How Effective Are Cannabis Products At Relieving Pain? Things To Consider 

Updated on September 29, 2022

Pain is the most common reason people seek medical assistance and is often the most challenging condition to treat. The elusive nature of pain leaves many people at the mercy of pharmaceutical drugs with a slew of debilitating side effects. Because safe, natural medications are sparse, cannabis is one of the top alternative painkiller options for patients worldwide. 

The history of cannabis for pain reduction

Cannabis’s medical use history traces back over 5,000 years. In fact, early Chinese medicine practitioners used cannabis to treat childbirth, arthritis, and malaria-related pain. Even the United States Pharmacopeia in the 19th and early 20th centuries mentioned cannabis for pain. Later in 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, including pain relief. 

What the research says about cannabis for relieving pain

Recent studies indicate cannabis may be most effective for nerve damage or inflammation-related pain with mild side effects. That makes cannabis an extraordinarily alternative to opioids, which has led to millions of overdose deaths and severe addiction. 

Here’s what the research says:

  • In a study comparing the effects of a single potent dose of THC with a narcotic pain reliever, codeine, researchers found that 10 milligrams of THC gave the same pain relief as a 60-milligram dose of codeine, a relatively strong dose. The study further concluded that 20 milligrams of THC worked as well as 120 milligrams of codeine. Patients also exhibited a greater sense of well-being and less anxiety after taking THC than under the influence of codeine.
  • A rheumatoid arthritis (RA) study comparing the effects of a cannabis-based pharmaceutical Sativex vs. a placebo found Sativex improved pain during movement and at rest while improving sleep quality. 
  • In a recent survey of more than 100 regular marijuana users with multiple sclerosis, nearly every participant reported that marijuana helped relieve spasticity and limb pain. In an earlier survey, paraplegic patients stated that smoking marijuana reduced phantom limb pain and headaches.
  • In research evaluating the subjective reports of pain in patients with HIV-induced neuropathy, or damage or dysfunction to nerves that results in numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and pain, 52% of the patients showed a greater than 30% reduction in pain after consuming 3.56% THC.

Best cannabis products for pain relief

Cannabis delivery methods range from smokable flower to gummies and transdermal patches. There is no universally accepted “best cannabis product” for pain. However, understanding how each work can help people decide what may align best with their goals. 

  • Gummies 

Edibles, including gummies, beverages, cookies, and cakes, can take 1-3 hours to kick in because they must travel through the digestive tract before registering in the bloodstream. The delay may not be ideal. However, edibles are popular pain relievers because they’re noticeably more potent than joints and vapes. That’s because THC travels to the stomach, where the liver converts it into a metabolic byproduct called 11-hydroxy-THC–five times more psychoactive than delta 9 THC.  11-hydroxy-THC delivers an intense body and mental high with soothing and euphoric effects that far exceed smoking. 

Edibles are also great options for people experimenting with the best dosage and cannabinoid ratio for their condition. With edibles, patients can choose exactly how much THC and CBD they want to ingest, gradually increasing or decreasing the concentration for best results.  For example, those seeking pain relief may benefit from a 1:1 THC/CBD edible since THC is shown to help relieve pain, whereas CBD reduces inflammation.

  • Extracts 

Cannabis extracts, also known as concentrates, are products made from extracted plant compounds, concentrated into higher potencies. These products can come from tinctures, oils, or resins that are popular with experienced users who want a high dose with near-immediate effects. For those suffering from pain, higher dosages may be helpful. However, beginners should start low and slow and work up to recommended dosages to avoid unwanted side effects, such as paranoia.

  • Transdermal Patches

Patches work by administering cannabinoids through the skin into the bloodstream. As a result, transdermal patches are particularly beneficial for people seeking localized relief from joint issues or injuries. Patches are also effective for those who want THC benefits without smoking or getting high. Patches typically come in varying potencies and ratios, making dosage control seamless. Some patches can be applied and left on for up to 72 hours–a significant benefit for travelers. 

  • Flower

Smokable flower is the most traditional cannabis product, with benefits and drawbacks for people with pain. Unlike edibles, cannabis flower potency is much more unpredictable because THC percentages vary across strains and plants. On the upside, flower contains hundreds of therapeutic compounds, including terpenes that synergize with THC to maximize pain-relieving properties. Additionally, smokable flower kicks in almost immediately with a 1-2 hour duration–ideal for people looking for quick results but don’t want to be high all day.

Best THC dosage for pain

Determining the best THC dosage for pain relief is based on various factors, including body weight, frequency of use, and tolerance level. Daily users will probably need higher potency products around 10mg THC and up. However, for those new to cannabis, it’s wise to start at around 2.5mg and work up from there.

Is Delta-9 legal?

Is Delta-9 legal? In short–it depends. Cannabis-derived Delta-9 is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, hemp-derived Delta-9 THC is federally legal according to the 2018 Farm Bill. According to the bill, any hemp product or derivative is allowed as long the final product contains less than 0.3% concentration by dry weight. Aside from Idaho, every state in the country allows hemp Delta-9 sales.

The bottom line

Research indicates cannabis can ease various pain-related ailments, including nerve pain, headaches, chronic pain, or spasticity conditions, with minimal adverse side effects. People interested in exploring THC as an alternative to prescription drugs should talk to their doctors first and always experiment with low dosages at first. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.