Anyone can run to the medicine cabinet to grab some ibuprofen or acetaminophen for a headache. Likewise, treating more severe pain with narcotic painkillers is as easy as swallowing a pill with some water. It is not so easy when you are trying to treat pain with medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis as a pain reliever is still hotly debated despite millions of people attesting to its effectiveness through their own self-medication practices. Perhaps one of the stumbling blocks to widespread medical acceptance is the fact that doctors still don’t write cannabis prescriptions. They will not start writing them until three things happen:
- The federal government legalizes medical cannabis.
- The FDA gives tacit approval to medical cannabis standards.
- Clinical studies determine hard and fast dosage recommendations.
In the absence of these three things, patients are left to self-medicate. They might consult with medical providers and pharmacists, but they ultimately decide what to use, how often to use it, and the amount they consume with each use.
So Many Products
There are a variety of factors that make using medical cannabis as a pain reliever interesting. Trying to account for all of them explains why so many people in the medical cannabis community speak of a journey rather than treatments. At the start of that journey is the realization that there are so many products to choose from.
Imagine a patient who works with Utahmarijuana.org to get his medical cannabis card. He is a chronic pain patient who knows very little about cannabis. On his first trip to a Utah medical cannabis pharmacy, he is exposed to cannabis flower, vaping products, tinctures, gummies and other edibles, capsules and pills, and even topical products.
Each of the products has a certain amount of THC. But THC levels vary from one product to the next. In addition, products contain other cannabinoids and terpenes. A particular cannabinoid and terpene profile could be very beneficial to the patient while a similar product with a different profile will not help at all.
Delivery Methods Matter
Seeing all the available products leads to inevitable questions about delivery method. If the patient chooses raw flower or vaping products, delivery is accomplished through inhalation. Meanwhile, THC tinctures are consumed by placing one or two drops under the tongue. Gummies, tablets, and capsules are ingested while topical products are applied on the skin.
Inhalation and tinctures get THC into the system almost instantly. The effects wear off almost as quickly as they come on. As for edible products, they tend to take longer to work. A patient could wait a couple of hours before feeling any effects from an edible. Do you see the problem here?
Not Traditional Medicines
The difficulty in all of this is that marijuana products are not traditional medicines within the pharmacological realm. Pharmaceutical companies do not produce scientifically proportioned products with reliable consistency across the board. They do not make medical cannabis drugs that have been designed around clinical study data.
None of this is to say that such products are necessary. You could make a very strong case for keeping the pharmaceutical industry out of medical cannabis. Nonetheless, pharmaceutical manufacturing eliminates much of the variation that now exists within medical cannabis. It is that variation that makes using the plant as a pain reliever so challenging.
For most medical cannabis patients treating chronic pain, the journey is more of a trial-and-error experience. Over a period of trying different products, delivery methods, and dosages, they finally hit on what seems to work. Then they stick with it until something changes.