Can Cannabis be a Natural Alternative to Painkillers?

Instead of taking a Tylenol the next time you get a migraine or muscle ache, consider cannabis as a possible natural alternative. People are turning to cannabis for more than just serious medicinal purposes or recreational effects. The therapeutic use of cannabis as a Swiss army knife for treating daily aches and pains is growing drastically as a suitable natural alternative to synthetic over the counter medications.

There are ways marijuana has been reported to help with symptoms like muscle aches or overcoming temporary pain from broken bones or sprains. A study from 2016 found a correlation between using marijuana and migraine relief. They found that the frequency of migraines decreased with medical marijuana use. They called for more research on the “cause-and-effect relationship and the use of different strains, formulations, and doses of marijuana.”

When it comes to natural solutions, marijuana is a viable option. Here’s what we know:

We can’t stomach painkillers

It’s no secret that narcotic painkillers are highly addictive and can be extremely dangerous. But over the counter pain medications that many of us take daily may be dangerous as well. We may be used to taking Tylenol or Advil for our daily aches and pains, but there could be a significant health cost associated with it.

Long-term use of common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Aspirin, Naproxen (i.e. Aleve), and Ibuprofen (i.e. Advil, Motrin) can cause serious gastrointestinal damage and increase the risk of heart failure. In addition, similar use of Acetaminophen (branded as Tylenol) is being linked to kidney disease, gastrointestinal damage, heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. One of such studies found that overuse of acetaminophen can increase a person’s risk of early death as much as 60 percent.

There’s a chemical reaction

Cannabis contains similar properties used in over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen without synthetic chemicals or side effects. Marijuana is made up of 80 cannabinoids, chemical compounds, like THC and CBD. Humans produce endocannabinoids, basically a system of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. When marijuana is ingested into the bloodstream (through smoking, vaping, oils or edibles), cannabinoids attach to receptors that are also in charge of controlling pain. Instead of serotonin or dopamine binding to the receptor (as they usually would), the cannabinoids block neurotransmitters and stop them from alerting the brain of any pain.

May I have some more?

A 2008 study found many cases where people reported relief from chronic pain after smoking marijuana. The study reviewed the use of various cannabis products intended for adjunctive relief, meaning the marijuana was used as well as other medications or treatments. Most notably, more than 80 percent of prescriptions were for refills for Canadians using Sativex over a six-month period in 2007. This showed their willingness to keep using marijuana as a natural alternative to manage pain. Sativex is currently an adjunctive treatment for “symptomatic relief of neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis in adults,” as it says under the Government of Canada’s drugs and health products.

Like an all-natural Gravol

The 2008 study also revealed some of the people who used cannabis benefitted from its anti-emetic qualities, noting that it helped relieve their nausea. The American Cancer Society cited research about the benefits of marijuana for those going through chemotherapy. Weed gave patients an appetite and helped to treat vomiting and nausea. Studies on weed or hemp oils are also being done to see if they would aid with similar symptoms.

“Studies have long shown that people who took marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to need less pain medicine,” according to the American Cancer Society.

Skin that’s clean, clear and under control

If you have dry, itchy skin, smoking might give you some relief—but what will really do the trick are creams or oils made from marijuana. A 2014 study on how plants can treat skin diseases showed that using hemp seed oil was beneficial for eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, lichen planus and acne rosacea. The oil strengthens the skin, which then becomes more resistant to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Crushed leaves can be rubbed directly onto the affected areas to control scabies, according to the 2014 study.

Casual users can sleep easy

Many medications used for people with sleeping disorders are highly addictive (like Ambien) or can have negatives effects (like Melatonin, which can lead to sleepiness in the daytime, headaches, depression, and stomach cramps). However, marijuana is known to make people tired after ingesting it. A study suggests that weed can help occasional users doze off. But the same study found that smoking marijuana daily was detrimental to insomnia, and actually worsened sleeping conditions. That study called for more research on how dosages and other variables play a part, as information about sleeping and weed is fairly inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.

If you’re interested in using marijuana as a natural alternative, speak to a health professional about the side effects, how to use it (smoking, vaping, or oils) and the proper dose. To sign up for a medical marijuana in Canada, you must provide medical documentation from a doctor or nurse practitioners confirming your diagnosis.