While anecdotal reports about the efficacy of cannabis as a pain reliever are widespread, there is an increasing body of scientific evidence — hampered for decades by the United States’ preposterous designation of cannabis as a Schedule I drug — to support the claims. An example: researchers at McGill University conducted a clinical trial and found that cannabis helps people with chronic nerve pain due to injury or surgery feel less pain (cannabis appears to be particularly effective at treating neuropathic pain) and sleep better.
This study compares the pain-blocking mechanisms of cannabis vs. opioids. It also explains that while the two operate similarly when it comes to blocking pain signals in the brain and making users feel good, in the case of cannabis, it appears that “cannabinoids like CBN, CBC and THC also work systemically to reduce inflammation and help relax damaged tissues throughout the body.”
Pain relief is only part of the story, however. As Scientific American notes, clinical results do not take into account the overall improvements in the quality of life experienced by medical marijuana users suffering from pain: “Many users report improved mood and decreased anxiety and insomnia as invaluable benefits of the drug.”
Then there’s the nasty side effects associated with many pharmaceutical painkillers, everything from dizziness to constipation and rash (one study even indicates opiates may encourage the spread of cancer). Ironically, clinical research suggests that cannabis helps with some of the gastrointestinal side effects and withdrawal symptoms of prescription painkillers and methadone.