Medical marijuana can appear a very complicated industry – even to many doctors! With so many strains and product types available, picking the right one is a challenge in itself. Now the market is flooded with CBD products too, which offer most of cannabis’ therapeutic properties without inducing a psychoactive high. Settling on the perfect medicating routine is inevitably going to take some experimentation, but some general advice can help to get you on the right track.
In this post, we are going to look at pain relief, and the effectiveness of CBD and THC at treating it.
Chronic pain: THC or CBD?
Ideally, your chronic pain cannabis medication will contain a mixture of both CBD and THC, since both compounds have analgesic properties and perform better when used together. The synergistic effect delivered when CBD and THC are consumed at the same time, enhances pain relief and makes for more efficient marijuana medicating.
THC is best known for being the compound that makes you stoned, and it’s true that this famous cannabinoid does have mind-altering effects. But many old-school cannabis users have found that even high-THC marijuana delivers effective pain relief.
But what works for one person may not work for another, as everybody has a unique endocannabinoid system. Therefore, playing around with CBD and THC combinations is advised if you haven’t had any experience with cannabis before – but including the former in your medicating plan is a good starting point.
CBD’s effects on the brain are more nuanced, and while the compound does have mood-boosting and energizing qualities, it’s not thought of as a psychoactive chemical in the same way that THC is. Simply consuming CBD on its own isn’t going to make you high or euphoria. On the flip side, CBD produces a calming effect, and in large doses is a potent muscle relaxant and sedative. It can also treat chronic pain and inflammatory conditions. High-CBD strains are popular with patients who suffer from cramps and spasticity-caused pain.
However, strains that are high in both CBD and THC can be useful in reducing pain, or at least the perception of pain. Research has shown that strains with hefty concentrations of both cannabinoids are more effective than those high in one of THC or CBD. The entourage effect can help to explain why.
Whole-plant medicine and the entourage effect
When interacting with each other, the effects of both CBD and THC are enhanced, thanks to a synergistic reaction called the entourage effect. The entourage effect, a concept supported by several cannabis experts, argues that the interactions which occur between CBD, THC and the other cannabinoids and terpenes help to improve the overall therapeutic value of the cannabis plant.
Hence why whole-plant medicine, whether in the form of flower, extracts, edibles, oils or anything else, is more effective than either CBD-isolate or THC-isolate.
Terpenes are found in cannabis and other plants, and as well as giving the herb its aroma, they also have various therapeutic properties, that boost the overall medicinal potential of a strain.
Therefore, with this knowledge of the entourage effect, medical cannabis users would perhaps be best off with strains that have a balanced mix of cannabinoids and terpenoids. And, as our understanding further improves, certain strains could even be recommended for certain ailments.
In some countries, cannabis-based medication is already available on prescription for pain. Cancer patients in Canada can use Sativex, a drug manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, to treat their pain. Sativex, which has a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, is sometimes prescribed as a Multiple Sclerosis treatment. The drug is also infused with a selection of therapeutic terpenes.
Scientists have discovered more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plants over the past five decades. Yet due to restrictions on research in many countries, particularly in the U.S. where cannabis remains prohibited at federal level, our understanding of the plant has progressed relatively slowly. However, Israeli cannabis research, which is in part funded by U.S. grants, has proven very useful.
We know about cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but let’s identify some other important cannabinoids:
And some important terpenes and their uses:
β-Caryophyllene – an anti-anxiety compound
Myrcene – increases THC absorption
What makes a great cannabis strain for chronic pain
So you want to start using medical cannabis for chronic pain, but aren’t sure which strain to use. Unfortunately, if you’re in a state without advanced medical marijuana laws, you will be restricted in your options – however, hemp-derived CBD oil is legal throughout the country, and is a potent, natural analgesic.
However, if you are in a medical – or even recreational – state, you’ll have access to a variety of strains to treat your chronic pain. Before you start, know that because of the subtle differences in our endocannabinoid systems, a strain that works for your friend may not work for you.
For example, some may enjoy the mind-changing properties from a high-THC strain, and revel in the psychoactive effects of it, with the “high” helping to distract them from the pain. For others, feelings of euphoria and psychedelia may be unsettling and even cause paranoia. In such patients, high-CBD strains, which relax the body and quell pain without getting you high are better. Such strains are also documented for their anti-inflammatory effects.
When choosing a strain for pain, you should also consider the following factors:
- Strains with both CBD and THC may be better than high-CBD or high-THC strains
- CBD strains are often preferred to THC strains in the daytime
- Many chronic pain patients opt for indica strains
- A high-THC strain can make it easier to forget or distract from chronic pain
- For headaches and neuropathic pain, sativa strains are thought to be better than indicas
The most effective strains for pain relief
You may find that other strains suit you better, but here’s a good general guide to chronic pain cannabis strains:
CBD Critical Cure (high-CBD)
Charlotte’s Web (high-CBD)
Afghan Kush (high-THC)
Critical Mass (high-THC)