On November 10, 2020, a majority of Arizonans voted to legalize recreational marijuana, a decade after medical marijuana was legalized in our state. In that time, medical marijuana has been steadily building a case as a treatment for chronic pain with more research coming out about its potential benefits.
What do we know about medical marijuana for pain?
There are many debates about medical marijuana in the U.S. Many question whether or not it is an appropriate pain management approach. Others counter that it is just as safe as (if not more safe than) opioid medications and other prescription pain medications.
The good news is that a lot has happened in the research in recent years. After legalization in many states, there is a growing body of research that suggests a variety of medical applications for medical marijuana for chronic pain. Some of the most promising research includes:
- A 2017 review of studies that found evidence for its effectiveness in treating chronic and neuropathic pain
- The results of a 2013 trial indicating that low-dose vaporized marijuana can be effective in treating neuropathic pain
- A 2015 review of high-quality studies that indicated its effectiveness in treating non-cancer pain with few, if any, side effects
The research for medical marijuana is still in its infancy, though. Because it is such a controversial topic, there have been very few formal research studies into the efficacy of this drug in treating chronic pain. Most studies have relied on self-reporting (a trend that is changing as more states legalize both recreational and medical marijuana). It can be difficult to make an informed and educated decision about whether medical marijuana is a safe choice for chronic pain patients.
Challenges for treatment
Dr. Paul Lynch at Arizona Pain summarizes the still unique challenges for this pain management approach:
“[B]ecause the federal government does not recognize the use of marijuana, it is very difficult for mainstream physicians to utilize marijuana in their practices. This is because the federal government is the one that gives physicians prescriptive authority by way of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Under this system, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. This means it is defined as a substance with no valid medical use.”
Further, while more traditional prescribed medications must list potential side effects on the packaging, medical marijuana does not require this because it is not under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation. Both advocates and detractors are pushing for more research, more transparency, and better labeling. They hope this can more fully educate patients and their doctors.
Using medical marijuana
Medical marijuana can be smoked, mixed into foods, added with a tincture, or brewed as a tea. Patients may begin to feel relief in as few as 20 minutes, depending on method. The effects are short-term, generally wearing off in an hour or two.
Side effects of treatment are generally few, mild, and short-term. However, some patients may experience one or more of the following:
- Impaired short-term memory
- Decreased social inhibitions
- Motor impairment
- Increased and/or decreased appetite
- Adverse effects on the hormonal system
In addition, new research has found that other potentially common side effects can include an increase in anxiety, paranoia, and prolonged coughing fits (especially for those who smoke) during use.
Learn more about pain management
Chronic pain is a complex condition, as complex as the issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana.
To learn more about all of your pain treatment options, get in touch with Arizona Pain to schedule an appointment.