We live in a magical time. Modern science has afforded the human population and our furry companions with many avenues of treatment for most of the illnesses that we experience throughout our notably longer lives. It’s not an understatement to say that the modernization of cannabis production and legalization has led to new and novel treatments for many illnesses. As of now, there are about 113 known cannabinoids as extracted from the cannabis plant. Even more amazing, is that our body is specifically adapted to receiving these cannabinoids through our various ingestion methods. While cannabis is admired and studied for the possible applications it seems to present, its pain-relieving, or analgesic, effects are among the most studied. This is particularly examined due to the relatively minor side-effects that are experienced with cannabis use, as compared to pharmaceutical opiates. A study dating from 2013, claimed that subsequent to eliminating pain, “Cannabinoids have been found effective in increasing the threshold at which pain is perceived (…)”1. One thing that is frequently discussed among cannabis advocates is the “Entourage Effect”. This means that rather than a single compound being responsible for the ameliorating of illnesses, it is all of them working in concert to produce the desired effects. Yay teamwork!!
Something to consider is that while cannabis research, use, and acceptance is on the rise, its legal status is still murky. Particularly at the level that would be necessary for an analysis of cannabis and it’s many inherent chemicals. Current, peer-edited and well-funded research is focused solely on THC, usually in the form of Marinol or Sativex, which are artificially synthesized and don’t truly represent the effects of natural cannabis at its best.
Long-laureled as the main psychoactive compound that gives cannabis its euphoria inducing effects, tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, captures much of the scientific attention when cannabis is involved. When heating cannabis, THCa becomes activated and changes into THC. In its original state, THCa’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties work particularly well in concert as a topical palliative. Although THC is scientifically denounced for its intoxicating effects, it is easy to conceive that these same effects could contribute to pain relief.
Cannabidiol, known colloquially as CBD has almost certainly found its way into the daily vernacular of most Americans. Hailed as the holy-grail of cannabinoids due to its non-psychoactive interactions in the brain, it would be easier to list the maladies that CBD doesn’t address than those it does. Hemp-derived CBD has hit the market strong, with many head shops, lifestyle stores, and natural remedy outlets sporting a variety of products like tinctures, salves, capsules and isolates. In clinical science, “[s]tudies have been made with cannabidiol derivatives developed to inhibit peripheral pain responses and inflammation after binding to cannabinoid receptors.”2 In addition to inhibiting pain responses, notably in neuropathic and cancer-caused pain, CBD acts a cannabinoid modulator. This means that CBD has the potential to negate some of the scientifically undesirable intoxicating effects of THC. Anecdotes of users of CBD who experience moderate to severe chronic pain cite a noted decrease in the discomfort they perceive when using CBD. However, people generally found to be in very little to no pain tend to express that they cannot “feel” CBD.
Cannabinol is a cannabinoid that is generally thought poorly of because its increased presence is tied to a lack of presence of THC. That being said, this non-psychoactive compound is shown to be a powerful sedative with “5mg of the stuff is as effective as 10mg of diazepam”3. Needless to say, sleep is something that is known to evade people that suffer from consistent and chronic pain, yet it necessary for the body to repair itself. CBN has also been alluded to as having pain-alleviating effects when it comes to encouraging tissue growth for surface burns to the body. CBN is normally found in cannabis that is quite old, as it replaces THC as the buds are exposed to environs for long periods of time.
Cannabichromene is the second most abundant cannabinoid in raw cannabis.4 While not necessarily an analgesic, CBC has been shown to be more effective at reducing inflammation than other pharmacological compounds in current use. Inflammation is a frequent cause in many ailments that have chronic pain as a result, such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Besides its anti-inflammatory effects, it has also shown promise as an antidepressant and has evidence of neurogenesis, proving to be of much interest in the treatement of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers5.
Cannabinoids are separated into two varieties. Endocannabinoids, which are present naturally in the human body, and phytocannabinoids, which encapsulate all the compounds which are derived from cannabis and other plants. Much of the research into cannabis concerns interactions with endocannabinoids. Below are some links to research if you would like some additional reading.
1)Elikkottil J, Gupta P, Gupta K. The analgesic potential of cannabinoids. J Opioid Manag. 2009;5(6):341-57.
2)Manzanares J, Julian M, Carrascosa A. Role of the cannabinoid system in pain control and therapeutic implications for the management of acute and chronic pain episodes. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2006;4(3):239-57.
4) TURNER, C. E. and ELSOHLY, M. A. (1981), Biological Activity of Cannabichromene, its Homologs and Isomers. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 21: 283S-291S. doi:10.1002/j.1552-4604.1981.tb02606.x