There are many causes for chronic pain, including AIDS, arthritis, cancer, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, and back, neck and spinal cord injuries, as well as degenerative hip and joint disorders and even severe burns. In almost every case, pain is not the primary condition, but a symptom that varies in duration, frequency and severity, and is different for every patient. While the underlying condition will determine how the pain is treated, it doesn't always dictate the proper pain management. Instead, this is determined by the kind and severity of pain.
The goal in all cases, however, is for the patient experiencing pain to function as normally as possible, by reducing their pain as much as possible while also minimizing the side effects so often associated with pain therapies. Failure to adequately manage chronic pain doesn't merely result in an annoyed patient, but can lead to depression, despair, and even a death-wish, when patients refuse potentially life-saving procedures such as surgery or chemotherapy, which cause suffering in and of themselves.
While cannabis is not a cure-all, it can serve at least two important functions in the safe and effective management of pain:
- It can provide actual pain relief, either when used alone, or when used in conjunction with other analgesics;
- It can control the nausea and vomiting that are common side effects of using opioid drugs, as well as the nausea, vomiting, and dizziness that often come hand-in-hand with ongoing severe pain.
While opiates are an effective treatment for severe pain, they also tend to induce intense nausea that can cause not just discomfort, but may also lead to malnourishment, anorexia, cachexia (the wasting disease) and an overall decline in patient's health. Some patients find this nausea so bad that they're willing to stop their pain treatment just to end it.
Conversely, an almost immediate relief from pain is provided by inhaled cannabis, and there are fewer adverse effects with this than there are with a common cannabinoid drug Marinol, which contains THC. There are two reasons for this:
- Inhaling cannabis allows the active components of it to be absorbed into the blood stream faster and with greater effectiveness.
- There are more cannabinoids present in inhaled cannabis than there are in Marinol, which contains only THC. These additional components may have additional anti-emetic (anti-nausea) properties, and have also been shown to provide better pain control than straight THC
Research has also shown that spraying a cannabis extract under the tongue can provide an almost immediate relief from pain, as well.