There’s a reason why it’s sometimes said that you shouldn’t smoke cannabis before getting a tattoo or when recovering from a minor injury. Why? High doses of THC can actually make consumers more sensitive to pain. Plus, though subjective, sometimes THC can also cause consumers to focus or fixate on pain sensations, which can also amplify the pain experience. Here’s why cannabis sometimes makes pain worse:
Why cannabis sometimes makes pain worse
Relief from chronic pain is one of the primary reasons patients seek medical cannabis recommendations. Indeed, a 2016 survey of 271 cannabis patients found that 63 percent of consumers opted for cannabis over prescription drugs. 30 percent reported that they use the herb over addictive prescription painkillers like opioids.
Yet, unfortunately, there are some instances when cannabis might increase pain. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, many of the therapeutic actions of THC have a dose-dependent response. Low to moderate doses of THC may be successful in treating pain, but higher doses can have the opposite effect.
This is because THC has biphasic responses in the body, meaning that the cannabinoid can help to a certain point, but then the therapeutic effects begin to taper off and tank. The effects of THC and whole plant cannabis products tend to happen on a curve, gradually gaining efficacy until the optimal dose is achieved, then falling away.
A small 2007 study published in Anesthesiology examined the effects of THC on pain in 15 healthy participants. The type of pain tested was induced by an injection of capsaicin, which is the compound that causes the burning heat in hot peppers.
The participants were given cannabis that contained low (2%), moderate (4%), and high (8%) doses of THC or placebo. All of the participants had consumed cannabis sometime within the past 30 days and were familiar with the effects of the plant.
The study found that moderate doses of THC were more effective than high doses at easing pain in humans. In fact, high doses of the cannabinoid actually seemed to increase pain sensitivity in the participants.
Lesson learned? In higher doses, THC may increase sensitivity to certain kinds of pain. Thus, it’s probably best to start with a lower dose and work up as tolerance increases.
How to make cannabis more effective for pain
Every individual has their own unique cannabis tolerance. For some people, a “high dose” may be a full pre-roll. For others, it might be a gram and a half of medical cannabis oil. How do you know when a dose is too high for you? Well, when the cannabis experience starts to become uncomfortable or you find that the herb is no longer effectively treating pain.
1. Reduce your dose of THC
If you’ve consumed high doses of THC for a long period of time, developing a tolerance to the compound may cause pain to come back. While it may seem counterintuitive, reducing your dose of THC and hacking your cannabis tolerance can help you regain sensitivity to the cannabinoid. Though, be prepared for some pain when you drop down your dose or take a tolerance break.
2. Add in some CBD
If THC isn’t doing the trick, adding some CBD to the mix can certainly help. This is especially true if you’ve accidentally consumed too much THC and want to ease the psychoactive, sedative, and pain sensitive effects. CBD and THC work together synergistically to fight pain in the body. CBD also regulates the power and efficacy of THC.
This post was originally published on July 11, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.