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If you follow Medical Cannabis in the news, you’re probably familiar with the fact that chronic pain is the most often cited reason for using the drug. Between scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is pretty clear that Medical Cannabis can be an effective treatment and an excellent alternative to opioids and other prescription pain medications. But how does it work with your endocannabinoid system?

Studies looking into pain receptors and the endocannabinoid system have found an interesting link between the two. That link exists in the small number of cannabinoids naturally produced by the human body. They help regulate quite a few body functions – including pain perception.

The Role of Pain Receptors

What we refer to as “receptors” in the human body are actually chemical compounds. They are chemicals that send messages to the brain. Pain receptors do just what their name implies: they send pain messages to the brain as a way of alerting it that something is amiss.

We would bet that you have cut your finger with a knife at some point in your life. The very moment it happened, you felt pain. Your pain was the result of receptors notifying your brain that an injury had just occurred. Doing so accomplished a couple of things. First, it instructed the brain to tell the body’s defense systems to get to work on the wound. Second, the pain made you consciously aware that you injured yourself.

Knowing what we know about the role pain receptors play, it stands to reason that we should be able to modify a person’s perception of pain by modifying those receptors. That is exactly what researchers have been looking at in recent years. They have discovered that naturally produced cannabinoids already in the human body influence pain receptors.

Mapping the Endocannabinoid System

If you would like to know more about the link between pain receptors and the endocannabinoid system, the Cannigma website is a great resource. One of their articles discusses how scientists in the 1990s began mapping the endocannabinoid system after discovering that the human body naturally produces its own cannabinoids.

Mapping that system encouraged other researchers to begin investigating cannabis as a pain treatment. What they learned from their studies demonstrates that Medical Cannabis is an appropriate therapy for managing pain. Here are just some of the studies the Cannigma piece mentions:

  • Cancer Pain (2010) – This study looked at patients who did not respond well to opioid pain treatments. Some 43% of those patients reported improvement with Medical Cannabis.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (2006) – This study by British researchers demonstrated that cannabis-based medicines provide significant pain relief for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
  • Fibromyalgia (2008) – This study examined a THC-derived drug and its ability to improve the quality of life for fibromyalgia patients. It did just that.
  • Systematic Review (2015) – A systematic review of twenty-eight previous cannabis studies concluded that there was compelling evidence in support of cannabis as a pain management therapy.

These are just a few examples from the ever-growing body of research about using cannabis to treat pain. While research about other conditions may not be quite as robust, it’s encouraging to see such versatile potential in cannabis.

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