Medical cannabis can help reduce our nation's pain epidemic

On Wednesday, Sept. 27, the president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, lead by Governor Chris Christie (R), held its third meeting entitled: Innovative Pain Management and Prevention Measures for Diversion.

The agenda, which was not released until the day it was scheduled, included testimony from 10 invited organizations, all of which were from the pharmaceutical industry. Consequently, the tone of the meeting came off as a commercial by each of the companies asking for government assistance in getting their medications to market more quickly.

One in three Americans suffer from chronic pain and one in ten have experienced severe pain every day for three months or more. If effective pharmaceutical alternatives to opioids for chronic pain already exist, why aren’t we already using them?

While it is quite possible that innovations from the pharmaceutical industry could be helpful in providing health care practitioners with alternative treatments to chronic pain, these innovations can take years to develop. All of the medications currently on the market the presenters discussed also include a laundry list of side-effects such as nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and impotence. Why not explore what millions of Americans are already using successfully as an alternative or adjunct treatment to pain, with little to none of the side-effects associated with pharmaceutical treatments, medical cannabis?

If the intent of the commission is to truly look at innovations in pain management, then why were pharmaceutical approaches the only ones discussed on this panel? There are numerous non-pharmaceutical interdisciplinary approaches and therapies to pain management that were not discussed at all, and a glaring omission was medical cannabis.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health expressed the need to accelerate the pace of how medicines that may help with chronic pain are researched and obtain FDA approval. However, there was no mention of accelerating research into using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain.

Americans for Safe Access, the country’s largest patient-focused medical cannabis advocacy organization, requested to be included in today’s meeting to provide testimony, but was denied a seat at the table. Innovation is typically associated with new ideas or creativity in application. Although medical cannabis has been used as a treatment for pain for thousands of years, a concerted effort in applying medical cannabis as a tool to help fight the opioid crisis is not only innovative, but has great potential. Ignoring this potential is a grave error by this commission.

Why should medical cannabis be considered a tool to fight the opioid crisis? Thirty states, including those most negatively impacted by the opioid crisis such as West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Ohio, and Washington, D.C. all have medical cannabis programs. Many of these states allow medical cannabis to be used to treat chronic pain.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that in states with medical cannabis programs, there has been a 25 percent reduction in opioid related deaths. This study also showed a 13 percent decrease in hospitalizations from opioid related causes. In a survey of nearly 3,000 pain patients, 93 percet preferred medical cannabis over opioid therapies for pain management. In addition to the data, there are thousands of personal stories of patients who have been able to reduce the number of opioids they take or come off opioid therapies altogether by using cannabis.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicines revealed strong clinical evidence that cannabis is highly effective in treating chronic pain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has indicated that medical cannabis legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths.

A NIDA funded analysis showed that a areas with a greater number of medical cannabis dispensaries were associated with decreases in opioid prescribing, in self-reports of opioid misuse, and in treatment admissions for opioid addiction. This past week the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicated that medical cannabis “might be effective for chronic...primarily for neuropathic pain patients.”

Cannabis alone will not end the opioid crisis. Cannabis will not and should not replace the prescribing of opioids or other pain medications. And we recognize, that cannabis, like any other medicine has side effects. But we can not continue to ignore the usefulness of medical cannabis in reducing our nation's pain epidemic. Cannabis is one of many tools that can help fight this epidemic. And it is a tool that this commission should consider carefully and seriously.

Steph Sherer is founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). ASA is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. Alongside the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), she has created the first industry standards in the areas of Distribution, Cultivation, Analytics, and Manufacturing, Packaging, and Labeling.

Can Cannabis Help Repair Arthritic Joints?

As our nation’s baby boomers age, they’re facing a multitude of health-related ailments and costs. One of the most prominent concerns is the prevalence of chronic arthritis, an ailment that affects 52.5 million adults today, and that number is expected to increase to 67 million by 2030. There’s no cure for arthritis, and limited treatment options exist for the painful and limiting disease.

 

One alternative that’s gaining popularity among the aging population is the use of cannabis to get full-bodied pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. Although arthritis is considered a qualifying condition in at least two states, there’s a remarkable lack of data and research behind the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment alternative for arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis is an uncomfortable and often unavoidable disease that often results in severe symptoms:

  • Injuries that don’t heal properly
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome and peripheral neuropathies (tingling or numbness in extremities)
  • Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the forefoot)
  • Persistent joint pain
  • Locked joints
  • Morning stiffness

A study published in the journal Rheumatology from Dr. Sheng-Ming Dai of China’s Second Military Medical University found that CB2 receptors are found in unusually high levels in the joint tissue of arthritis patients. The use of cannabis is shown to fight inflammation in the joints by activating the pathways of CB2 receptors.

Canadian researcher Dr. Jason McDougall, a professor of pharmacology and anesthesia at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has undertaken a new study to find out if medical marijuana can help repair arthritic joints and relieve pain. The study is supported by the Arthritis Society and is awarding a grant for a comprehensive, three-year study to investigate if cannabis is not just dampening the pain in the brain, but also working to fight inflammation and repair the joint itself.

When asked to describe the nerves of an arthritis sufferer, McDougall told CBC Radio’s Information Morning the following information:

“[The nerves are like] wires that have been stripped of their coating. They’re all bare, they’re all raw and responsible for feeling a lot of pain. What we hypothesize is that by locally administering these cannabis-like molecules to those nerves, we’d actually be able to repair them and reduce the pain of arthritis.”

McDougall’s research is focused on non-psychoactive cannabinoids, but so far, his findings has shown that cannabis molecules can attach themselves to nerve receptors and control the firing of pain signals in the joint. Indeed, it’s been proven in certain anecdotal circumstances, such as the case of Katie Marsh of Madawaska, Maine. A sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis, she was on a prescription of prednisone and antibiotics and was encouraged by her doctors to try disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), but the side effects were severe enough that she sought a natural way to ease her pain and swollen joints.

After seeking the advice of a physician that specializes in dietary cannabis, Marsh began juicing raw cannabis, blending it into a smoothie and consuming the whole raw plant. She began to see results almost immediately — within days, Marsh was off the prednisone and even pain killers. After 11 months of regular cannabis juicing, her condition is in remission.

Now that Health Canada has approved the study, titled the CAPRI trial (Cannabinoid Profile Investigation of Vaporized Cannabis in Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee), researchers in Halifax and Montreal are seeking volunteers over the age of 50 who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee to participate in the year study, which will be a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that involves visits to the physician and exposure to six different types of cannabis through a vaporizer, all with varying levels of THC and CBD.

Two Canadian licensed producers of medical marijuana, Aphria, Inc. and the Peace Naturals Project, contributed $100,000 each to the Arthritis Society to fund the grant, and the research project has been approved by Health Canada. Researchers hope to start the study by September, and preliminary results will be collected by the end of 2016.

If you’re interested in cannabis for arthritis, check out our list of cannabis strains that may help treat arthritis symptoms.

Need Period Relief?

The pain creeps in slow and unexpectedly. Initially, it’s a subtle discomfort, like the prick of a needle stabbing away at your stomach. As the minutes pass by, the discomfort can develop into a crippling pain, making even simple tasks such as standing up straight seem utterly unbearable.

That dreadful feeling has a name: Dysmenorrhea—the medical term for severe period pain commonly referred to as cramps. And it’s something experienced every month by hundreds of women all across America.

While over the counter medicine like Midol can be helpful for many women, some 20 percent of women who suffer from cramps caused by their menstrual cycles each month experience such extreme dysmenorrhea that they can’t perform daily actives like getting out of bed and going to work, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Now, relief may soon be on the way. The New York Assembly's Health Committee passed an initiative Tuesday that would add dysmenorrhea to the list of conditions necessary to qualify for medical marijuana use. If it becomes law, everyday women suffering from intolerable period pain could have legal access to pot with a medical marijuana card.

“This is a woman’s health issue and for years women have suffered in silence. There’s Midol. You can take Advil, but really nothing more,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat, who introduced the bill, told Newsweek during a phone call Wednesday. “Men have really been [the ones] who’ve run state houses, governorships, presidencies, and some issues that are just about women have gotten shortchanged and that’s because it’s not in men’s everyday consciousness.”

The measure, called Assembly Bill 582, was approved in a 21-2 vote by the committee and it’s headed to the Assembly floor next. It would also need the OK from the New York Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The bill’s only pushback so far came from two Republican Assembly members—both men—but Rosenthal is confident that members of the Senate would be more understanding of how helpful medical marijuana, a drug that people suffering from various types of chronic pain can legally use in New York, can be for women during menstruation, too.

“There is some mild discomfort for some, but some women can’t leave their bed for a week,” Rosenthal said. “People are starting to understand that medical marijuana is a useful tool to relieve suffering and women’s suffering from severe menstrual cramps.”

In New York, only people suffering from cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, Huntington's disease or chronic pain can get access to medical marijuana—not everyday women who naturally have periods and experience the pain that sometimes comes along with it each month.

Rosenthal has become known as a champion for women’s issues. She worked last year to get a bill that removed sales taxes on feminine hygiene products signed into New York law, and she’s at the helm of passing another bill that would make feminine hygiene products free for women in prisons, homeless shelters and schools. For Assembly Bill 582, she is getting some extra help from a highly regarded medical marijuana advocate, who just so happens to be a well-known movie star and co-host of the daytime talk show, The View.

“I met with a force of a woman named Whoopi Goldberg, and she’s been a longtime expert on medical marijuana. I met with her and spoke with her, and she’s been passionate about easing women’s suffering by using medical marijuana,” Rosenthal said. “I thought this was a great opportunity to create an impact with a passionate supporter and help women access something new that can help relieve what cripples some of them during that time of the month.”

Goldberg introduced her own line of medical cannabis products in 2016 to combat menstrual pain with cannabis industry leader Maya Elisabeth. Under their Whoopi & Maya brand, women in legal marijuana states are able to receive pain relief with a cannabis bath soak, cannabidiol (CBD) and beeswax-infused body balm and organic and raw cocoa infused with either THC or CBD.

Although the bill has a few more steps to go before women could potentially be prescribed medical marijuana for cramps in New York, Rosenthal said the high support so far for the measure is a good sign it could pass into legislation.

“I think we’re a progressive state. It did take 20 years to get medical marijuana to be the law,” she said,” but we’re going to work hard to get it passed.”

“And I’m sure many women will vouch for what they have to go through each month.”

What Are the Best Cannabis Strains for Pain?

One of the most common applications for medical marijuana is pain, whether it’s inflammationheadaches, neuropathic pain, muscle soreness, spinal injuryfibromyalgia, or cramps. Patients have seen varying degrees of success with cannabis in treating various pain-related ailments, depending on the type of pain, the intensity, and the individual’s own physiology.

This guide is informed both by user-submitted strain reviews and chemical profile data, as certain cannabinoids and terpenes are known to have areas of specialization such as pain. Because every person’s experience is so nuanced, we recommend sampling several of these suggestions and maybe even experiment with them in different forms, like topicals, oils, or even transdermal patches. Smoking and vaporizing are great ways to get marijuana’s painkilling properties quickly, but read up on non-smoking consumption methods and cannabis concentrate alternatives to get an idea of the full spectrum of options available to you.

And remember — there are many adept pain slayers out there in the cannabis world. Use our Explorer’s symptom and condition filters to find out what else has worked for other patients, and check the “Availability” tab on their strain pages to see if they’re available at a shop near you!

1. Cannabis Strains That Help Treat Generalized Pain

All hail ACDC, one of the most effective painkilling strains out there due to its one-two punch of cannabinoids CBD and THC. As a general rule, cannabis strains with high amounts of both THC and CBD tend to make the best pain medicines, and there are plenty of high-CBD strains out there offering similar chemical profiles as ACDC.

Unfortunately, high-CBD strains are relatively new to the game and not all patients have access to them, especially those living in states without medical marijuana laws. Luckily, high-THC strains also offer pain relieving benefits, and many people find that heavy indicas such as Blackberry Kushare particularly skilled in the art of killing pain.

Browse more strains suitable for general pain.

2. Cannabis Strains That Help Treat Inflammation and Arthritis

Cerebrally-focused sativa strains aren’t typically a first choice for patients treating pain and inflammation, but Harlequin‘s high-CBD content makes it an exception. Its uplifting and clear-headed effects set it apart from heavier, more intoxicating options and make it a perfect choice for daytime medicating.

Also known as Blue VenomBerry White, and White BerryBlue Widow is a prolific hybrid cross between parent strains Blueberry and White Widow. Leafly user reviews praise Blue Widow for its anti-inflammatory qualities, and perhaps the reason for this is Blue Widow’s rich terpene profile that typically boasts high levels of caryophyllene, or it could be its heavy resin production which gives way to massive amounts of THC and other beneficial compounds.

Browse more strains suitable for inflammation and arthritis.

3. Cannabis Strains That Help Treat Headaches and Migraines

Purple Arrow hits the target somewhere between heavy pain relief and uplifting euphoria, making it a great choice for headache sufferers needing swift relief without the couchlock effects typical of indica varieties.

Headband hybrids are commonly described as “cerebral” with effects that go straight to the crown of your head. Blueberry Headband lives up to its name, delivering focused headache relief and a sweet berry flavor.

Browse more strains suitable for headaches and migraines.

4. Cannabis Strains That Help Treat Cramps

With effects that relax tension in both mind and body, Redwood Kush is known to deliver a woody forest aroma alongside hefty amounts of THC to help ease muscle cramping.

Dynamite is another high-THC indica strain that blows pain and cramping out of the water, but be wary: Dynamite is also known to incite the power of the Munchie Beast.

Browse more strains suitable for cramps.

5. Cannabis Strains That Help Manage Spinal Injury Pain

Cataract Kush is a heavy-hitting hybrid cross between powerhouse classics LA Confidential and OG Kush. This strain’s potency may not be for the novice consumer, but it’s perfect for patients needing a strain that can expertly annihilate pain associated with spinal injury.

Descending from some of the earliest indicas of Afghanistan, Mazar I Sharifis a relentless painkiller with a potency you can see on her heavy blanket of crystal trichomes. Afghani indicas have a reputation for their high cannabinoid contents, so it isn’t hard to imagine that so many patients have found relief from stubborn pain in Mazar.

Browse more strains suitable for spinal injury.

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