There has been a wave of legislation in recent years as many states across the country take meaningful action to allow safe and legal access to medical cannabis. Many states across the country permit some form of medical marijuana. Advocates continue to push for further loosening of the restrictions around cannabis so that more conditions and people can qualify for access to it.
In particular, there has been greater recognition of the benefits of medical marijuana for chronic pain, following extensive research on the subject. The growing opioid crisis, deemed a public health emergency by the HHS in 2016, has also contributed to public discourse. Lawmakers, including those in Texas, have deliberated expanding state cannabis programs to help reduce opioid abuse and provide people a safer alternative to addictive pain medications.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is essentially long standing pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks despite treatment or medication. The pain may be continuous or “on and off.” It may affect people to the point that they can’t function or enjoy a normal life. Lower back pain, for instance, is one of the most common health problems limiting activity in adults. Other common causes of chronic pain include cancer and arthritis. According to the CDC, over 20% of adults suffer from some form of chronic pain. People with chronic pain are three times as likely to develop mood or anxiety disorders as those without.
How Is Chronic Pain Treated?
Chronic pain can be challenging to treat since there is no singular root cause. As such, successful management often requires a multidisciplinary approach. Constant pain can cause people to become fixated on it, leading to depression and irritation. This, in turn, may lead to weariness and insomnia. A major benefit of medical marijuana for chronic pain is that it has the potential to mitigate many of these symptoms.
Under mainstream medicine, the most common treatments for chronic pain include symptom relief via over-the-counter (OTC) medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, and prescription opioids and antidepressants. The issue with these drugs is that they carry a serious risk of causing dependence and abuse. It’s estimated that over 10 million people misused prescription opioids in 2019, and over 48,000 died from overdosing on synthetic opioids.
This has led many patients, healthcare professionals, and public advocates to push lawmakers for easier access to medical marijuana. In doing so, they can help victims of both chronic pain and opioid abuse lead better lives.
Potential Benefits of Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain
The history of medical cannabis and chronic pain goes back further than people likely realize. It was said to be used in China in the 1st century A.D. for rheumatic pain and constipation and in India as a sedative, analgesic, and anticonvulsant. It was widely used in the U.S. as a patent medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cannabis was removed from pharmacopeia in 1942 — against the advice of the American Medical Association (AMA). Ironically, today chronic pain is the most common reason patients in the U.S. use medical cannabis.
Some of the potential benefits of medical marijuana for chronic pain include:
- Reduced Pain Perception
The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis is said to interact with the natural cannabinoid receptors, namely CB1 and CB2, in the body to help reduce pain signaling and perception. This may help to temporarily reduce pain sensation for patients.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Cannabinoids are considered to be potent anti-inflammatory agents. They exert their effects through inhibition of cell proliferation and suppression of cytokine production, a category of proteins that are essential to cell signaling and the inflammatory process. This means that medical marijuana holds a benefit for chronic pain stemming from systemic inflammation, such as that with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Reduced Anxiety
CBD has been shown to stimulate an autoimmune response during the inflammation process. It’s believed to work as an antioxidant, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory substance. It may also help to reduce the anxiety often experienced by people who live with chronic pain.
- Depression and Insomnia
Medical marijuana is believed to help significantly with depressive disorders. A recent study of people diagnosed with clinical depression conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina found that those who used cannabis reported lower levels of depression, better sleep patterns, and a higher quality of life.
- Alternative to Prescription Opioids
Recent research at the University of Arizona studied the effectiveness of cannabis in reducing opioid use. Between 64%-75% of participants showed a reduction in opioid dosage when supplemented with medical marijuana. Moreover, between 32%-59% reported a complete letup in opioid usage for chronic, non-cancer-related pain.
Does Texas Recognize the Benefits of Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain?
At the moment, chronic pain by itself does not qualify for a medical cannabis prescription in Texas. However, patients experiencing chronic pain as a result of qualifying conditions, such as those with Parkinson’s, spasticity, cancer, and nerve damage, can seek out a prescription for medical cannabis. In doing so, they may experience improved pain management.
Presently, over 200 conditions qualify for medical cannabis in Texas. These include:
- Cerebral palsy
- All forms of cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Nerve damage
- Degenerative disk disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Over 100 incurable neurodegenerative diseases
Keep in mind that cannabis doesn’t help to cure the disease itself. Rather it may help manage the symptoms of the disease. In the case of most of these conditions, the main benefit of medical marijuana is for the pain stemming from the condition.
How to Access Medical Cannabis in Texas
As a Texas resident, if you have a condition that qualifies you for medical cannabis, you need to be evaluated by a board-certified doctor that’s registered with the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas (CURT). If they confirm your eligibility, your physician will prescribe medical marijuana for your condition and register you with CURT. Once your prescription is entered into the CURT database, you can purchase medical cannabis online or by phone from any Texas dispensary and explore the potential benefits of medical marijuana for pain.
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