Cannabinoid medicines as a group are incredibly effective for chronic pain as part of a resilience medicine approach, and this is supported by a considerable body of evidence that is constantly growing. 

They work so well because our endocannabinoid system is very involved in regulating the brain pain networks and the pain in nerves throughout the body and even in localized body pain in joints and tissues. Adding plant cannabinoids interrupts the pain messages through many different chemical and brain messenger pathways at both types of cannabinoid receptors (the CB 1 receptors and the CB2 receptors). So both THC and CBD and the other minor cannabinoids and terpenes contribute to the anti-pain effect. 

Cannabinoid receptors are everywhere–from the ‘brain down’ to the ‘body up: the brain, spinal cord, and most body tissues, nerve cells, immune cells, and major organs all have them. This broad reach of cannabinoid receptors helps explain why cannabis works for all of the different sorts of chronic pain–something no other pain drug yet invented can do as well.

Plant cannabinoids can change how our brain processes pain and our emotional and behavioral automatic ‘brain reactions’ to it. This is known as the suffering of the chronic pain experience when our brain areas of emotion and mood become involved in the pain response. This is a genuine part of chronic pain, and simply ‘thinking positively’ – something many people are told to do – has no impact. However, because cannabis works on both these elements of pain, it is a very powerful tool – like no other pain medications we use in Western medicine.

Exercise also activates the analgesic (pain relief) effects of the endocannabinoid system, which is one reason why staying active is so important if you have chronic pain. However, many people are in too much pain or physically unable to want to or be able to exercise, which starts a vicious cycle of no exercise, leading to more weight gain and weakness, which leads to more pain and muscle wasting, eventually making it harder to exercise and move the body, which results in less energy.

Treating pain effectively with cannabinoids and a resilience medicine approach can help break this cycle.