The prevalence of chronic pain in our society is greater than can imagine. According to a recent study approximately six million Canadians—nearly 19% of the population—have reported suffering from chronic pain. With numbers this high and growing, Canada’s move to the legalization of cannabis has opened up a new world of opportunity for chronic pain sufferers seeking an alternative to the use of synthetic, often addictive, drugs such as opioids.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined as a recurring pain lasting more than 12 weeks, often in upwards of one’s lifetime. That’s a long a time to time be in pain. Moreover an even longer time for one’s body to potentially reap the negative impacts of long-term opioid use.
A National Report published by the government of Canada in June 2018 reported there were 3,987 apparent opioid-related deaths in 2017 with 92% of those deaths deemed “unintentional” or “accidental”. The highest number of apparent accidental opioid-related deaths which occured were amongst males—approximately 78%.
The eye-opening report also suggests the following:
“The opioid crisis has affected every part of the country, but there are clear differences in death rates and the substances involved across provinces and territories.”
Whether these deaths have stemmed from those who have been prescribed these drugs from their doctors is yet to be determined. Though such studies lead us to question as a society whether the doctors loosely prescribing such drugs have made them more accessible to the public and ultimately more widely consumed.
The Long Term Effects of Opioid Use
With the long term effects of opioid well-documented, prescription drug users are forewarned of the following long term effects which may occur:
- substance disorders and/or dependence
- damage to the liver
- infertility in women
- potential for worsening of one’s pain (otherwise know as “opioid-induced hyperalgesia”)
- withdrawal which can be life-threatening to infants born to mothers taking opioids
- an increase in tolerance
The above effects listed can be found on the Health Canada website as an aforementioned precaution to those taking opioids. Health Canada also warns:
“If you have been taking opioids for a period of time, your body becomes accustomed to or tolerant of that opioid dose. You may require increasing amounts of the opioid to get the same effect. If you stop taking the drug for a few days and then start taking the drug at the same dose you were used to, it may increase chances of an overdose. This is because you lose tolerance to the medication when stopping it, even for a few days.
You are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you lower your opioid dose quickly or you suddenly stop taking it. If you plan to reduce your dose, do it with help from a health care provider.”
So what is a viable alternative to these deadly pharmaceuticals to help Canadians move to reduce their chronic pain? Research shows cannabis may prove to be the “winning ticket” to reducing chronic pain in sufferers with incurring the long-term, harmful effects.
How Cannabis Can Help to Reduce Chronic Pain
When discussing how cannabis can help to reduce chronic pain we must first understand the types of chronic pain which require relief. Typically chronic pain falls into one of two categories. These categories are “nociceptive” and “neuropathic”.
To further explain—nociceptive pain is caused by damage to body tissue, often described as a “sharp”, “aching” or “throbbing” pain due to a benign pathology. When nociceptive pain exists, it is considered an inflammatory pain.
Neuropathic pain, although often confused with nociceptive pain, differs in that it is caused by disturbances in the nerves spontaneously transmitting pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.
When discussing the use of cannabis and its benefits, that depends on the type of chronic pain sufferers face.
Cannabis for Nociceptive Pain
For Canadians seeking relief from nociceptive pain, cannabis can aid to block the inflammatory process or help the body-and-brain connection by effectively managing how signals of inflammation are received by the brain. The anti-inflammatory properties found in THC are activated by CB2 receptors on immune cells which help to reduce the body’s pain response.
Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain
Alternatively for neuropathic chronic pain sufferers, cannabis with higher levels of CBD yields similar results in the reduction of pain by activating the serotonin receptors required to reduce varying levels of pain.
Receiving the Benefits of Cannabis
To smoke, ingest or apply…that is the question. When it comes to the actual consumption of cannabis, chronic pain sufferers have several options available to them. These days cannabis comes in many forms—”flowers” otherwise known as the plant itself, capsules, topicals, edibles and even suppositories are all options for taking in the benefits of cannabis. Deciding on which one to use is up to the user though we have listed a few suggestions below.
Flowers (known as “plants”)
The most common way to consume cannabis remains to be the good old fashioned way—smoking the flower itself. These days chronic pain sufferers can find an array of cannabis strains to aid in both neuropathic and nociceptive chronic pain.
A great alternative to having to smoke cannabis, topicals such as creams, balms and even patches can be placed directly on the body where pain is most prevalent to help soothe aches, soreness and deep tissue pain.
An ingestible alternative to smoking flowers, capsules filled with THC and/or CBD oils can be taken orally for a long-lasting effect.