Chronic pain can be extremely challenging for patients, medical professionals, and caregivers. It significantly impacts not only the physical well-being of those experiencing it, but can also affect people’s emotional and psychological health.
Chronic pain is a complex condition that can be difficult to treat and manage long-term. Patients often live with seemingly relentless discomfort and frequent disruptions to their daily lives. That’s why it’s so important for medical professionals to provide pain management plans that consider the individual's unique conditions and needs.
While traditional pharmaceutical pain medications, like opioids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), have been the go-to solution for chronic pain in the past, they often come with undesirable side effects and the risk of dependence.
Medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here) is becoming more recognised by patients and the medical community for its potential to provide relief from chronic pain in some patients through a more natural approach. Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help manage chronic pain in some patients, understand the risk of medicinal cannabis treatments and how you can explore options for medicinal cannabis treatments in Australia.
Understanding Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is defined by persistent pain that lasts for 3 months or more. It’s characterised by persistent discomfort that extends beyond the expected time for healing, can lead to ongoing pain, and can affect your mobility, sleep, mental health and general quality of life.
Chronic pain can be caused by a multitude of underlying causes, ranging from medical conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy to past injuries or surgeries. This complex interplay of factors can make chronic pain a challenging condition to manage effectively.
Medical professionals employ a variety of approaches to address chronic pain, including medications, physical therapy, and even psychological interventions like cognitive-behavioural therapy.
Beyond its immediate physical effects, chronic pain can lead to emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression, as people deal with the ongoing discomfort, and limitations on their activities, personal relationships and social connections.
Recognizing the multifaceted nature of chronic pain, support networks, including healthcare providers, family, and friends, play a crucial role in providing both practical assistance and emotional encouragement to those navigating the challenges of persistent pain.
Chronic Pain: Types of Pain
Chronic pain is not experienced in the same way by everyone. It can manifest in various sensations, including aching, burning, stabbing, or throbbing sensations. There are various types of chronic pain, each originating from different sources and affecting different areas of the body.
Some common types of chronic pain people seek help for include:
- Back Pain: This is one of the most prevalent types of chronic pain, often stemming from conditions like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or muscle strains. Around 85% of people experience chronic back pain.
- Arthritis Pain: Arthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain, affecting roughly one in two adults. Conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to chronic joint pain and inflammation.
- Neuropathic Pain: Caused by damage or dysfunction in the nervous system, neuropathic pain can result from conditions like diabetic neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, or nerve injuries.
- Headaches and Migraines: Chronic tension headaches and migraines can cause ongoing pain, often accompanied by other symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound. Medical cannabis has been shown to help decrease pain intensity, and daily pharmaceutical use and dependence.
- Fibromyalgia: This is characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness. People with fibromyalgia are sometimes told that their pain can’t be treated, but research shows treatments, like medicinal cannabis can help.
- Pelvic Pain: Conditions like endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and chronic prostatitis can lead to chronic pelvic pain.
- Abdominal Pain: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, and gastritis can result in ongoing abdominal pain.
- Cancer Pain: Some forms of cancer, especially when they spread or press on nerves, can lead to chronic pain. This kind of ongoing pain often requires treatments that can be used alongside chemotherapy or radiation.
- Neck Pain: Similar to back pain, conditions like cervical disc degeneration or muscle strain can cause chronic pain in the neck region.
- Pain after Surgery or Injury: Sometimes, pain can persist long after a surgery or injury has healed, leading to chronic pain conditions.
This is not an exhaustive list of conditions that can lead to chronic pain symptoms — in fact, many illnesses, musculoskeletal problems, injuries, surgeries or cancers can lead to ongoing pain.
Whatever the cause of your pain, it is important to talk to your doctor about potential treatments that can help you find relief and improve your quality of life.
The Endocannabinoid System and Pain Modulation
Learning how to manage pain naturally can be challenging. Fortunately, medical cannabis provides a safe and effective option for many patients. This is because the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes in the body, interacts with the compounds present in medical cannabis treatments known as cannabinoids.
These cannabinoids, such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), can bind to receptors within the ECS, potentially modulating pain perception, inflammation, and even mood. As a result, medical cannabis has gained attention as a potential way to alleviate pain for some patients, especially in cases where traditional treatments may be inadequate or accompanied by unwanted side effects.
However, it's important for patients to work collaboratively with their doctors to determine the appropriate dosage, strain, and mode of consumption to ensure the best possible outcomes while considering individual medical histories and needs.
Is Medicinal Cannabis a Safe Chronic Pain Treatment?
One of the potential advantages of medicinal cannabis in pain management is its potential to offer relief without the same level of risk associated with traditional pain medications for some patients. Opioids, for instance, can lead to dependence, tolerance, and overdose. In contrast, some people with chronic pain taking medicinal cannabis may have a lower risk of dependence and overdose.
Remember: while medicinal cannabis may be a safer alternative for some, it’s still important to talk to your doctor about potential risks. The psychoactive effects of THC, for example, can impact cognitive function and may not be suitable for people with bipolar or schizophrenia.
The Wrap Up:
Medicinal cannabis may be an effective natural alternative for some patients when it comes to managing chronic pain. While traditional pain medications often come with side effects and risks, including addiction and overdose, medicinal cannabis may provide a lower-risk option for some patients.
Medicinal cannabis may help reduce pain in some patients by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) through compounds like THC and CBD, binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors to regulate pain, mood, and inflammation.
Polln helps Australian patients living with chronic pain access natural care for chronic pain relief, and support them with a safe and holistic approach to long-term pain management.
Chronic Pain: FAQs
Is Chronic Pain a Disability?
In Australia, chronic pain may potentially be classified as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 if it significantly limits a person's ability to undertake important daily activities.
Not all cases of chronic pain will be considered disabilities. The severity of the pain, the impact of the pain on the person's ability to function, and the presence of other symptoms will all be taken into account.
How to get pain medications for chronic pain?
To manage chronic pain and obtain pain medications, start by consulting a healthcare professional, for accurate diagnosis and personalised guidance. Non-medication approaches like physical therapy and relaxation techniques should be considered first. Medicinal cannabis may help some patients with chronic pain, but it’s important to speak to an expert who has experience in the prescription of medicinal cannabis to have an open discussion about potential risks and benefits first.
Make sure you follow legal and ethical guidelines, and communicate openly about your pain level and experiences. Regular monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary. Remember that a holistic approach, which could involve lifestyle changes and emotional support, is often effective in managing chronic pain.
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The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.
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