Overview of Intractable Pain

Intractable pain is typically considered to be a severe form of chronic pain. But unlike chronic pain from arthritic knees or similar cause, intractable pain isn’t easily treated or relieved. Just getting mild relief may require nontraditional treatments, such as medical marijuana or electrical stimulation of specific points in your brain.

Some health experts believe that one way intractable pain differs from other types of pain is that the brain processes intractable pain signals differently than other kinds of pain signals. This may be why intractable pain is so resistant to treatment.

Unlike chronic pain associated with arthritis, intractable pain can affect hormones, such as cortisol, because intractable pain also raises levels of stress and inflammation in your body. This can contribute to problems, such as high blood pressure and a high pulse rate. Intractable pain can also result in sexual dysfunction.

Intractable pain often interferes with sleep, making you more likely to feel fatigued. Insufficient sleep and constant pain can also combine to make it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. Along with interfering with your thinking skills, intractable pain can also affect your physical performance.

What causes intractable pain

Intractable pain can develop from several types of health problems. It can be felt in your joints, bones, muscles, and even your head.

Conditions that can cause intractable pain include:

Intractable pain doesn’t always have an obvious cause, which makes it even harder to diagnose and treat. What causes unyielding pain in one person may cause manageable pain in another.

But don’t assume that the pain is all in your head. Intractable pain is considered to be a real health problem, and it’s one that should be investigated.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Intractable Pain

Millions of people around the world suffer every day from chronic pain. The World Health Organization estimates that 20% of people worldwide have some form of chronic pain. This includes fibromyalgia, back pain, neck pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, TMJ disorder, sciatica and more.

According to pharmaceutical industry data, pain is a $13.2 billion market. Not only is pain medicine costly, but chronic pain is also often the cause of lost wages. In the U.S., it’s estimated that over 140 million days are lost to work because of back pain. The annual totals of both direct and indirect costs for chronic pain in the U.S. are estimated to be as high as $294.5 billion per year.

This means the costs of health care for patients with chronic pain might exceed the combined costs of treating patients with coronary artery disease, cancer and AIDS.

Severe chronic pain is often treated with opioid narcotics, such as Vicodin and Percocet, and analgesics, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Opiates and narcotics are effective in relieving severe pain, but they are highly addictive and have significant harmful side effects. Analgesics are not addictive but are usually inadequate for reducing or eliminating pain.

Additionally, long-term use of analgesics can develop serious side effects including stomach bleeding, liver damage and kidney damage.

How Marijuana Is an Effective Treatment

Years worth of anecdotal evidence points to the efficacy of marijuana to treat chronic pain conditions. Nowadays, medical and scientific communities are catching up with what many marijuana advocates have known for years.

So, what do the studies say? According to a Harvard-led review of 28 studies of cannabinoids to treat medical and pain issues published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the use of marijuana for chronic pain is supported by quality evidence.

Of the studies reviewed, all six generalized chronic pain studies found a substantial improvement through using cannabis.

Furthermore, a study from the University of Michigan from March 2016 and published in the Journal of Painshowed that marijuana:

  • Improved quality of life.

  • Reduced opioid usage by an average of 64 percent.

  • Decreased side effects of other medications.

Your body creates its own cannabis-like chemicals that affect various processes like inflammation and pain. It’s thought that cannabis works well to treat chronic discomfort due to these natural cannabinoid receptors we all have within our bodies, although more research needs to be done to ascertain exactly how marijuana works to relieve pain.   

What Symptoms of Chronic Pain Can Marijuana Treat?

It can be difficult for you to deal with chronic pain without help. Medical marijuana/cannabis and chronic pain conditions are closely related regarding alleviating symptoms you may have been suffering from for a protracted time. Medical pot may offer you substantial relief if you suffer from any of the following:

 

Marijuana vs. Opioids for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be so debilitating that sufferers often turn to powerful opioid narcotics to find relief. These drugs are not only addictive, but they’re also notoriously toxic. Nearly 30,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014 alone.

Medical cannabis for chronic pain has been shown to be an extremely effective treatment and much safer than opioids. Patients suffering from pain related to the nervous system have found particularly strong improvement in symptoms, whether they smoke cannabis, eat it or use it in an oral spray. With an alarmingly high number of people dying due to an epidemic of opioid overdoses, cannabis is becoming a much more popular alternative for many who suffer from pain on a daily basis.

In many instances, cannabis has been shown to not only decrease the side effects that result from taking opioids and other medications, but also improve the quality of life for many patients. It’s very important to note, however, that you should never change your treatment regimen unless you are closely supervised by a physician. Drastic changes could have potentially damaging effects. Have a long, detailed discussion with your doctor to make sure he or she agrees that you would benefit from using medical cannabis for pain.

Medical marijuana is an affordable, natural alternative that lacks the side effects found in the medicines traditionally used to treat chronic pain. In 1975, researchers found that THC was an effective pain reliever for cancer patients and found that it lacked the significant or toxic side effects found in traditional medicines. Since then, countless other studies have shown that marijuana safely and effectively treats various types of chronic pain with little to no side effects or risk of dependency.

Americans from all walks of life and social classes have been badly impacted by the current opioid epidemic. According to one study, opioid prescriptions have risen 400 percent since 1999. On a daily basis as many as 40 people have fatal reactions to prescription narcotic overdoses. Many chronic pain sufferers are looking for safer alternatives.

The legalization of medical marijuana/cannabis for chronic pain in many stateshas resulted in a pain-management revolution for many individuals. Using cannabis to treat pain means many chronic pain sufferers can significantly reduce their reliance on opioids.

 

Major Findings

The volume of studies supporting cannabis’ efficacy as a pain reliever are vast. In particular, two of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — have been found effective at lowering pain levels associated with an array of conditions, including some cancer, neuropathy, spasticity, headache, migraines, and other acute pain and chronic pain conditions4,7,21. THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system’s two main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) to regulate central nervous system immune cells and the release of neurotransmitter to manage pain levels46.

Studies indicate that cannabis use is prevalent among the chronic pain population, with improvements in pain, sleep and mood reportedly the top reasons for use. Canadian researchers conducted an online survey with sufferers of chronic pelvic pain syndrome and discovered that 75% reported an improvement in symptoms with cannabis use35. In another study, 12 of 15 chronic pain patients who smoked herbal cannabis over a 6-week period reported an improvement in pain40.

Researchers used a questionnaire study to examine cannabis’ effects in HIV-positive patients, and found that cannabis improved muscle pain in 94% of patients, while 90% of patients reported that their nerve pain had improved47. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study, multiple sclerosis patients that used a THC/CBD spray and experienced significantly reduced pain ratings23. In another study, 23 patients with post-traumatic or postsurgical neuropathic pain saw significant improvements in their daily pain intensity rating scale and reported an improved ability to fall asleep and improved quality of sleep41.

Studies have also demonstrated that using cannabis for pain management is safe13. In one study, after a year of regular use, patients with chronic pain were found to be at no greater risk of serious adverse effects than non-cannabis users40. With the high risk of abuse of pain medications claiming the lives of over 40 Americans everyday, studies suggest that cannabis could prove to be a non-addictive way to treat chronic pain1,25. Most recently, researchers discovered that vaporized cannabis containing THC caused a “significant analgesic response” in a clinical trial involving 42 patients that had previously found conventional pain-relieving medications, like opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to be ineffective45.

 

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