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Marijuana and opioids prevent pain in different ways. Opioids straight up block pain signals in your brain. Let’s say you accidentally cut yourself. Nerves around the site of the injury send signals to your brain telling it that part of your body has been hurt. Once your brain receives these signals, it releases certain chemicals that effectively notify you that you’ve been hurt. This is what it means to feel pain.
When you take a prescription opioid, it blocks the neurotransmitters in your brain that inform you that you’re hurt. This takes your pain away by preventing you from feeling it. This is why opioids work so well post-surgery.
The pain-blocking mechanisms of marijuana are less understood. For starters, components in cannabis work with the endocannabinoid system AND the opioid system. The endocannabinoid system interacts with parts of the opioid system, but taking prescription opioids does not engage the endocannabinoid system in the way that consuming marijuana does. According to recent research, this may enable compounds in marijuana to:
Very simply explained, marijuana and opioids do similar things in the brain when it comes to blocking pain signals and making you feel good. But, cannabinoids like CBN, CBC, and THC also work systemically to reduce inflammation and help relax damaged tissues throughout the body.
Marijuana’s pain-fighting abilities are also confirmed by a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) report published last year. After examining 28 studies on chronic pain, JAMA found that:
“The average number of patients who reported a reduction in pain of at least 30% was greater with cannabinoids than with placebo.”
Some studies have also suggested that cannabis helps patients cope with some of the gastrointestinal side effects of prescription painkillers and methadone.