Cannabis for Pain and Inflammation
Healthcare without the High
Readers may be familiar with the healing effects of Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound present in the Cannabis sativa plant. The most famous story is that of Charlotte Figi, a girl who was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare untreatable form of epilepsy, at just 3 months old. After being treated with hemp-derived CBD oil, the frequency of her seizures dropped from 300 per week to 3 per month.
Over the last decade, high CBD cannabis flowers, concentrates, and edibles have been produced to treat epilepsy, inflammation, intraocular disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Down’s syndrome, HIV, dementia, and more. CBD is incredible on its own, but it can be more powerful when combined with other non-psychoactive cannabinoids. Yes, there are more! Lots more.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids are effective in our bodies because of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is present in all mammalian brains as well as “primitive animals like sea squirts and nematodes.”
The ECS, in addition to regulating the immune system and restoring cellular homeostasis, is also essential for teaching infants how to eat. A 2004 study by Ester Fride describes how endocannabinoids are found in breast milk and how they appear to be “critical for milk sucking by newborn mice, apparently activating oral–motor musculature.” Cannabinoids are also essential for human life—in a 2016 article, Dustin Sulak, D.O. describes how the ECS is responsible for blastocytes (embryos) implanting themselves in uterine walls.
Our bodies produce endocannabinoids in order to protect and repair cells. When we cannot produce enough, we may have Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD), which has been proven to play a role in “migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome,” and other neurophysiological conditions. Taking phytocannabinoids (derived from plants) can help prompt our bodies to produce more endocannabinoids and combat CECD.
Which cannabinoids are best?
Although there are over 66 known cannabinoids, I will focus on those that are both functional and readily available. These non-psychoactive cannabinoids are capable of replacing prescription pain medication without psychoactive effects, defined by the US government in their 2003 patent on cannabis as a lack of “euphoria, lightheadedness, reduced motor coordination, and memory impairment.”
Luckily for us, raw cannabis is primarily made up of non-psychoactive, acidic cannabinoids. It’s only the act of smoking it (or heating it to make extracts) that converts acidic cannabinoids to their neutral forms through a process called decarboxylation. For example, THC-A decarboxylates at 314.6º F, transforming it into psychoactive THC. Similarly, CBD-A decarboxylates to CBD, THCV-A to THCV, and so on. Currently, THC-A is the most readily available on the market, as well as the most well researched acidic cannabinoid.
A Better Anti-Inflammatory
A study published by The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) in 2006 proves that THC-A is more effective than THC as an analgesic (pain reliever) and anti-inflammatory. It works by (1) suppressing tumour necrosis factor α (TNF-α); and (2) stimulating mRNA coding of interleukin-10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine. TNF-α is a cytokine released when inflammation begins, and is implicated in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, psoriasis, and IBD.
The authors suggest that raw, acidic cannabinoids, especially THC-A, be used to treat and prevent “multiple sclerosis, arthritis, arthrosis and other inflammatory diseases of bone and/or joint, encephalomyelitis (in particular automimmune encephalomyelitis), AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, Chron’s disease, inflammatory skin diseases (dermatitis, Psoriasis) and alleviated symptoms associated with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, spasticity, glaucoma and chronic pain.” Score!
Acid, Not Aspirin
A 2016 article by SkunkPharm Research LLC reviews two studies which show that “CBDA and THCA had stronger overall COX-inhibiting activity than their de-carboxylated forms CBD and THC”. COX2 inhibitors are also known as NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. The article also describes how THCA and CBDA “persisted in the bloodstream the longest” compared to THC and CBD. Theoretically, if we could extract all the acidic cannabinoids without decarboxylating them, we would see the same amplified health benefits.
In a clear advantage over NSAIDs, THC-A “does not induce the formation of gastric legions in an animal test under conditions wherein aspirin does.” NSAIDs can cause ulcers and damage the stomach lining, which leads to problems with the gut biome and the immune system. Just how dangerous is aspirin? A study published in the Scandinavian Journal Of Gastroenterology in 1989 claims that “one-third of all patients using NSAIDs will experience gastrointestinal symptoms during a 3-month course of therapy”.
How THC-A Helped Me
My research on cannabinoids began when I was seeking relief from sciatica and peripheral neuropathy as a result of multiple neck and back injuries. I was taking painkillers, muscle relaxants, and ibuprofen several times daily. My mind was in a fog, and even though I knew cannabis would help me heal in a more natural way, I shied away from it because THC did not help me regain my lucidity.
Once I discovered CBD, and subsequently THC-A, I was able to clear the mental fog for good. The combination of these two readily available cannabinoids has been the best treatment for my pain. When combined, they feel euphoric, much like an opiate, but with more alertness and awareness. Best of all, I’m not afraid of damaging my GI tract.
I’m a big fan of sublingual medication, which means holding it under your tongue so it absorbs directly into your bloodstream. This achieves close to 100% bioavailability instantaneously, which is much better than waiting for your stomach and liver to process the medicine after swallowing. Small doses taken sublingually do not impede my mental performance or lucidity in any way.
Adding THC-A to CBD
If you already use CBD for pain, I suggest adding THC-A to your treatment to amplify the analgesic effects. Using other cannabinoids, such as THC-A, can “synergize with CBD to achieve the desired anti‐inflammatory action,” according to a 2015 study by Ruth Gallily and team.
This is essentially the entourage effect, a term first introduced in 1998 by Shimon Ben-Shabat and Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. It describes how the cannabinoids’ effects are modulated when combined with cannabinoids that are inactive on their own.
THC-A in California
Guild Extracts produces a crystalline THC-A at 99–100% purity. I alternate between eating the crystals and the powder. I eat between 5–10mg per dose.
Alta California Botanicals produces a THC-A tincture with about 150mg per 1/2 oz bottle. I take this medicine sublingually, 5–10 drops per dose. If you’re particularly sensitive, start with 1–2 drops and see how you feel.
Jayden’s Juice 43:1 THC-A tincture is the strongest I’ve ever come across at ~600mg per 1/2 oz. Just 1–2 drops has a stronger effect than the Alta Botanica tincture—I only take this one at night because it hits me pretty hard.
If I missed any THC-A products (or any of the rarer cannabinoids like CBC, CBG, CBL, or CBD-A), please let me know in the comments!