Using Cannabis for Chronic Pain in Utah
For many patients with chronic pain or other debilitating health conditions, the answer is yes. Today, nearly every state in the country has legalized some form of medical marijuana use, but misinformation and misconceptions about marijuana still persist. Despite the obstacles, cannabis for chronic pain in Utah is becoming a popular treatment. Understanding how medical marijuana helps pain versus opioids and the risk factors of each type of treatment is essential when discussing chronic pain and treatment plans with your doctor. Here’s what you need to know.
How Does Marijuana Help Pain?
THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. THC also resembles the cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in the body, so it stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors in the same manner, activating the brain’s reward system and reducing pain levels. THC is also a psychoactive compound as it binds to cannabinoid receptors and produces an elevated state of mind, known as a high.
CBD is the second most prevalent compound found in cannabis plants. It is non-euphoric, non-impairing, and does not produce the psychoactive “high” effect. However, it does interact with pain receptors in the brain to produce anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. It provides many of the same benefits as THC and reduces pain, inflammation, and nausea. While there is more research needed, there is also some indication that the use of the whole plant and its cannabinoid compounds have an entourage effect, meaning the different ingredients work better together to ease the pain.
Marijuana and Chronic Pain vs. Opioids and Chronic Pain
Around 20 percent of Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain due to a health condition or injury. The most commonly prescribed treatments for chronic pain are strong narcotics, more commonly known as opioids. The problem? Many prescription drugs for pain can be addicting, as well as dangerous. Using marijuana for chronic pain can be a better choice for many patients.
Since chronic pain is medically defined as pain lasting more than three months, it’s easy to see why there is an opioid crisis in our country and why marijuana and chronic pain have become more synonymous. People begin taking an opiate-based prescription their doctor has prescribed in order to manage their pain. However, they can easily become addicted, even when they are using the medications as directed. This is why using opioids can quickly become more dangerous for patients experiencing long-term pain than cannabis.
Chronic pain researchers have studied the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury or damage). For the most severe forms of pain, there is some research-based evidence that medical cannabis can help control pain more effectively with a smaller dose of opioids or even eliminate the need for opioids altogether.
Several studies demonstrate that cannabis is also less likely to be abused than opioids and other drugs, so using cannabis for chronic pain in Utah can be naturally safer, less addictive, and potentially has fewer hazardous side effects. In contrast, opioids can cause slow, shallow breathing, constipation, nausea, slowed metabolism, as well as debilitating withdrawal symptoms that can even lead to death! Studies also show that in states with medical marijuana programs experience decreases in daily opioid doses—particularly hydrocodone and morphine prescriptions.
And while all medications have some side effects, some can cause more harm to the body than others, especially opioids and other pain medications. In contrast, medical marijuana may also produce side effects, but most are manageable with a dosage adjustment and will not cause long-term damage to the body. The most important takeaway? Opiates and other drugs cause around 130 deaths every day due to overdose. They have also caused tens of thousands of deaths in recent years. Therefore, using an alternative treatment such as cannabis for chronic pain in Utah makes sense as there has never been a recorded death due to cannabis overdose.
Finally, most prescription drugs are usually only available in a few forms. Cannabis can effectively treat many ailments and can also be consumed in measured doses in many ways. If a patient prefers not to vape, alternatives include cannabis capsules, oils, tinctures, patches, and even some edible forms. Finding the right dose and form for you is a matter of trial and error, but it’s always wise to start low and slow until you know how marijuana and chronic pain interact in your own body.
Qualifying Conditions Legally Use Cannabis for Chronic Pain in Utah
- HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment, except for nausea related to:
- cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting syndrome
- cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome
- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- epilepsy or debilitating seizures
- multiple sclerosis or persistent and debilitating muscle spasms
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is being treated and monitored by a licensed health therapist (defined here), and that:
- has been diagnosed by a healthcare provider by the Veterans Administration and documented in the patient’s record; or
- has been diagnosed or confirmed by evaluation from a psychiatrist, doctorate psychologist, a doctorate licensed clinical social worker, or a psychiatric APRN
- a terminal illness when the patient’s life expectancy is less than six months
- a condition resulting in the individual receiving hospice care
- a rare condition or disease that affects less than 200,000 individuals in the U.S., as defined in federal law, and that is not adequately managed despite treatment attempts using conventional medications (other than opioids or opiates) or physical interventions
- pain lasting longer than two weeks that is not adequately managed, in the qualified medical provider’s opinion, despite treatment attempts using conventional medications other than opioids or opiates or physical interventions
Are you looking to make the switch from opiates or other pain relievers to medical cannabis for chronic pain? First, consult a qualified medical provider for your symptoms and diagnosis. Once you are given the green light and have received your medical marijuana card, visit one of our Utah locations and our pharmacists can help you find the best product of medical cannabis for chronic pain.