For those struggling to find relief with their current medication regimens, medical cannabis may be an effective supplementary treatment.
Many patients who are diagnosed with serious medical conditions find that conventional medications are effective in providing pain relief and helping to manage their symptoms. However, for many others, conventional prescriptions fail to produce any significant improvements, or cause harsh side-effects which render the medication nearly as harmful as it is helpful.
For those struggling to find relief with their current medication regimens, medical cannabis may be an effective supplementary treatment. Many of my patients discover that, when used in combination with conventional prescriptions and therapies, medical cannabis reduces physical pain, decreases nausea, improves poor appetite, fights depression, reduces stress, and promotes greater sexual wellness and intimacy between themselves and their partner.
In 2012, Massachusetts voted in favor of introducing a medical marijuana program for state residents diagnosed with serious medical conditions. The resulting legislation, called the Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, made the following conditions eligible for cannabis treatment in Massachusetts:
- ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
- Cancer, including:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer (colon cancer)
- Hodgkin Disease
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- Hepatitis C
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Miscellaneous conditions, with written approval from your physician
Does Medical Marijuana Provide Pain Relief?
All of the conditions listed above share one side effect in common: physical pain and discomfort.
Chronic, severe, incurable pain, which is called intractable pain (IP), can sometimes be treated with opioids, such as morphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone. However, the problem with opioids is that they frequently lead to dependence and addiction, which ultimately brings physical, psychological, and financial harm to the patient. In stark contrast to opioids, medical marijuana poses only minor risk of creating physical dependence compared to other medications, and can notlead to a fatal overdose.
Countless studies have shown that cannabis is effective in significantly reducing physical pain across a spectrum of illnesses and diseases. Peer-reviewed medical journals such as Rheumatology, PLOS One, Clinical Rehabilitation, the Hawai’i Journal of Medicine & Public Health, The Journal of Pain, Nature Reviews Cancer, and the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care have all published research in which patients with a variety of diagnoses reported decreased pain while taking medical cannabis.
Psychological Health, Sexual Intimacy, and Chronic Illness: Talking to Your Partner
We often talk about chronic illness in terms of its physical effects. However, it’s critically important not to neglect the psychological impacts a major illness has, not only upon the patient, but also upon his or her relationships.
It’s not uncommon for patients with major medical disorders to feel dependent on their significant others for care, which can lead to feelings of not “deserving” sexual activity, or even hostility toward the caregiver. At the same time, the caregiver can come to feel worn out and distant from their partner, which can lead to feelings of shame or guilt.
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These types of emotional and sexual problems are precisely where many conventional medications fall short. While some patients find anti-depressants like SSRIs, MAOIs, or tricyclics useful in alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are very common in patients who have received serious medical diagnoses, these medications can carry risk, including an increased occurrence of suicidal thinking. Most anti-depressants can also reduce libido and other sexual functioning, which simply exacerbates the strains that a major diagnosis places on the patient’s romantic relationship with their partner.
Not only does cannabis not carry these risks, with most patients reporting only dry mouth, mild throat irritation, and decreased energy as side effects – it also has the added benefit of bridging the intimacy gap for patients who are experiencing sexual dysfunction. Researchers – and more importantly, countless patients – have found that cannabis helps manage stress, alleviate depression, improve mood, and open up communication and intimacy with their partners. Moreover, cannabis works physiologically to improve sexual functioning, arousal, and satisfaction, in both men and women.
Jordan Tishler, M.D. is a physician, cannabis specialist, and faculty at Harvard Medical School. He is also the president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, and CEO of InhaleMD — a private institute of cannabis medicine. He has spent years assisting patients with cannabis. For more information, or to set up a consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call (617) 861-8519.