Chronic Pain and the Therapeutic Effects of Medical Cannabis

Did you know that chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined? According to data from a 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), it is estimated that within a previous three-month period, 25 million U.S. adults suffered from daily chronic pain.

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What is chronic pain?             

While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you of possible injury, chronic pain is very different.  This pain simply does not go away, with durations lasting months to even years. It persists with signals constantly firing in the nervous system, outlasting the normal time of healing. Illness and disease such as arthritis, inflammatory disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer are the most common causes of chronic pain.

Chronic pain interferes with daily activities and may cause mental and emotional disturbances such as   depression, anxiety, or mood disturbances. Such disturbances diminish an individual’s quality of life and make it hard to enjoy even simple, everyday activities which most of us take for granted.

The good news: you can take action to better manage the side effects of chronic pain. The bad news: commonly prescribed drugs to treat pain, such as opioids, are highly addictive and potentially toxic; with 28,000 people dying from opioid overdose in 2014 alone.  The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) estimates that drug overdoses killed 64,070 people in the US in 2016, a rise of 21% over the 52,898 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2015. 

For those looking for an alternative form of treatment, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.

Studies have shown that medical marijuana can assist patients suffering from certain serious medical conditions by alleviating pain and improving their quality of life. In Pennsylvania under Act 16, chronic pain is considered a “serious medical condition.”  One of the therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids is to treat chronic pain in adults. A University of Michigan March 2016 study published in the Journal of Pain provides some compelling data. They found that cannabis:

  • Decreased side effects from other medications

  • Improved quality of life

  • Reduced use of opioids (on average) by 64%

Kevin Ameling, a chronic pain patient who now works for a Colorado-based non-profit cannabis research advocacy group,  IMPACT Network, believes cannabis saved him from a life of dependency on prescription drugs. “It’s hard to express in words what a life changer medical marijuana has been for me,” said Ameling. “I was becoming increasingly worried about having to take higher doses of prescription drugs that can be highly addictive and toxic. Not only was I able to cut back significantly, with cannabis I can often skip the OxyContin with no adverse effects, something I couldn’t do before.”

Remember, you can only legally obtain cannabis for your chronic pain if you have an identification card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and a recommendation from a participating physician in the Medical Marijuana Program. Patients should be able to begin registering with the Commonwealth here by November, 2017. Additionally, patients or caregivers who are interested may take a patient survey here.

To become a recommending Physician, one must take a 4 hour online course. Physicians may take the 4-hour course regarding the latest scientific research on medical marijuana here: This course is INEXPENSIVE and counts toward annual CME credits! The department will then establish and maintain an electronic database that includes a list of physicians that are registered with the program.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, call your doctor and ask them to sign up and become a recommending doctor. Simply email the link to this blog post to them!

According to the CDC, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. If you are a physician who would is interested in increasing the quality of life for your patients while also helping to end the opioid epidemic in our country, please register and take the medical marijuana licensing course.

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