critical Mass terrific for insomniacs, but it can also work wonders to relieve the all-over aches often caused by fibromyalgia or other “central pain” issues.