Lowered pain tolerance and the destructive cycle of chasing pain relief is a hallmark of opioids. Cannabis offers consistent pain relief without the risk of developing increased pain sensitivity.
When opioids first hit the market in 1911, and up until the 1990s, these were reserved for post-surgical (acute) pain and patients with cancer. Since then, opioid use for treatment of chronic pain has escalated. It is now one of the most over-prescribed medications in North America. Unfortunately, one of the most common side effects of long-term opioid use is sensitization to pain, or a decrease in pain tolerance. In other words, instead of acting as an analgesic and decreasing pain, overused opioids make individuals more sensitive to pain.
Patients on high doses of opioid pharmacotherapy may suffer escalating acute pain, which can lead to a vicious cycle of increasing the dose, but never again finding that pain relief. Currently, there are no strategies that would prevent, reverse or manage this state of increased pain sensitivity.
To put this sensitization issue into perspective, one study pointed out that patients with lower back pain, on long-lasting morphine, developed pain tolerance within one month of therapy. Further studies suggested that one of the culprits for this process involved a metabolite of morphine, called morphine-3-glucoronide.
Cannabis Research on Pain is Not Very Accurate
Cannabis is an alternative analgesic and anti-inflammatory medicine, as demonstrated by a several pre-clinical studies. However, when it comes to human trials, the data is very scarce and the available studies are inconclusive due to inherent design flaws. Most of the studies conducted, thus far, measured pain tolerance and pain threshold immediately after consumption of THC, CBD, or both (via smoking or oral formulations). Collectively, these studies suggest that cannabis has some analgesic effect but only in males, and not in females, and can increase the pain sensitivity and decrease pain threshold. Not exactly reliable results when you consider methodologies.