Using Medical Marijuana for Pain? How It Affects the Brain’s Pain Center

medical marijuana for pain

Picture this: You’ve been struggling with chronic pain for years, and nothing seems to help. But then you hear about medical marijuana for pain and its potential to alleviate your symptoms. You’re intrigued but also skeptical–how can a plant possibly help with something as complex as pain? 

The truth is, medical marijuana has been shown to significantly impact the brain’s pain center, offering relief to millions of people worldwide. But how exactly does it work? In this blog, we’ll take a deep dive into the science behind medical marijuana for pain relief, exploring how cannabis interacts with the brain to reduce pain, improve mood, and enhance the overall quality of life.

Does Medical Marijuana Help with Pain?

Pain is a subjective experience that varies from person to person and can be intermittent or chronic. According to a Science Daily study, over 50 million Americans suffer from persistent or chronic pain. To mitigate the symptoms, many people turn to anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers such as opioids, NSAIDs, aspirin, or ibuprofen. However, these treatments may have adverse side effects and varying levels of effectiveness.

Medical marijuana, which is known for its pain-relieving properties, has been used for centuries. Today, many patients rely on cannabis treatments to manage their pain, alleviate symptoms, and enhance their overall well-being.

Understanding How the Brain Processes Pain

Picture pain as a mischievous troublemaker, sneaking around your body and causing chaos wherever it goes. When it strikes, pain triggers the neuromatrix center, affecting six different regions of the brain: the primary somatosensory cortex, secondary somatosensory cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, prefrontal cortex, and thalamus. This intricate system is responsible for activating pain neurons. Typically, pain activity is more pronounced and widespread in the areas of the brain associated with stimuli and perception. Chronic pain, however, tends to increase activity in regions linked with emotional responses.

The primary somatosensory cortex is like a detective, working hard to pinpoint where the pain is coming from. When pain is acute, brain activity is higher on the same side of the brain. But for chronic pain, neuron activity often spreads across opposite regions. According to a Future Medicine study, peripheral activity plays a vital role in pain and could eventually provide clues about the mystery of pain origin and perception.

The neuromatrix is the ultimate showdown between pain and your perception of it. Studies have shown a strong correlation between mood disorders and pain, with severe or chronic pain posing significant risk factors. The medications used to treat pain, such as antidepressants, narcotics, anesthetics, opioids, and NSAIDs, are like a team of superheroes, battling pain’s villainous schemes. Unfortunately, however, these pharmacological treatments often come with risks that can worsen pain and other symptoms while negatively impacting mental and physical health, ultimately creating a never-ending cycle of pain and distress.

Three primary types of pain sensations occur when the body experiences discomfort: somatic, visceral, and neuropathic pain. The activation of pain pathways in the brain primarily influences these sensations.

  • Somatic pain is characterized as a deep ache or discomfort often experienced after physical activity. It occurs when pain signals are transmitted through the peripheral nerves to the brain following injury or activation.
  • On the other hand, neuropathic pain arises from nerve damage, injury, or dysfunction. This type of pain is often associated with intense sensations of hot or cold and stimuli, and is commonly described as a painful or unpleasant burning sensation. Neuropathic pain is notoriously challenging to manage, especially with traditional painkillers. However, treatments like antidepressants and certain medical procedures can relieve those suffering from neuropathic and chronic pain conditions.
  • Conversely, visceral pain results from injury or trauma to organs or tissues in the abdominal region. It can cause intense pain deep within the gut.

Why Using Marijuana for Pain Works

Medical research has shown that cannabis can alleviate pain, particularly neuropathic pain. In addition, it has been suggested that cannabis cannabinoids interact with the neurotransmitters in the brain’s pain center or neuromatrix and throughout the body, resulting in analgesic effects.

Cannabis is rich in cannabinoids, chemically similar to the endocannabinoids naturally produced in the body. The various cannabinoids present in cannabis have unique properties, with THC being the most well-known due to its psychoactive properties. However, despite common misconceptions, a growing body of scientific evidence shows THC’s therapeutic benefits on many physiological and psychological processes, particularly pain.

Pain activates the cannabinoid system in the brain, and introducing THC into the body produces a similar response. THC binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, primarily in the medulla oblongata, part of the pain neuromatrix. Pain sensitivity is then decreased.

Additionally, endocannabinoids are released in response to pain, which are reported to positively affect pain until they are metabolized. Peripheral nerves contain cannabinoid receptors that, when activated, suppress pain signals through mechanisms different from opioids and other standard pain medications. THC, the same cannabinoid responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive properties, is effective.

It’s Time to Pause the Pain

If you or someone you know is grappling with chronic pain and seeking a different approach to managing it, medical marijuana for pain could be an effective option.

Pause Pain & Wellness is the leading medical marijuana card clinic in Mississippi with multiple statewide locations, offering comprehensive consultations and treatment plans to help patients manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. 

To learn more and schedule an appointment with one of their experienced physicians, call Pause Pain & Wellness today at 833-940-5060