For chronic pain patients, medical cannabis is often touted as a safer alternative to prescription pain medications. It’s also more effective for long-term use than many over-the-counter remedies. These are four ways that medical cannabis can help to improve overall quality of life for people who experience chronic pain, whether due to bodily injury, disease or illness, or other conditions.
1) Treating Muscle Pain
Myofascial, or muscular pain, is one of the most common forms of chronic pain. Medical cannabis patients often use the plant for relief of persistent, intense muscle pain.
Their use is evidence-based: A study in The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management indicated that 94% of patients with HIV experienced significant muscle pain relief. Similarly, research in Pain showed that medical cannabis was effective in treating muscle pain among chronic non-cancer pain patients.
2) Easing Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, affects 1-2% of the population. Neuropathic pain is a common result of physical trauma, illnesses, or intensive medical treatments, from spine surgery and chemotherapy to amputation, HIV, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or spinal cord injuries. Neuropathic pain is often persistent and intense and can be debilitating if not treated effectively.
Medical cannabis has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of neuropathic pain. One study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that, when smoked three times a day for five days, marijuana lessened the daily pain intensity experienced by patients with chronic neuropathic pain.
Another study in Pain Medicine similarly revealed that symptoms of pain were significantly improved in patients with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and multiple sclerosis who used medical cannabis.
3) Boosting Mood
Mental health symptoms and chronic pain often go hand in hand, exacerbating one another. The experience of persistent pain can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety, while patients with clinical depression and other mental illnesses report chronic pain more often than their peers.
Medical cannabis is known to boost mood and to curb depression and anxiety symptoms, which can in turn reduce pain. One study, which assessed the physical symptoms, social functioning levels, sleep quality, anxiety, and depression of medical cannabis patients, found that patients reported significantly less severe symptoms of depression after cannabis treatments.
4) Decreasing Severity of Sleep Disturbances
Like mental health symptoms, sleep disturbances—including insomnia and poor-quality sleep—often accompany and exacerbate chronic pain. Medical cannabis improves both the duration and quality of patients’ nightly rest. Research in Anaesthesia suggests that medical cannabis increases patients’ average sleep duration, as well as the amount of sleep they describe as “good quality.”
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A study in Neurology on medical cannabis patients with multiple sclerosis showed similar results, with participants reporting fewer sleep disturbances after regularly using cannabis.