Key points

  • Medical cannabis may be a better option for long-term pain relief than using addictive opioids.
  • Cannabis is known to help reduce pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis, back pain, migraine and cancer pains.
  • Not all these conditions are eligible for NHS treatment.
  • Patients may be able to access medical cannabis for pain relief through private practices. 

Life can be difficult when you are living with chronic pain. Often, over-the-counter medicines don’t take the edge off the pain and many of the stronger painkillers that you can be prescribed come with the risk of addiction. Cannabis presents another option, and this article looks at how medical cannabis helps with pain control. 

What is chronic pain? 

According to the NHS, chronic pain is pain lasting for more than 12 weeks where medicine and treatment are not helping to alleviate the symptoms. 

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that around 20% of the European population report living with chronic pain and that 10-14% of people in the UK suffer from severe pain. Additionally, chronic pain is more likely to affect women, the elderly and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

With so many people suffering from chronic pain, cannabis can offer a natural alternative to opioids to treat the symptoms. 

Using opioids for chronic pain

At the moment, a third of people suffering from chronic pain are prescribed opioids. While opioids can reduce pain, they are also addictive and not recommended for use in the long term. 

Prescriptions of opioids doubled between 1998 and 2018. In the US, there is an opioid crisis, and to a lesser extent, the UK is also suffering from an opioid endemic. 

In 2020, half of all deaths attributed to drug use in the UK occurred as a result of opioid use, according to the Office of National Statistics. There have also been numerous high-profile deaths that occurred as a result of opioid use, including the famous musician Prince.

Additionally, people who use opioids over a long time report that they develop a tolerance to the drug and therefore, it becomes less effective over time, causing the patient to take more.

Using medical cannabis for pain

Cannabis is an alternative medicine for treating people suffering from chronic pain.  As a medicine, it is not addictive and, when taken as an oil or through a vape, does not come with the dangerous side effects associated with smoking. 

According to the BMJ, cannabis has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can treat chronic pain without the need for opioids. The study found that participants of the trial reported a significant improvement in pain. They also got better sleep, which in turn contributed to a better quality of life. 

Medical cannabis for cancer pain

Cannabis is known for treating pain that occurs as a result of cancer and chemotherapy. 

Over the course of a study carried out in Israel, researchers gave 1,200 cancer patients cannabis as pain relief for six months. They found that more than half of the patients in the study felt a substantial decrease in their pain. 

Alongside reducing pain, cannabis can also help increase appetite in people going through cancer treatment. It is for this reason that cancer treatment is one of the conditions that could make a person eligible for medical cannabis use in the UK. 

Medical cannabis for nerve pain

Cannabis is also known for helping to alleviate nerve pain. Nerve pain can happen when there is trauma to the spine or brain. If you’re suffering from nerve pain, it can be unbearable and stop you from living a normal life. 

Movement can be difficult, it can lower your concentration and also make it difficult to work. A combination of these can also start to impact mental health. So it’s important to get help when suffering from nerve pain. 

In Germany, researchers reviewed 16 studies with over 1,700 participants who were suffering from chronic nerve pain. What they found was that people who used cannabis-based medication reported a 50% reduction in their sensation of pain. This kind of reduction in pain can help people function better in their daily lives. 

Medical cannabis for fibromyalgia pain

While fibromyalgia is currently not an eligible condition for medical cannabis treatment under the NHS, there is evidence that cannabis can help reduce pain for people suffering from this condition. 

A 2018 study of 30 patients suffering from fibromyalgia found that 50% of participants who used cannabis had a reduction in pain that was enough for them to stop taking any other medicine for their condition.

Medical cannabis for fibromyalgia pain is available through registered private medical practices. 

Medical cannabis for migraines

Likewise, migraines are not an eligible condition for an NHS medical cannabis prescription, but prescriptions for this condition are available through private practices such as the Medical Cannabis Clinics. It is important to understand some of the evidence behind how cannabis can help relieve pain for those suffering from migraines. 

The BMJ notes that using cannabis can help reduce the pain caused by migraines, although it is unlikely the drug will help prevent them from happening in the first place.

A study by the European Academy of Neurology found that cannabinoids ease pain in 40%  of migraine patients. The study also found that cannabis reduces cluster headaches in patients with a history of childhood migraines too. 

While migraines are unlikely to be classed as chronic pain, they can cause significant pain and suffering for people when they happen regularly. There is some evidence that medical cannabis can help relieve the pain and allow patients to avoid taking opioids to treat severe migraines. 

FAQs

Can I use medical cannabis for arthritis?

The cannabinoids in cannabis are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect and therefore can help with arthritis and its associated pain. It is important to note that cannabis does not offer a cure for arthritis itself.

Can medical marijuana help with back pain?

As with other chronic pain, medical cannabis is an alternative option to opioids for managing pain relief. While medical cannabis for chronic back pain is not available under the NHS, you may be able to get a prescription through private practice.

How does cannabis help with pain?

We have cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. When we ingest cannabis, the cannabinoids from the plant attach to our receptors. This then tells our nerves that we are feeling less pain. At the same time, it also helps our brains to release more dopamine, which can also lessen the sensation of pain. Essentially, cannabinoids work with our bodies to lessen the sensation of pain. While not every pain condition is eligible for medical cannabis prescriptions under the NHS, it’s important to note that cannabis sold on the illicit market may not have the necessary or safe levels of THC and CBD to help relieve pain. This is why it’s crucial to speak to a specialist about your pain and discuss the options available to you to access the right medication for your pain. We suggest starting your journey towards safe, effective and natural pain relief by making an appointment with one of the specialists at the Medical Cannabis Clinics.

References

  1. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/brain-nerves-and-spinal-cord/chronic-pain
  2. https://www.bmj.com/content/373/bmj.n895
  3. https://www.england.nhs.uk/south/info-professional/safe-use-of-controlled-drugs/opioids/
  4. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsrelatedtodrugpoisoninginenglandandwales/2020
  5.  https://www.vox.com/2016/6/2/11591014/prince-painkiller-overdose-deat
  6.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/
  7. https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n2040
  8.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5961457/
  9.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29482741/
  10.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29461346/
  11.  https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n2040/rapid-responses
  12. https://www.europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com/news/62784/cannabinoids-suitable-migraine-prevention/