Cannabinoids for Treating Pain

cannabinoids for pain

Although pain is a normal response by our bodies to let us know that something has gone wrong, for many people it can become something which is more than a fleeting sensation of discomfort.  Chronic pain is one of the most wide-spread and debilitating health conditions, causing an increasing number of people to turn to dangerous and often highly addictive pharmaceutical drugs to find some relief. 


Acute Pain

This is the type of pain that most people are familiar with and usually comes on suddenly in response to trauma.  It has a sharp quality to it and lasts anything from a few minutes, to a couple of days or even longer depending on the severity of the trauma.  It usually goes away once the underlying cause is no longer present.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, as the name suggests is when pain lasts for prolonged periods of time, often without any identifiable underlying cause and serving no particular biologic function.  Instead, chronic pain is considered a disease process in and of itself instead of being a sign or symptom of a trauma or disease.

There are two types of chronic pain: neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain. 

Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is a type of chronic pain in which the body continually sends pain signals to the brain in the absence of any type of trauma or disease and limited to neurons, inflammatory pain can generally manifest anywhere in the body.  

Neuropathic pain is largely caused by the neurotransmitter glutamate which  is responsible for activating the neurons in the glutamenergic system – the major excitatory neuronal pathway through which pain signals are sent and received between the body, spinal cord and brain.

Inflammatory Pain

Inflammatory pain is another type of chronic pain which is related to neuropathic pain.  However, unlike neuropathic pain which is limited to neurons, inflammatory pain can generally manifest anywhere in the body.  

Inflammatory pain is caused by the release chemicals like histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins causing blood vessels to leak fluid into the surrounding tissues and causing redness, swelling, heat, pain, and loss of tissue function.

Even though there is substantial research showing that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) and opiates are not only ineffective at times but also highly addictive, these still remain the most common treatment for pain.

Medical cannabis and cannabinoid based medicines are gaining popularity as an effective and non-addicting alternative treatment option in the treatment of pain.  

The reason for this is twofold; 

  • Firstly research as well as clinical tries have shown that it can be effective in relieving both acute and chronic symptoms of pain; and 
  • Secondly, it has an incredibly favorable side-effect profile when compared to pharmaceutical interventions.


Cannabinoids interact with the ECS to reduce pain

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body including the immune system and nervous system.  Cannabinoid receptors, along with compound called endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced within the body) form part of the endocannabinoid system, all of which play a vital role in the inhibition and control of pain signalling.

Phytocannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have the ability to interact with these cannabinoid receptors in a manner similar to endocannabinoids, activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the nervous system thereby suppressing pain processing and releasing endogenous opioid pain relievers.  

Simultaneously, phytocannabinoids also have the ability to regulate the release and uptake of endocannabinoids such as anandamide and FAAH which are all implicated in the way in which the body processes and experiences pain.

Cannabinoids block pain signals directly

Activation of the α3 GlyRs receptors play a vital role in the sensory nervous system’s response to certain harmful or potentially harmful stimuli and causing the sensation of pain. Scientists have found that one of the main reasons why phytocannabinoids such as CBD are such powerful analgesics is due to their ability to suppress Glycine receptors, specifically α3 GlyRs.  

Cannabinoids reduce inflammation & oxidative stress

When the body sustains damage through trauma, toxins, disease, heat or other types of environmental factors, the affected cells release chemicals called prostaglandins. These chemicals alert the brain to act causing it to send out signals which tells the blood vessels surrounding the affected tissues to leak fluid and increase blood-flow.  This is what is termed as an inflammatory response and is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain, and loss of tissue function.

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties which are mostly due to their ability to suppress the activity of specific prostaglandins called cyclooxygenase, in a similar way as NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen.  In addition, CBD also has the ability to fight inflammatory oxidative stress by suppressing the immune response which play a role in inflammation. 

To find out if cannabis medicine is a good option for you, or to book a consultation with one of Farside’s registered medical specialists, please go to our booking page here.

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