Older Asian woman holding her hand on her shoulder with expression indicating pain.

Looking for Alternatives for Chronic Pain?

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN, and Eloise Theisen, NP
Written by Denise Rustning

If you’ve ever dealt with chronic pain, you know that relief can be elusive. Popping an aspirin rarely resolves the issue. However, many long-term prescription medications used to manage chronic pain are problematic, with concerning side effects.

Have you ever thought about giving cannabis a try when dealing with chronic pain? If so, you’re not alone.

Keep reading to learn how increased knowledge about plant-based medicine, along with expanding availability of fully-tested legal products, is making it easier than ever to find a hemp CBD or a higher THC product that can provide targeted relief that fits your lifestyle.

Also, consider watching a replay of our July 2021 Leaf Learning Series event, Exploring Cannabis for Chronic Pain, on the Leaf411 YouTube channel at this link. You’ll instantly access Dr. Dustin Sulak’s discussion on how both cannabinoids and opioids work to reduce pain, along with insights on how cannabis serves as a safe alternative for chronic pain for many people.

Chronic pain is a major health issue in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2019, over 20% of U.S. adults had chronic pain, and that percentage is increasing among all age groups. Chronic pain encompasses a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritic pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Psychogenic pain (associated with psychological factors)
  • Post-traumatic pain

Many people try to tough it out, but the documented long-term effects of chronic or persistent pain can be serious, including anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic fatigue.

Prescription pain pills next to opioid prescription bottles.

Opioid therapy for chronic pain: An imperfect solution

While the causes of chronic pain are far ranging, solutions have been limited until recently, relying heavily on opioid-based pharmaceutical painkillers.

Prescription opioids have therapeutic value in the short term, but may become problematic with long-term use, with side effects including constipation, brain fog and reduced functionality for daily living.

Ironically, in some people, long-term opioid therapy may even lead to increased sensitivity to pain, also called opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH), and increasing tolerance that requires higher doses of opioids for relief.

Long-term and larger doses of opioids also increase the risk of opioid-use disorder (addiction) and overdose, according to a 2015 systematic review of research).

Physician in background pointing to cannabis flower in foreground as a recommendation for pain.

Growing recognition of cannabis as a safe alternative for pain

Despite the ongoing status of cannabis as federally illegal which limits research, an increasing number of medical professionals are taking a fresh look at the plant as a safe alternative for managing chronic pain conditions.

In a recent conversation with one of our Leaf411 supporters, Takoma Wellness Center medical cannabis dispensary owner Stephanie Kahn, BSN, noted that some D.C.-area pain clinics were beginning to recommend medical marijuana to their patients as an alternative to pharmaceutical pain relief.

Within the pain specialist community, practitioners are sharing information on cannabis’s potential for treating chronic pain, but there’s an ongoing education need for both clinicians and patients on how to use cannabis for effective pain relief.

Fortunately, organizations like Radicle Health and Leaf411 are stepping up to collect and share the latest research, with education geared toward consumers and practitioners.

Screenshot from previous Leaf Learning Series, where nurse Natali Murdock, BSN, RN, explains how to use cannabis flower as medicine.

Screenshot from previous Leaf Learning Series, where nurse Natali Murdock, BSN, RN, explains how to use cannabis flower as medicine. Watch the full video at this link.

Patient resources on cannabis and pain

Are you a patient or consumer who’s interested in learning more about using cannabis to manage pain? We suggest starting with our two-part series:

How Cannabis May Help with Different Types of Pain

Finding the Best CBD:THC Ratios and Products for Pain

Our Leaf Learning Series events are also a great resource. Check out the recorded sessions on our Leaf411 YouTube channel.

Of course, we recognize that you will have specific questions, from asking about the cannabis products available where you live to concerns about integrating cannabis into your existing pain management regimen. That’s why our free, RN-staffed hotline exists—to help with your unique situation and questions!

Reach out to us on our free, anonymous hotline at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411), or chat us from our Leaf411.org homepage during hotline hours.

Radicle Health’s Cannabinoid Pharmacology education

Radicle Health’s Cannabinoid Pharmacology education available at this link. Check out Radicle Health’s YouTube channel for additional webinars and video blogs.

Cannabis education for medical professionals

If you’re a physician, nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist or other provider, you’ve likely had patients ask about using cannabis for chronic pain.

We encourage you to share the Leaf411 hotline information with your patients. We are a patient-centered service dedicated to the safe, effective therapeutic use of cannabis and hemp CBD. Calls to the free nonprofit hotline are answered by a fully-licensed RN who has completed additional professional development in cannabis therapeutics. 

As a provider, are you interested in learning more about cannabis so that you can better serve your patients? Our partner Radicle Health offers a range of courses designed for health practitioners, including a two-part series on chronic pain. Visit this link for a full list of available online courses. CEUs are available to California registered nurses.

Mobile devices: phone and laptop

Our Leaf nurses are ready to answer your cannabis questions

Whether you’re a patient or a provider, our fully-licensed RNs are ready to answer your health-related questions on cannabis and hemp CBD. From newcomer questions like “will CBD get me high?” to concerns around dosing and potential medication interactions, our cannabis-trained nurses are uniquely qualified to help. Best of all, our service is available at no cost to you, reflecting our mission to tackle healthcare inequality by providing balanced education and support on the safe use of cannabis for free to everyone.

Call our free Leaf411 hotline at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat with us from our home page during hotline hours, Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. MDT.

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.