Pain comes in 3 forms: acute, chronic, and neuropathic. Acute pain is caused by physical damage and lasts until the ailment is healed, chronic pain is any pain that lasts more than 3 months, and neuropathic pain, often caused by diabetes, results from nerve tissue damage.
Cannabis was the earliest general anesthetic used during surgical procedures and has been used for hundreds of years to relieve pain. Cannabinoids are believed to relieve pain through the modulation of neurotransmitter release, causing pain relief and an anti-inflammatory affect. Naturally occurring endocannabinoids help to modulate pain signals through the nervous system. As they are released in response to unpleasant sensations, encocannabinoids reduce sensitivity to pain. Since transmission of pain signals travel both to and from the brain and spinal cord, the endocannabinoids can modulate these signals. When present in sufficient quantities, endocannabinoids can decrease the pain sensitivity. Endocannabinoids can be supplemented by cannabinoids found in marijuana.
Sublingual and swallowed forms of cannabis seem to be most beneficial for patients who suffer from chronic pain because the serum level of the cannabinoids remains more stable. The more rapid onset of the vaporized or smoked cannabis can be used to treat “breakthrough” pain for chronic pain patients, as well as for patients who have acute pain symptoms. Topical cannabis products are also available for painful conditions of the skin, such as severe itching, skin inflammation, and dermatitis.