But, as a doctor, once I know that a medication works, I’m dying to know how it works.
So, I want to walk you through exactly how marijuana relieves pain.
It’s a 3 part series. This is part 1 of 3.
One of the ways that marijuana works is that it
MODULATES PAIN ALONG THE PAIN PATHWAYS
You’re probably thinking you’ve lost me already.
There are a lot of different components involved, but I’m going to try to boil it down to the basics for you.
Let’s think of this whole system as an army. And, just like army has a pathway of communication so does the nervous system. You have some troops that have specifically been assigned the task of detecting pain. Once they detect pain, they send off signals to the command center, the brain. The brain then decides how it wants to react to the pain, physically, emotionally, etc. So, it sends signals to another set of troops that know how to carry out that specific command.
So, let’s take the example of the body detecting temperature.
If the detecting troops sense that a certain part of the body is near something that’s really, really hot, they send off signals to the brain. The brain then decides that it needs that part of the body moved away from the source of heat. So, it sends a command over to the to troops that know how to specifically move that part of the body away from the heat.
The role of marijuana in these pain pathways is that it weakens the signals being sent to the brain. Research has shown that animals in states of pain have a greater number of cannabinoid receptors along these pain pathways. Activating these receptors overall makes the the detecting troops less likely to fire off signals to the brain.
- Upregulation of spinal cannabinoid-1-receptors following nerve injury enhances the effects of Win 55,212-2 on neuropathic pain behaviors in rats.
- Walker JM, Hohmann AG. Cannabinoid mechanisms of pain suppression. In: Pertwee RG, ed. Cannabinoids (Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 2005:509-554.