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how does cannabis relieve pain

When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions. People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder. Repeated exposure to THC at a young age can result in the use of other addictive substances (i.e., nicotine, morphine) and an increase in addiction-like behavior. This has led to a warning from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office on marijuana use and the developing brain, advising caution in adolescents and youth, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Concerning trends

Need for more research

Most marijuana is of uncertain composition and purity with significant variations found in the amount of THC and/or CBD contained within. One study found that among CBD products purchased online, a wide range of CBD concentrations existed. This finding is consistent with the fact that there are currently no official dosage recommendations. Further, 26% of tested products contained less CBD than labeled, which could negate any potential clinical therapeutic response. This over-labeling is similar to a 2015-2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis, which found products from 14 companies contained negligible or less than 1% of the labeled CBD content. Additionally, the amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily in recent decades. In fact, the THC concentration in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased three-fold between 1995 and 2014 (4% and 12% respectively).

While marijuana use has been legalized in 33 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, it continues to be a Schedule I substance at the federal level, classified as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse. This has led to limitations on research conducted on marijuana.

Potential medical use

Long-term effects

C annabis is known to relieve pain, but pain can arise for a variety of reasons which makes choosing the right cannabis product tricky. Knowing which cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD) have been shown to treat different pain types is useful information to take with you on your next dispensary visit.

THC can modulate pain at the level of spinal cord and brain by directly activating CB1 receptors, and indirectly by increasing opioid receptor activation (more on that in part two of this series). CBD similarly impacts pain processing by increasing levels of the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide, which acts like THC to activate CB1 receptors.

Cannabis and Nociceptive Pain

Neuropathic pain is different from nociceptive pain in that arises from damage to the body’s nervous system. And it’s quite common. Neuropathic pain affects 7-10% of the population and can result from forceful injury, pinching, or stabbing that damages nerves. Disease is also a common underlying cause of neuropathic pain. For example, in multiple sclerosis, the insulation of nerve cells breaks down which leads to neuropathic pain. Other diseases that cause neuropathic pain include Parkinson’s disease, HIV, diabetes, and shingles, to name a few. Chemotherapy is an additional common cause of neuropathic pain due to its destructive effects on many types of cells in the body.

Over time, it becomes more difficult to achieve the positive feelings associated with cannabis consumption and weaken its pain-relieving effects. This is the consequence of tolerance to THC’s activation of CB1 receptors, which can be mitigated by CBD. Consequently, to retain pain-relieving efficacy while reducing tolerance risk, one should consider balanced THC and CBD products for long-term pain treatment.

CBD can also improve mood by activating serotonin receptors, which has anxiety- and stress-reducing effects. Since depression and anxiety are common among those in chronic pain, the mood-improving effects of CBD makes it a valuable addition in pain therapy.

Next, you’ll need to decide what form you want to use – each type will dictate your experience with it. 10 Consumption methods can change the percentage of active compounds your body absorbs, the time it takes to feel the effects of marijuana, and the duration of those effects. There are three main ways to consume cannabis:

(Note that not all sativas will energize you and not all indicas will relax you.)


There are three main ways to consume cannabis:

The first step in consuming medical marijuana (legally speaking) will be getting a recommendation from your doctor. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, doctors give recommendations or orders but are not legally permitted to give prescriptions. You can find state-by-state information regarding what conditions qualify for medical marijuana.

When choosing a marijuana strain, it is recommended to focus most on the ratio of THC to CBD.