Marijuana use for the treatment of chronic pain has had a long history with many written references of its use dating back to around 2700 B.C.E. The first records from the nineteenth century were noted by an Irish doctor who described the use of marijuana in the treatment of cholera, rabies, tetanus, menstrual cramps and delirium tremens.
Recently, research has been done around marijuana therapy in the treatment of chronic pain with very promising results.
“Medical marijuana is a very effective therapy for chronic pain patients because it affects people’s perception of pain, has the ability to mitigate the inflammatory process, and has been shown to affect voltage-gated sodium channels in nerves in a way similar to lidocaine,” reports Dr. Mark Rabe, Medical Director of Centric Wellness.
The ability of marijuana to help relieve chronic pain rests in the cannabinoid receptors – cannabinoid receptor type-1 (CB1) and type-2 (CB2). Studies show that CB1 receptors are located all over the body, however they have particularly high concentration in the central nervous system in areas that control pain perception. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are primarily located in areas of the body that control immune function, such as the spleen, white blood cells, and tonsils.
The fact that these receptors are found in the two major body systems responsible for producing the sensation of pain, the immune system and the nervous system, is what gives marijuana its therapeutic relevance in the chronic pain space. Additionally, and importantly, there are a lack of cannabinoid receptors in the brainstem region, the area of the brain responsible for controlling breathing, thus the dangerous side effect of respiratory depression found with high dose opioid use, is not a factor with marijuana use.
Dr. Rabe reported that: “We have many patients who come in on higher doses of opioid medications. Through using cannabis, in conjunction with other therapies, they are able to lower their daily opioid requirement.”
Numerous studies support these findings, including a 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics which showed that vaporizing marijuana increased the patient-reported analgesic effect of opioids, without altering plasma opioid levels. Moreover, there is an emerging body of research whose findings suggest marijuana can be used as an effective substitution therapy for patients with opiate abuse issues.