With the opioid epidemic plaguing Canada and the United States, many people are searching for an alternative pain relief method. Researchers surveyed 2,897 medical cannabis users for a study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, and 97 percent of participants strongly agreed they were able to decrease the amount of opioids taken when they consumed cannabis; 81 percent of participants strongly agreed that medical cannabis manages their pain more effectively than opioids.
As Emma Chasen, a cannabis educator in Portland, Oregon, explains, it’s the non-intoxicating cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) that’s being highlighted when we talk about pain relief. “CBD is the second-most prominent compound [in cannabis] to THC,” says Chasen. “THC is the compound that’s responsible for the intoxicating cerebral high that we associate with cannabis. CBD does not deliver that intoxication.”
Those with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia often turn to cannabis as a treatment option, and Blake Pearson, M.D., founder of GreenlyMed.com and practicing medical doctor in Ontario specializing in cannabinoid medicine, says he’s seen positive results in chronic pain patients he’s treated with CBD or a combination of CBD and THC.
Pearson usually starts patients off with a small dose of CBD (from 2-5 mg) then increases the dosage from there depending on how they respond. Chasen likes to recommend a combination of 2.5 mg CBD and 2.5 mg THC for pain relief. CBD helps mitigate THC’s high-inducing effect. Keep in mind that cannabis isn’t a miracle cure for pain — some people don’t respond, says Pearson.
If you’re wondering how cannabis could ease your own pain symptoms — whether you have a chronic condition, are experiencing a headache, or you’ve got a major case of PMS cramps — here are a few methods that could ease your body and mind. Just one note: The following list is not intended as medical advice. You should consult with your doctor first before trying cannabis for pain relief, as you’ll want to get the dosing right and make sure it won’t interfere with any medications you’re currently taking, says Pearson.
Look to tinctures
Like smoking or vaping, placing a CBD tincture under your tongue for sublingual (under-the-tongue absorption) absorption is ideal if quick relief is what you’re looking for, says Anna Symonds, education and partnership manager for East Fork Cultivars. That’s because it enters your bloodstream faster than if you ate an edible and had to wait for it to digest.
Infused edibles should be taken with other food
“If you’re going to consume CBD through the digestive route, it’s best to have it with a small snack that includes good fats — not on an empty or very full stomach,” says Symonds. (Cannabis is fat soluble.) Two foods loaded with healthy fats are peanut butter and avocado, so consider augmenting these ingredients with an infused oil. However, don’t expect fast relief.
“Methods such as smoking, vaping, and sublingual are among those with the most rapid onset,” says Symonds. “Edible products that go through the digestive route tend to have a slower onset but longer-lasting effects, so some people like to layer these different methods to avoid potential pain breakthroughs.” CBD loses its potency when you heat it up, so stick to adding it to cold snacks.
Take a CBD soak in the tub.
Enjoying a bath with infused salts is an option for addressing ailments like period cramps and pelvic pain, says Wood. You can make your own with a combination of a CBD tincture, Epsom salts, and your favorite essential oils.
Massage your aching muscles with topical CBD.
While most of the evidence of CBD’s effectiveness surrounds chronic pain, Chasen says it can be used to relieve sore muscles from a workout. Adds Wood, “CBD topical salves are a great natural treatment for sore muscles and inflammation. Salves should be applied as needed as they penetrate deep beneath the skin and are often high strength.”
Story by Christina Heiser
Illustration by Adrian Forrow
The preceding is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of cannabis. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer.