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Chronic Pain

Medicinal Cannabis as a Treatment Option

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is debilitating, and treatment is not as simple as finding and fixing the underlying cause. While pain has a useful protective function and is vital for our survival, chronic pain is detrimental to our health and wellbeing. There isn’t a single type of chronic pain, or a single treatment, and each person’s experience of pain and the impact it has on their lives will be different. 

Acute pain is an alarm system, is effectively treated with painkillers, and should fade within weeks as the injury or damage heals.

Chronic pain is pain that has been present for more than 3 months. It has multiple causes and may be due to ongoing conditions like arthritis, or result from nerve damage, migraine, or conditions like fibromyalgia. 

Part of the challenge of living with chronic pain is its indefinite nature, and not knowing if there is a treatment to rid you of pain for good. Over time this can lead to depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. It is important that you have been appropriately investigated to make sure that any treatable issue is identified and managed effectively.

Why is it hard to treat?

Living with pain can severely impact your quality of life.  Unfortunately, pain often can’t be cured just by treating the underlying cause. Chronic pain can cause lasting changes in the way your body receives and interprets sensation, and also affects its response to different treatments. 

Some diseases are very painful and hard to control. Sometimes pain can endure even when the body has healed. In conditions like fibromyalgia, inflammation also generates pain signals in the brain that lead to chronic pain. At other times, there is no cause that can be found, or pain remains after the original injury to the body has healed. 

The areas of our brain that are associated with sensory perception also process our emotions, which means our perception of pain can be both physical and emotional. Even if people do not feel depressed, treatment with antidepressants can sometimes improve pain, as the relationship between pain and emotion in the brain is complex.

What are the options for managing chronic pain?

Your GP will work with a multidisciplinary team to help you manage your pain. This team may include psychologists, physiotherapists, as well as pain specialists, social workers and occupational therapists. 

Things you can do to help your pain:

Medications are part of a good management plan.

These include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and opioids, if required. Steroids, anticonvulsants and some antidepressant medications can also be used to manage certain pain conditions. Your doctor will prescribe you treatment that is tailored to your condition.  

Opioid medications are effective for short-term use but are potentially addictive and can have unpleasant side effects. Longer-term use is not recommended as tolerance develops rapidly, and increased doses are needed over time for pain relief.

Can medicinal cannabis help?

Medicinal cannabis can be very helpful for people who continue to experience severe pain after trying available treatments. Many patients prescribed medicinal cannabis for pain have also experienced improvement in sleep, mood, and quality of life as medicinal cannabis works on multiple symptoms with minimal side effects. 

This allows people to also reduce the number of prescriptions they are taking while achieving better pain symptom control. 

You can access treatment with a prescription from your doctor through the Special Access Scheme (SAS). Your doctor will start you on a low dose delivered through oil or capsules which may be enough to relieve your symptoms. 

If you are interested to learn more, talk to your GP.

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