Does Medical Cannabis Help With Pain? | CAC
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Did you know that in England, only a few conditions are eligible for an NHS prescription for medical cannabis? These conditions include rare, severe forms of epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and muscle problems from multiple sclerosis. This limited scope highlights the potential underutilization of medical cannabis for broader pain management (NHS, 2022).

However, obtaining a prescription through private medical cannabis clinics is significantly easier compared to the NHS. Private clinics offer more flexible criteria for prescribing medical cannabis, making it accessible for a wider range of conditions. These clinics often have specialist doctors who can assess and prescribe medical cannabis more readily, providing a valuable alternative for those struggling to get help through the NHS.

Pain is a complex issue that drives many people to seek medical help. Medical cannabis has sparked much debate as a potential aid for pain relief. However, within the NHS, its use is restricted to very specific situations, underscoring the challenges of its broader application. In contrast, private clinics can cater to a broader spectrum of pain-related conditions, enhancing patient access to this potential treatment (WebMD, 2022).

Examples of prescribed medical cannabis products include Epidyolex for severe epilepsy and Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea. Sativex is used for multiple sclerosis to reduce muscle stiffness. However, the evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis for general pain relief remains limited.

medical cannabis pain

Key Takeaways

    • Medical cannabis is rarely prescribed by the NHS, usually only for severe conditions like epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and multiple sclerosis .
  • Private medical cannabis clinics offer more accessible options for obtaining prescriptions, catering to a broader range of conditions.
  • There is insufficient evidence to broadly recommend medical cannabis for pain relief 
  • The legality and quality of online cannabis products are variable and may pose health risks 
  • THC-containing products can lead to serious side effects such as psychosis and dependency 

What is Medical Cannabis and How Does it Work?

Medical cannabis refers to any cannabis-based medicine used to ease symptoms. It includes legal and illegal products with varying contents and interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates pain and other functions (WebMD, 2022).

The main substances in medical cannabis are CBD and THC. CBD does not cause a high; THC does. In the UK, some medical cannabis is available by prescription, including Epidyolex for rare epilepsy, Nabilone for chemotherapy nausea, and Sativex for MS muscle spasticity (NHS, 2022).

Medical cannabis can help manage pain by altering pain perception. However, it must be used carefully due to THC’s potential side effects, such as psychosis and dependency. CBD-only products like Epidyolex are considered safer. Both CBD and THC can interact with other drugs and may affect the liver, necessitating careful monitoring by doctors to ensure safe use.

Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects millions globally and is particularly challenging to treat. While opioids are effective for short-term pain, they are often unsuitable for long-term pain management. This is where medical cannabis shows promise (NCBI, 2020).

Cannabis can help reduce inflammation and nerve damage in chronic and back pain. In the U.S., about one in five adults experience chronic pain, and two-thirds of them report relief from cannabis treatments.

Despite its benefits, medical cannabis is not widely accepted everywhere. Its use is regulated, and only specific types are permitted, making it expensive and difficult for everyone to access, costing around $2,000 annually per patient (BMJ, 2021).

Evidence suggests a 64% decrease in opioid use among medical cannabis users, indicating its potential to reduce opioid dependency. However, studies present mixed results, with some indicating fewer opioid-related deaths in areas with cannabis dispensaries, while others raise concerns about cannabis exacerbating pain with frequent use.

Cannabinoids’ interaction with the endocannabinoid system is a critical area of research in chronic pain management. It is essential to balance the benefits and risks to ensure safe and effective patient care.

Medical Cannabis for Pain

Medical Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain, often resulting from nerve damage, can significantly impact lives. Studies indicate that cannabis may alleviate this pain by blocking pain signals via nerve receptors  (NCBI, 2021). Nabiximols, a mix of CBD and THC, is approved for neuropathic pain management in Europe and Canada.

In Europe, about 75 million adults experience moderate to severe pain. Medical cannabis could provide relief for many of these individuals, although more research is needed to confirm its safety and efficacy. THC and CBD can relieve nerve pain by affecting specific spinal cord receptors (NCBI, 2021).

In the UK, medical cannabis became legal for certain conditions, including neuropathic pain, in 2018. To receive it, patients must have a diagnosis and fail to respond to other treatments. Medical cannabis modulates pain signals via the endocannabinoid system, showing promise in neuropathy treatment.

Increasing research supports the use of medical cannabis for nerve pain. Studies, including nine double-blind trials, provide strong evidence of its effectiveness in conditions like fibromyalgia. Although preliminary, these studies suggest cannabis could be a valuable tool in neuropathic pain management.

Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Pain Management

Many believe medical cannabis can significantly aid in pain control due to its ability to reduce various types of pain, such as chronic non-cancer pain and medication overuse headaches  (NCBI, 2021). For those with persistent pain, medical cannabis could reduce the need for opioids.

Medical cannabis not only alleviates pain; it also improves the quality of life for patients. Unlike addictive and potentially dangerous painkillers, cannabis offers a safer alternative. Regions where medical cannabis is legal have reported fewer opioid-related deaths, strengthening the argument for its inclusion in pain management options (BMJ, 2021).

While more research is needed, existing evidence suggests that medical cannabis could be a viable option for those suffering from chronic pain, helping them reduce opioid reliance.

Medical Cannabis for Pain

Using Medical Cannabis for Specific Conditions

Medical cannabis is gaining attention for treating conditions like joint and arthritis pain. Indica strains are noted for their sedative effects, making them suitable for pain relief, while sativa strains may improve energy and mood.

The use of specific cannabis strains for pain relief is still under study, as individual reactions vary. THC and CBD act on the endocannabinoid system to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, making them potential options for conditions like epilepsy, MS, and chemotherapy-induced nausea (NHS, 2022).

In England, obtaining medical cannabis via the NHS is rare, reserved for severe cases such as epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and MS-related muscle problems. Examples include Epidyolex for epilepsy, Nabilone for chemotherapy side effects, and Nabiximols (Sativex) for MS muscle tightness.

However, private medical cannabis clinics offer a more accessible route. These clinics often have more flexible criteria, allowing patients with a wider range of conditions to receive treatment. This makes it easier for individuals to manage chronic pain and other ailments with medical cannabis.

The effectiveness of medical cannabis for joint pain and arthritis is still being tested. Online purchases are risky due to potential illegality and quality issues. Side effects include appetite changes, behavioral oddities, and dizziness.

In the UK, only specialists can prescribe medical cannabis. The process is highly regulated to ensure safety and compliance with medical guidelines, whether for arthritis pain or other conditions (NHS, 2022).

Legal and Safety Considerations

Understanding the laws surrounding medical cannabis in the UK is crucial. Its medical use is tightly controlled, with Epidyolex® and Sativex® available by prescription for serious conditions like epilepsy and MS. NICE provides guidelines, supported by the BPNA, for hard-to-treat epilepsies, aligning with NHS England’s 2018 online training for healthcare workers. To be medically approved, cannabis products must meet health and regulatory standards set by the MHRA (NHS, 2022).

Safety concerns, particularly regarding THC, are significant. Excessive THC can harm developing brains and increase the risk of severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Patients using medical cannabis must be aware of potential side effects, such as appetite changes, nausea, and behavioral alterations. Drug interactions also need monitoring by healthcare professionals.

In the UK, only doctors in major hospitals can prescribe medical cannabis, ensuring its safe use for conditions like treatment-resistant epilepsy and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Patients must adhere to regulations, keeping medications in their original packaging with proper documentation to prove legality. The UK’s approach aims to ensure safe access for those who need medical cannabis, despite the illegality of cannabis possession without authorization  (NHS, 2022).

Medical Cannabis for Pain

Conclusion

Medical cannabis has emerged as a valuable option for pain relief, affecting millions worldwide. For example, in Canada, 25% of adults suffer from chronic pain, incurring significant healthcare and productivity costs..

Research shows that medical cannabis can significantly reduce pain. In Colorado, 94% of medical marijuana users report using it for severe pain. In Australia, where chronic pain incurs substantial costs, 65% of medical cannabis users report using it for non-cancer pain .

For those who have utilised private medical cannabis clinics in the UK, please leave a UK medical cannabis review at Cannabis Access Clinics. Your input benefits everyone!

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