The burden of chronic pain is unrelenting for many Australians.
Many sufferers seek effective chronic pain treatment and management.
Painkilling drugs such as Oxycontin and Endone are often prescribed by doctors, but many patients do not benefit from this method of pain control alone.
Some of these medications may also cause adverse side effects and lose efficacy over time, leaving patients searching for other options to help manage their chronic pain.
For some patients, chronic pain treatment isn’t as simple as conventional pain pills or regular treatments such as physiotherapy or acupuncture.
Effective therapeutic options for those living with chronic syndromes are limited. But newer options for the treatment of pain, such as medical marijuana, have proven pain-minimising benefits.
There are 30 countries that have approved the use of medical cannabis in some capacity and others that allow use within strict guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain and other illnesses.
Understanding chronic pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common and expensive medical conditions to treat in Australia. It’s also the leading cause of disability worldwide.
For pain to be considered chronic, it must last beyond the expected healing time (generally three to six months).
Chronic pain is a complex condition with no one-solution or quick fix for all. If it’s not well managed, it can also lead to various degrees of disability.
In recent years, Australia has recognised chronic pain as a serious medical condition which is also linked to mental health issues, psychological distress, interference with work, loss of productivity, loss of function, forced retirements and disabilities.
Who is most affected
Anyone can suffer from chronic pain, although statistics show there’s a slightly higher proportion of females to males.
According to Bupa Health Care, chronic pain is most common in women aged between 50-54 and men between 55-59. Injury is usually the primary cause (38 per cent).
Conditions resulting in chronic pain may include:
- back pain
- cluster headaches and migraines
- joint pain, knee pain, hip pain, pelvic pain, neck pain
- neuropathic pain (damage to the nervous system itself) including CPRS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
- cancer pain
- visceral (organ) pain.
Chronic pain treatment options in Australia
Although it’s been considered a taboo subject for years, medical cannabis could be a viable option for those suffering from chronic pain.
Cannabinoid therapy, referring to the use of the cannabis plant and its component cannabinoids, is currently being used as treatment for medical conditions including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer pain and neuropathic pain. The plant’s therapeutic benefits and cannabinoid compounds (such as THC and CBD) mimic naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the human body to help reduce painful and prolonged symptoms.
Although there is still a lot more to learn about therapeutic cannabis use, medical cannabis and the legalisation of it for use in chronic pain management has become a viable option for many patients.
Australia has legalised medical marijuana for use by patients with selected conditions.
The challenge of effective pain management
Current treatments for chronic pain can be problematic. Opiate medications, while they may be helpful at the time of an acute injury, may not work well for patients with long-term chronic pain.
Some of the problems associated with use of prescription and over-the-counter medications include risk of tolerance, dependency and decreased quality of life.
Non-opioids, such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants or antiepileptics, can be effective in relieving some pain. However, it is recommended they only be used for short periods of time. Non-opioid pain killers are often not effective in completely reducing the burden of chronic pain.
Extensive research and clinical trials conducted globally suggest medical cannabis for chronic pain treatment may benefit some patients. In comparison to opioids and over-the-counter medications, medical cannabis is known to be relatively well tolerated with a favourable safety profile.
There is good evidence to indicate that medical cannabis can be helpful for patients with chronic pain where they cannot tolerate or are refractory to other medicines.
Important considerations for medical cannabis as pain treatment
The THC:CBD (Tetrahydrocannabinol to Cannabidiol) ratio helps inform prescribers to identify products that may more effectively treat an individual patient’s condition. The exact dose of THC and CBD varies between products and what they’re being used for.
Examples of the ratios uses in Australian medical oils can be found here.
Despite strict quality control and existing clinical trials, the use of medical cannabis for chronic pain treatment still needs further investigation to create a more robust understanding of the use of medical marijuana in chronic pain patients.
Chronic pain sufferers interested in medical cannabis treatment are urged to speak with their GP to ensure they are prescribed a product best aligned with their needs.
How to access medical cannabis
Medications for chronic pain, including medical cannabis, may be prescribed by a GP or specialist.
After an initial consultation between doctor and patient, to discuss medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, if a doctor deems medicinal cannabis as a viable option they will usually apply via the TGA’s SAS B application pathway and local state health authority, if required.
Once approval has been granted, the doctor will write the patient a script for medicinal cannabis.
Chronic pain doesn’t have to be unmanageable. There are options for effective pain management that can help patients relieve their pain and get back to normality.
This article was written by Jayde Ferguson – a local content writer and chronic pain sufferer who has battled severe scoliosis for over 20 years and recently being diagnosed with epilepsy. Catch Jayde on LinkedIn.
Do you suffer from chronic pain? Would medical cannabis be a viable option for you? Should Australia quit dragging its heels and further investigate the benefits of medical cannabis?
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