Pain Relief

October 2023

Weed has many uses nowadays. Aside from recreational purposes, users and scientists also point to potential health and wellness benefits. You can find a lot of literature about this. Just look at the amount of published research over the past few decades. In this article, we will take a closer look at the question if cannabis can be effective for pain relief after major surgery. Is it a better alternative to over-the-counter drugs? Or are we still better off with opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs?





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Current Pain Relief Treatments

Not all surgeries go the same way. Some are bloody, after which you’ll still recover quickly, while others are much more painful, as if you’ve participated in a long boxing match, for example. Doctors are still often inclined to offer traditional options for pain relief. Sometimes with medication, sometimes without. The type of treatment you undergo depends on the surgery and your pain tolerance. Most of these treatments are generally safe, except for some side effects, such as nausea, drowsiness and vomiting.

Local Anesthetics

Anesthetics numb a particular part of the body for a short period of time. Some can be taken orally, while others are administered locally.

Patients who find the pain unbearable sometimes get offered a nerve block. As with most anesthetics, a nerve blockade desensitizes the part of the body where the pain is felt. Such a blockade is usually administered through a catheter.

The beauty of nerve blocks is that they reduce the need for the use of opiates. This means fewer and milder episodes of nausea, drowsiness and other side effects.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

You may have taken ibuprofen for painful toothache or diclofenac to get rid of migraines.

These are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs. As the name suggests, these are used primarily to reduce inflammation. You can also buy them without a prescription.

The main advantage of NSAIDs is that they do not cause any harm. But they do have potential side effects, such as dizziness and stomach problems. They can also be a problem for people with stomach ulcers or those taking blood thinners.

Although NSAIDs are freely available, it is often better to consult a doctor before using them.

Relaxation Techniques

Those who don’t want to burden their bodies with medication can try relaxation techniques to relieve pain after surgery.

A good example is image-guided therapy, which involves conjuring up a calm, soothing image in your mind. The goal of this technique is for you to be pleasantly distracted from the pain. This reduces its intensity.

Homeopathic remedies, such as cold or heat therapy, sometimes also work to reduce swelling and make the pain more manageable. What you ultimately choose will depend on the advice of your doctor or practitioner.

Non-Opioid Painkillers

If you are dealing with mild to moderate pain that you no longer want to feel, painkillers are sometimes the right choice. These are often effective on their own, so you don’t need to take other medications. This decreases the likelihood of side effects.

Like NSAIDs, most painkillers are safe for consumption. You can buy them at the drugstore or supermarket without needing a prescription.

What you should be aware of, however, is that liver damage can occur if you exceed the prescribed dosage. If you are already dealing with liver problems, you should consult a doctor beforehand.

Opiates For Pain Relief

Pain Relief

Certain opiates are often used to relieve pain after surgery. People who experience intense discomfort are frequently prescribed these medications. When taken, these medications bind with opiate receptors in the brain and spinal cord. It then sends signals through the body to tell it that it is not in pain.

The biggest advantage of using opiates for pain relief is that the effects are immediate. The pain is replaced by a distinct euphoric feeling. But as with any synthetic drug, there are also many drawbacks. Especially when a patient abuses them.

Physical Side Effects Of Opiates

The first obvious signs of dependence on opiates are the physical side effects. In these, you may experience drowsiness or suffer from constipation. Some dismiss these symptoms as normal, but when you experience them yourself, you know that something is not right with your body.

Tolerance And Withdrawal

The more often you use opiates, the easier it is for your body to build a tolerance to them. A logical next step is to increase your dose to an unhealthy level in order to still feel something.

The withdrawal symptoms after you quit using opiates are not pleasant at all either. For example, you may experience muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, to name a few. Now you’re in a grim situation. In fact, the medications that are supposed to give you relief often actually cause you unbearable and uncomfortable moments.

Mental and Behavioral Changes

Long-term use of opiates will cause your body to become dependent on these drugs. In the process, the brain stops producing certain hormones and neurochemicals. Instead, they have become dependent on opiates to do the job.

The result is that your brain begins to react differently to your environment. Certain signals and triggers may remind you of the drug. This eventually creates an unwanted craving. This dependence also often leads to desperate acts to still get your dose in. Stealing money from family members is an example of this.

Research On Weed for Pain

Now let’s look at the bottom line. How does science look at marijuana for pain after surgery?

As with other findings related to cannabis, experts have found both positives and negatives. When it comes to us, we found that the Ice Cream Cake strain in particular works well against chronic pain.

Weed In Pain Management

In a 2008 study, researchers found a link between cannabis and pain relief. The link? Our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). When THC enters the body, it binds with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS. Activation of these receptors has the potential to cause effects that affect pain perception and reduce hyperalgesia (an abnormally increased sensitivity to pain). People who suffer from fibromyalgia and migraines know this all too well.

But that’s not all. THC can also have an effect on both dopamine and serotonin levels. This can also help influence pain perception. Ongoing research is also testing CBD (a non-psychotropic cannabinoid) on inflamed animal cells to see if it can play a future role regarding pain relief.

Can Weed Reduce The Need For Painkillers?

Opiates themselves are not the only problem. Another problem is the accessibility to such drugs and the ease of abuse. However, recent studies show that cannabis can reduce the risk of opiate use. For example, one study found that 82% of 1,000 participants who used cannabis to influence pain perception were able to reduce or completely stop using over-the-counter painkillers. Another 88% were able to completely stop using opiates.

In some cases, people resort to marijuana to combat the unpleasant side effects of certain medications. However, with controlled use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes, patients can also experience relief without opiates. This also reduces the risk of tolerance and dependence of these opiates.

Marijuana As A Possible ‘Gateway’ To Opiate Use 

On the other hand, the drawbacks of therapeutic cannabis use must also be considered. As a 2016 retroactive pilot study shows, chronic consumption of marijuana may actually lead to opiate use as well.

The study involved patients in hospitals in Colorado and Texas who had been in car accidents. It was ultimately concluded that chronic marijuana use may have affected the pain response, requiring higher doses of analgesic opiates for relief. However, it is worth noting that these findings were observed specifically with chronic users. Sporadic users showed no difference in terms of desire to use opiates.

Opiates Vs. Weed For Pain Relief

On paper, there are compelling arguments for using marijuana for pain relief after surgery. But when you compare it to opiates, things get a little more complicated.

  • Addictive Tendencies: Opiates and marijuana both offer a high potential for overuse. Both give users a euphoric feeling, making you susceptible to addiction and chronic consumption. However, the withdrawal symptoms of opiates are much more unpleasant. On the other hand, cannabis can be seen as a good alternative to opiates, if used correctly. In doing so, it has no harmful side effects and, moreover, a fatal overdose is impossible.
  • Availability: This is where opiates score a point. No matter where you are in the world, these drugs can be purchased as long as you have a doctor’s prescription. That’s not the same with cannabis, which is still considered a “dangerous” drug in many countries and sometimes carries severe penalties for possession, cultivation and sale.
  • The Process Of Pain Relief: There is a difference in how marijuana and opiates provide pain relief. As we wrote earlier in this article, opiates make your brain believe that the body is not in pain. This happens immediately after the drugs bind with the opiate receptors in the brain. The process is slightly different with marijuana. Marijuana enhances the body’s ability to reduce the sensation of pain, making it more natural, but possibly less effective.

Weed As A Painkiller After Surgery

There are at least two schools of thought in this discussion. One group of people prefers cannabis because, compared to opiates, the side effects are less severe. On the other hand, another group prefers opiates because of their accessibility and the legal issues surrounding marijuana.

Cannabis shows promise in the therapeutic field, but it can also cause complications. This particularly depends on what kind of surgery you have undergone. For example, smoking is absolutely inadvisable if the surgery involves the respiratory system.

More research is still needed regarding the use of cannabis to influence pain perception after surgery. However, current findings are promising. In addition, cannabis is relatively safe to use both before and after surgery.

To be on the safe side, it is always wise to consult your doctor after surgery before using cannabis.

Pain Relief | Frequently Asked Questions

Are opiates better than cannabis for pain relief?

That depends on your personal opinion after reading this page.

Can I use weed for pain relief legally?

In some places you can and in others you can’t, so it’s best to ask your local government.

Is it dangerous to use cannabis for pain relief?

No, you can never take a fatal overdose or cause other significant harm.

Are there side effects to using weed for pain relief?

Yes, these are very similar to the side effects of nicotine.

Is cannabis effective for pain relief?

It’s very effective, providing you use the right strain.