Posted April 21, 2016 by Ljubica Kostovic

How Cannabis Can Help Break Your Chronic Pain Cycle

This post originally appeared as a GrowWise Health special contribution to  Lift Cannabis News Magazine.

One in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain. Effective chronic pain management is one of the biggest challenges faced by patients and physicians alike. For many patients, traditional interventional treatments and prescription medications provide only limited pain relief and an abundance of side effects. As a result, many patients continue to seek alternative treatments, such as cannabis, to help manage their chronic pain condition.

Research shows that cannabis, and cannabinoids, in general, can be very effective for managing chronic, non-cancer pain. What’s more, in studies where dried herbal cannabis is concerned, side effects tend to be very minimal and manageable. This means that patients may turn to cannabis to more effectively manage their pain, while also minimizing unwanted side-effects and improving their quality of life.

Along with helping lessen the experience of pain by providing analgesia, cannabis can also be a very effective chronic pain management tool in some ways that don’t seem obvious at first. Cannabis can simultaneously be used to reduce the intensity of pain, inflammation, and help with the management of numerous accompanying symptoms.

Unlike experiences of acute pain, chronic pain conditions often trigger a difficult to break cycle of related symptoms. What may begin as an experience of only pain itself, can quickly transform into an experience of pain and fatigue. Pain and stiffness. Pain and fatigue and stiffness and difficult emotions and stress and trouble sleeping. A worsening of just one of these symptoms can lead to a downward spiral and significant worsening of other symptoms.

It means that when the pain is really bad, sleep is disrupted, or, non-existent. And when sleep is disrupted, difficult emotions flood and fatigue becomes unmanageable. The worsening of any one of these symptoms can cause a significant disruption in a person’s life. Alongside all of the attention and effort put toward managing the experience of pain, the patient is now also faced with managing a handful of additional symptoms which may be as severe as the pain itself.

Although this cycle of chronic pain may appear unbreakable, what many patients and physicians have come to understand is that breaking the link at any point in the cycle can help to reduce the negative impact of the remaining symptoms!

For example, although the goal may be to reduce the intensity and duration of pain, the patient can focus on improving their sleep, managing their anxiety, or eliminating tense muscles from their daily experience. Helping just one of these symptoms can ultimately lead to a reduction of pain.

So, how does cannabis help break the cycle of chronic pain?
In addition to providing pain reduction in the classic sense, cannabis can also be used to reduce muscle stiffness, anxiety, and help with improving the duration and quality of sleep.

For example, patients experiencing muscle stiffness, spasms and inflammation can use oils and topical cannabis derivatives which will act locally to lessen these symptoms What’s more, the effects of topical derivatives can be further supplemented through oral administration, as well. Eliminating muscle spasticity, stiffness and inflammation can significantly improve the patient’s quality of life and provide them with the space needed to develop additional coping mechanisms needed for their pain management.

Another example is the use of specialty stains and strains high in cannabidiol for inspiring a sense of relaxation and diminishing the experience of anxiety. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that cannabis may play an important role in the regulation of our experience of anxiety and difficult emotions. Many patients report that specific strains, and especially strains high in cannabidiol, the non psychoactive component of cannabis, are beneficial for reducing the intensity of difficult emotions. Experiences of anxiety and difficult emotions can have an immediate impact on our experience of pain and may affect our sleep habits, and activities of daily living, as well. However, since human research into the exact effects of cannabis on anxiety and difficult emotions is still burgeoning, it is important to supplement the use of cannabis with more traditionally accepted methods.

Sleep remains one of the most important components involved in successful chronic pain management. Cannabis can help here, as well! Certain strains of cannabis are best suited for inducing and maintaining sleep. Finding what works for you may require some trial-and error. In addition, incorporating different modes of intake can also be beneficial where sleep is concerned; ingesting long-acting edibles or oils can help ensure a restful sleep and may be more beneficial than inhalation alone. Improving the duration and quality of sleep allows our bodies to heal and refuel for the next day. This nighttime healing process is crucial for reducing the experience of pain. It is also essential for helping the body adequately prepare to more aptly cope with difficult emotions and stressors of the day to come.

Understanding the way in which cannabis can help break the chronic pain cycle at various linking points means that the patient is given multiple opportunities to more effectively manage their condition. And, ultimately, regardless of the therapies used in the management of this cycle of symptoms, a holistic understanding of the patient’s chronic pain condition is essential for achieving an improved quality of life.

Follow the author of this blog on Twitter: @ljubicakostovic

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