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Managing Chronic Pain

​​​​Cannabinoids come from the cannabis (marijuana) plant and are sometimes used to treat different health conditions. This article talks about how cannabinoids from the plant are used in medicines and how the cannabis plant itself is used as medicine when it is smoked, vapourized, eaten, or, made into a cream. 

Not a lot of research has been done to learn how cannabinoids help manage chronic pain. We know that there are receptors in our body that work with cannabinoids. We also know that our body makes natural cannabinoids. What we don’t know is what their purpose is or how to take advantage of them. 

We know that cannabinoids can help relieve nausea and vomiting. We think that they may also help you sleep. There are a few studies that suggest they might help some kinds of nerve pain. However, most experts would agree that cannabinoids should only be a last option after you have tried most other kinds of pain medicine. 

No pain medicine can completely stop chronic pain. The hope is that they reduce your pain level by at least 30% to make it is easier for you to do your day-to-day activities.​ 

Cannabinoids can be pills that you get from the pharmacy, or they can be plants, herbs, or oils that you get from licensed cannabis producers. No matter what form you use, it has some possible side effects. Not enough research has been done on using cannabis in any form to know about all possible side effects and long-term effects. Possible side effects include:

  • feeling dizzy
  • dry mouth
  • repeated severe vomiting
  • feeling “high”
  • headache, blurred vision
  • fast heart rate, changes in blood pressure
  • feeling sleepy
  • problems with memory
  • depression, anxiety, or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

Do not take cannabinoids if you are pregnant or have:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • liver disease
  • overuse issues with other substances
  • untreated mood problems
  • family history of hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

While doctors don’t write prescriptions for cannabis, they can authorize you to possess cannabis for medical use. If your physician signs an authorization for you, you may purchase marijuana from a company that is licensed by Health Canada to sell it, or you may grow your own supply in small quantities (up to 4 plants).

More research needs to be done to make sure cannabinoids are a safe and effective way to manage chronic pain before more doctors will recommend it for medical use.​

The Health Canada website​ has information about the regulations for using medical cannabis.

Current as of: October 1, 2018

Author: Calgary Pain Program, Alberta Health Services