Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is a complex condition that affects many people in Australia.  Chronic pain usually begins after an injury or event.  Over time, whilst some people’s bodies recover from this initial problem, some others develop and change into chronic pain.

How is chronic pain treated?

Chronic pain can be very difficult to treat, and usually involves seeing many different medical professionals who can help you with different aspects of your condition.  Many times, patients suffering from chronic pain will require ongoing support in the long-term.  The goal is often about managing this pain successfully over time rather than looking for a cure, and is similar to management of other chronic conditions.

As a part of the complete holistic approach managing chronic pain (which usually involves frequent reviews with doctors and allied health professionals, the use of pain-killers, or analgesia, also usually forms a part of the treatment process.  Whilst there are many types of pain killers, including ones that you can find over the counter (like paracetamol or ibuprofen) to very strong ones (such as opioids such as oxycodone), many of them can themselves cause side effects and problems for patients.

Medicinal cannabis and chronic pain

Does cannabis work for chronic pain?  How effective is cannabis for chronic pain?

There are a lot of individual stories that cannabis can be effective for treating pain – but how effective is it for the majority of people?

The short answer is that it depends on many factors:  it seems to work very well for some, but it isn’t a cure-all and doesn’t work for everyone.

Various studies have looked at the use of different forms of cannabis (THC, CBD, combinations of both, and whole flower) in different types of chronic pain (such as that from nerve, joint, inflammatory, cancer, musculoskeletal).  Overall, the results are mixed, showing a moderate benefit for many combinations (but not all).

One advantage of cannabinoids is that, unlike opioids (a common form of potent pain killer), they seem to have a safer side effect profile.  In situations where too much is taken, opioids are known to cause a person to stop breathing.  The same does not happen with cannabinoids.  Whilst cannabis oil can cause side effects like with any other medication, these generally tend to be mild and can go away by themselves over time.

Is medicinal cannabis safe?  How do I know I’m getting the right dose?

In general, we don’t have enough studies to give us information on how medicinal cannabis is best, used for the many conditions it may be beneficial for.  Because of this, many doctors will take a slow and gradual approach to starting your medication with you.

There is also no ‘right dose’ – the best dose is one where you get the most benefit, at the lowest dose and with the least side effects.

If you do develop any side effects when taking the medication, it is recommended that your seek the advice of your doctor or clinic that prescribed the medication for you.  However, the general approach to managing side effects is supportive – that is, usually waiting for side effects to disappear on their own.