The relationship between sleep and pain, especially chronic pain, has been a subject of focus for health practitioners for decades. It’s only natural that medical cannabis, which has demonstrated effectiveness in treating both chronic pain and sleep loss, might shed further light on the intersection between these two health problems. At the very least, examining more connections on the effectiveness of cannabis for treating chronic pain and sleep separately might reveal greater insight into how these two issues can be treated as a single problem.
In a 2015 article published in the Journal of Sleep Disorders and Therapy, Dr. Mark A. Ware of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada, emphasized ongoing studies should seek to understand if sleep improvements occur as a result of pain relief or the other way around. Additionally, more data is needed to define how cannabis preparation impacts short and long-acting cannabinoid reactions. Gaining this understanding will help to make medical cannabis an even more effective treatment for patients experiencing both chronic pain and sleep problems.
Cannabis offers patients pain relief with limited side effects and lower risks of opioid dependence
Chronic pain is one of the symptoms most commonly treated with medical marijuana, and a large body of evidence supporting this medical treatment strategy exists as a result. For example, clinical data gathered in 2008 by researchers at the University of Milan revealed that medical cannabis is an even more effective treatment when prescribed in concert with additional cannabinoids or non-cannabinoid compounds:
“Collectively, these findings strongly support the idea that the combination of cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid compounds…provide significant advantages in the relief of neuropathic pain compared with pure cannabinoids alone,” according to the report.
In 2011, the findings of a pharmacokinetic investigation performed by the Division of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital were published in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. They revealed an important aspect regarding the nature of the synergistic relationship between opioids and cannabinoids and their effects on the human body. More importantly, the study identified that those receiving a mixed treatment of both cannabinoids and opioids may be able to permanently reduce their intake of opioids for the treatment to be effective.
Additionally, a study published earlier in 2015 in the Journal of Pain found herbal cannabis to be effective at reducing symptom intensity over a 1-year trial measuring the progress of chronic pain sufferers. Notably, these results reinforced the idea that herbal cannabis delivers the same positive treatment impacts to patients as synthetic cannabinoids.
“Herbal cannabis delivers the same positive treatment impacts to patients as synthetics.”
Medical marijuana plays a role in multiple physiological mechanisms that support sleep
Researchers have explored the possibility of using medical cannabis as a sleep aide for several years. As far back as 2002, scientists from the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago published results in the journal Sleep that suggested that the cannabinoid system can plan an active role in evening out serotonin levels that might induce sleep apnea symptoms in the mammalian brain. The report called for additional clinical trials, and the scientific community took notice.
Over a decade later, a new team performing trials at the University of Illinois expanded upon the research performed in 2002 with a new report published in a 2013 edition of Frontiers of Psychiatry. Researchers found that in addition to improving patient sleep by controlling serotonin levels, THC plays a role in stabilizing autonomic output during sleep and limiting instances of unpredictable, sleep-disordered breathing. Furthermore, the trial revealed that the treatment was well tolerated by patients, even after the dosage began to increase on a weekly basis.
Greater understanding of the cannabinoid system has provided scientists with several insights into exactly why medical cannabis has been recognized for centuries as an effective treatment for a myriad of conditions. As more refined understandings of these mechanisms are discovered, it won’t be long before the idea of treating multiple symptoms concurrently via the cannabinoid system becomes a standard practice. In the meantime, new clinical trials are needed to understand the full range of medical applications for cannabis.