The ECS, Cannabinoids, and Chronic Pain
The endocannabinoid system involves a lot of homeostatic and physiological functions, which includes pain management and inflammation. The roles of CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors show that they exert an influence on nociception (the sensory nervous system’s response to harmful or potentially harmful stimuli). Plant-based cannabinoids (also known as phytocannabinoids) have shown they exert significant analgesic effects in various chronic pain conditions. THC (marijuana) has psychoactive effects, and is not always an option since it is not legal everywhere. However, other phytocannabinoids administered orally are looking to be promising contenders for treatment of chronic pain due to their low side effects and high safety profiles.
Pain is unpleasant and common, but also very complex. Most pain experiences come and go depending on the context of the event and intensity of the stimulus. It differs from person to person and situation to situation. Usually acute pain resolves quickly, it is gone when the harmful stimulus leaves or tissue heals, etc.
But pain that continues with no relief?! Whether it’s because of an ongoing disease/disorder or unknown cause, this pain serves no purpose. Unresolved pain can have a tremendous effect on the sufferer’s health, social life, work performance, emotional health, and even finances. After evaluating the prevalence and impact of pain, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine reported that pain-related medical services and loss of productivity cost the U.S. economy close to $1 trillion annually when pain-related costs associated with long-term care patients and military patients were included.
Chronic pain is increasing. Additionally, the growing proportion of aging generations and their development of chronic painful conditions with increasing age (diabetes, osteoarthritis, degenerative spine disease, etc) is leading to an even higher prevalence of chronic pain worldwide.
Sadly, the analgesic medications and procedures we have available currently are extremely limited by combos of safety concerns, low efficacy, poor access to care, or tremendous cost. More effective and readily available means to prevent and treat chronic pain are necessary beyond pharmacotherapy (prescription meds).
Are cannabinoids like CBD safe though?? Extensive research and exposure to cannabinoids show that they have a very high therapeutic level. Plus, no fatalities have been reported, even with extremely high dosing. Always check with your physician to make sure any medications you are taking will not interact with CBD, to be safe.
Evidence is piling up to suggest that cannabinoids can impact pathophysiological processes that influence nociception (your nervous system’s response to harmful stimuli). Clinical trials involving more than 1,000 patients, have shown efficacy in different categories of chronic pain conditions, but the vast majority involved patients with chronic neuropathic pain.
Additionally, cannabinoids can help manage chronic pain by normalizing your sleep patterns. Normalized sleep improves pain relief and mood disorders that are common with poor pain control and poor sleep patterns. It has been reported that cannabinoids can suppress sleep-related apnea. This will be important for further research and clinical trials both in sleep and pain medicine.
TL;DR… the future lies in the development of orally administered, highly bioavailable, non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid products (CBD) to provide the millions of people living with debilitating pain a safe and effective form of relief.