According to Pain Australia, more than 3.2 million Australians live with chronic pain. Daily life can be unbearable and treatments vary. So where does medicinal cannabis fit in a pain treatment plan?
Chronic pain is usually defined as pain that persists beyond the expected healing time or in excess of three months. Assisting with pain relief is often cited as one of the CBD Oil Benefits.
Chronic pain can arise from pre-existing conditions, as a result of physical injury, surgery or psychological trauma. Chronic pain can present as headache, muscle, neuropathic, visceral, arthritic or cancer pain.
Common conditions where you may also experience persistent pain as a co-morbidity include, but aren’t limited to; multiple sclerosis, arthritic or radiculopathy manifestations, fibromyalgia, cancer and from chemotherapy treatments.
Sometimes chronic pain is further complicated by mental health conditions such as PTSD, schizophrenia or depression.
GPs report that patients presenting with chronic pain have increased by >65% in the past decade. Given the health and addiction risk factors associated with many pharmaceutical pain killers, such as opioids, doctors and patients are seeking information on how medical cannabis may help in reducing chronic pain.
The Research: chronic pain symptoms and medical cannabis
Medical cannabis has strong evidence to support its use in treating cancer-related pain.
In 2018 the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management published trial where 177 cancer patients with intractable pain were treated with medical cannabis therapies in the form of THC:CBD spray, THC spray or placebo. 43% of individuals experienced a 30% reduction in pain scores, while this may not seem a lot, it is classed as clinically significant in terms of pain management options and can make a huge difference to patients.
Fibromyalgia patients have reported significant effects to their pain, sleep and quality of life when on medical cannabis treatments also. A small study from 2018 showed 50% of fibromyalgia patients were able to cease taking pharmaceutical medications to manage their condition.
A systematic review of 13 randomised placebo-controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) concluded medicinal cannabis treatments may provide effective pain relief, especially in presentations where other medications have failed.
Does CBD reduce chronic pain?
When it comes to the evidence behind medical cannabis for chronic pain, the science is mixed, yet anecdotes abound.
In Australia around 85% of prescriptions of medical cannabis relate to chronic pain presentations, even though there is limited research for CBD alone in treating chronic pain. 30% of these prescriptions are for CBD oil or other CBD-only products.
Traditionally THC is thought of as the main cannabinoid to relieve pain, now we know CBD has analgesic properties in its own right.
CBD attaches to and desensitises receptors that respond to heat, pain and inflammation.
Small studies in humans suggest CBD is effective in treating peripheral neuropathic pain (nerve pain occurring outside the brain or spinal cord) which can arise from injuries, infections and conditions like diabetes.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration lists chronic pain under its medical cannabis guidance documents and offers information on its evidence, recommended dosing and prescription.
Mental health, chronic pain and CBD
For Australian patients experiencing chronic pain, the symptoms can be not only physically debilitating but also take a toll on one’s mental health.
According to Pain Australia, 44.6% of chronic pain sufferers also present with mental health conditions.
If your pain extends past months and into years, with little aid from conventional treatments, it can be a struggle to keep a positive attitude when the one constant in life is pain. This is when you should talk to your doctor about exploring alternative therapy options such as CBD oil for chronic pain.
More research needed on CBD oil for chronic pain
As with most aspects of the medical cannabis industry, more research is warranted.
In the meantime, there is sufficient evidence supporting the use of medicinal cannabis preparations to relieve chronic pain, which is being prescribed with increasing prevalence around the world and in Australia.