Using marijuana for pain is growing in popularity by the day. In this article, I will guide you through the research behind cannabis pain relief and then share the best strains for pain management.
Before we move on, here are some eye-opening statistics from the American Academy of Pain Medicine:
“There are 1.5 billion people around the world suffering from chronic pain.”
“Approximately 3-4.5% of the global population suffers from neuropathic pain…”
There is nothing worse than pain, be it chronic or acute.
There are many conventional ways for relieving pain, but sometimes these methods are not as efficient as they should be.
Hence, many people turn to medical marijuana for pain management, due to its lack of addictive components and its organic nature.
Marijuana has been known as a natural painkiller for centuries.
Throughout the history, in almost every corner of the world, people discovered marijuana’s painkilling properties and have been using it ever since, for different types of painful conditions, from headaches to childbirth.
Marijuana also has a wide range of purposes in modern medicine. Today, one of the most common applications is for managing pain, be it inflammation, migraines, neuropathic pain, sore muscles, cramps or even spinal injury and arthritis.
As it seems, with an increasing number of studies proving its effectiveness as a painkiller, medical marijuana is gaining acceptance by more and more medical experts, each year.
One of the major discussion points on this topic was the fact that patients had different experiences with strains for pain management, which is largely due to all of us being unique.
The simple truth is this:
Marijuana does help relieve many types of pain, but an effective treatment lies in finding the right strain (hitting the best ratio of THC to CBD) and figuring out the right dosage.
This complete guide on marijuana for pain will help you better understand how your condition fits into marijuana treatment and, ultimately, help you get started on your journey of discovering the best cannabis strain for your particular pain.
What is pain and why do we feel it?
Pain is a distress physical feeling caused by an injury, illness or some other external factor and is transmitted to the brain by our nervous system. It is our natural response to a real or potential attack on the body.
Pain actually gives us a lot of information about the injury or the illness itself.
Our perception of pain helps us locate the damaged tissue or organ, an intensity of the illness and its nature. This is all very important when it comes to diagnostics.
There are different ways of classifying pain.
First of all, depending on duration and the cause, pain can be either acute or chronic.
Acute pain is usually the result of an injury, such as a broken bone, hurt muscle or a burn. Headaches are also considered as acute pain. Acute pain is usually resolved when the damaged tissue is healed.
On the other hand, chronic pain is persistent and keeps coming back, even after the injury is healed. This type of pain usually occurs after surgeries and is typical after surviving cancer.
Based on the way pain signals travel to the brain, medicine distinguishes three types of pain:
- Somatic pain usually feels like a dull ache in the injured region.
- Visceral pain occurs as a result of damaged internal organ tissue in the area of the abdomen. This kind of pain usually feels like stomach pain.
- Neuropathic pain is caused by the changes in the nervous system and is present even when the injury heals. It mostly feels like burning and is usually associated with skin sensitivity.
Can cannabinoids (cannabis) provide pain relief?
Pain seriously impacts the quality of people’s lives and our conventional painkilling drugs do not always have a complete impact on easing the aches. Some are even known to cause serious addictions.
Because of the “opioid epidemic” during the past decade, people have started to turn to more organic solutions, like marijuana.
Many patients (including the general public) believe that marijuana is a legitimate treatment option for people suffering from chronic pain.
But what does the science say?
Fortunately, weed’s painkilling properties have been studied a lot, probably the most out of all its many health benefits.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors in the human body in the last two decades of the 20th century made clinicians think — can marijuana be used to treat pain?
So that’s when the research started…But it progressed slowly.
Cannabinoids have been proven to be very effective at reducing neuropathic pain and inflammation. (2)
They triumphed where common pharmaceutical painkillers failed.
As it turns out, cannabinoids have antinociceptive mechanisms that are different from common, artificially made, painkillers. This leaves a lot of space for promising research on treating neuropathic and inflammatory pain with marijuana.
One recent clinical trial with significant results was done by McGill University in Montreal and led by Mark Ware in 2010. (3)
The Canadian team compared four groups of patients suffering from neuropathic pain. Namely, they analyzed their responses to placebo and different doses of THC.
The patients were told to inhale marijuana in turn with three different doses of THC.
This was compared to the placebo group.
After taking the medication, patients were asked to rate their pain on the scale of 0 to 10.
After processing their answers, the results showed that higher doses of THC reduce pain more efficiently than low doses and even more so than no doses at all (the placebo group), proving that marijuana is an effective analgesic.
It is also important to point out how marijuana has been efficient in repressing “opioid epidemic”, whose numbers are disturbing since more than 16 thousand patients die from overdosing on painkillers each year.
In the last 15 years, there were a lot of rumors across North America that more and more patients are turning to marijuana for pain relief.
This caught the interest of an assistant professor of medicine, Marcus Bachhuber, at the Montefiore Medical Center. He and his team decided to investigate whether legalization of marijuana in some states made any difference in opioid overdose number of deaths. (4)
The results of their compared study were remarkable:
“In states which have legalized marijuana, between 1999 and 2010, opioid overdose deaths were decreasing by 25% each year, compared to states which have not legalized marijuana yet.”
Considering all of this, we can safely say that marijuana has been proven to both reduce chronic pain as well as positively reduce the negative side effects of pharmaceutical painkillers and opioids.
We will wrap this section up with a quote from one of the studies referenced above.
“Several recent clinical studies have demonstrated that combination of THC and CBD can be an effective therapeutic option for patients with neuropathic pain and other types of chronic pain.”
Indica or sativa for pain?
Indica and sativa are the two most common subspecies of marijuana, but they can also be crossed to create hybrid breeds.
There has been a widespread debate on which of these two species of marijuana are best for relieving pain.
While both indica and sativa strains have painkilling properties, the successful treatment still depends on the type of pain, overall tolerance for marijuana and the desired effects.
In general, indica strains provide a full-body pain relief, while sativa’s provide a cerebral high with mild painkilling effects.
With that in mind, indica is usually recommended for more severe types of pain.
Indica strains mostly have high levels of THC and CBD. The percentages, of course, vary from strain to strain.
This subspecies has become very popular among different kinds of patients suffering from pain: from persistent chronic pain to muscle spasms, including more severe illness like multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Indicas are recommended for nighttime use, as they make users sleepy while easing pain and relaxing muscles at the same time.
Sativa strains, on the other hand, with their high levels of THC, are usually preferred by most recreational users because of their famous, uplifting high.
Still, sativas have a therapeutic effect on minor pain, such as post-workout muscle cramps and localized aches. Although the experience is mostly subjective, sativa strains are also used for neuropathic pain and headaches.
Unlike indicas, sativas are usually recommended for daytime use because of their cerebral, mind-altering effects which can keep consumers awake and alert.
Depending on the type of pain and your overall health, your best strain for pain management might be a trustworthy hybrid (combination of indica and sativa).
There are a number of strains crossed between indica and sativa that provide beneficial effects from both of them.
So, if you are suffering from minor pain, clinicians also recommend indica-dominant hybrids.
Indica-dominant hybrids provide a full-body pain relief (from their indica genetics) with just a slight head buzz (thanks to their sativa genetics).
Later in this article, we will explore exactly which strains are the best for pain relief, but first we have to address another important question.
THC or CBD for pain?
Two most common chemical compounds in marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), both have potent painkilling properties.
Again, in general, THC is the main player in pain management, while CBD makes people more relaxed, less high and contributes to that pain relief. We can often hear how the best strains for pain are high in THC and low in CBD.
But nothing is ever black-and-white, especially when it comes to cannabis.
Most patients using medical marijuana for pain go for THC rich strains, however, CBD is also considered as the go-to compound for minimizing other symptoms of pain, such as reducing stress.
In fact, these two cannabinoids have a synergistic relationship.
THC gives you a cerebral high, but CBD is the one to diminish that effect by making your mind clear and also letting THC fight the pain.
CBD still has an effect on the brain, but it’s calming and uplifting at the same time and is proven to have a comforting outcome on cramps and muscle spasms.
Some pain sufferers find that strains rich in THC are more helpful but they often complain about being too “high”.
Others have much more success with CBD rich strains, which are known to reduce inflammations and improve the mood.
CBD has pain relieving properties in itself.
One of the first studies on CBD’s pain crushing effect was done in London, back in 1988.
The study compared two potential painkillers — CBD and aspirin. As it turned out, CBD was 4 times more effective, especially for reducing the inflammatory pain.
Most strains for generalized pain are made to contain 1:1 ratio of both THC and CBD.
When combined, these two cannabinoids amplify effects of one another and become more helpful in fighting arthritis pain and other diseases. They both reduce inflammation in the brain and regulate pain signaling in your body.
From some patients’ point of view, strains containing 1:1 ratio of both compounds have been more beneficial than the ones containing mostly (or only) THC.
But it’s not that just THC and CBD are useful for pain relief.
There are other compounds in marijuana (aromas and flavor molecules) that have proven to be very beneficial.
Like every other vegetable or fruit, marijuana also has terpenes, which make its unique flavor. Terpenes are actually vitamins and recent studies have shown that they have an analgesic effect as well.
List of 15 best cannabis strains for pain relief
When it comes to choosing the best strain for pain relief, some are definitely better than the others.
Every person has a unique experience with marijuana and its wide variety of different strains.
Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that you will find the strain that works straight away.
Many patients have to take time and experiment with different kinds of cannabis before finding the one that works the best for their pain and specific situation.
Also, it is important to experiment with different forms of marijuana — smoking will maybe not be a pleasant experience for you, so you could maybe try vaping or edibles.
Some strains are recommended for daytime consumption and will make it very hard for you to fall asleep. These are usually pure sativas or sativa-dominant hybrids.
On the other hand, certain strains will relieve the pain and muscle tension but will make you “locked to the couch” and very sleepy. You can bet that these are indica-dominant strains.
To help you get started on your journey of becoming pain-free with cannabis, I made a list of what I believe to be some of the best marijuana strains for different types of pain.
Harlequin (THC 10%, CBD 12%)
Best for: Arthritis, inflammation
Harlequin is one of the most popular medical strains in general, with its vast range of health benefits. It’s usually the first choice for patients suffering from pain. It is a sativa-dominant hybrid with a 5:2 CBD to THC ratio. What does that mean? It means that this strain will not get you as high, your mind will stay clear, and you can even use it both during the day and in the evening.
Blue Dream (THC 15%, CBD 2%)
Best for: Generalized pain, neuropathic pain, migraine, inflammatory arthritis, back pain
Perfect for daytime use, Blue Dream has become very popular among pain sufferers. This sativa-dominant strain with high THC to CBD ratio will make you happy. With a touch of mild euphoria, it will also help you forget about the pain and allow you to easily go through all your daily activities.
Jack Herer (THC 23%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, chronic pain, stress
A sativa named after the famous marijuana activist and enthusiast — Jack Herer — is well known as nature’s painkiller. Dominant in THC and terpene pinene, which has an analgesic effect, while also reducing inflammation.
White Widow (THC 20%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, neuropathic pain, inflammation
This very popular strain comes from the Netherlands and will have an immediate effect on your mood and pain sensation. It is a half-and-half hybrid between sativa and indica that will make your entire body relaxed. This is why this type of strain is the best after-work choice. If you have sore, inflamed muscles, White Widow will provide a relief from swelling and even protect your muscle tissue.
Girl Scout Cookies (THC 25%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain
Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) has shown to be very effective in reducing severe pain. It often the first choice for many, especially when it comes to pain relief. With high levels of THC, this strain will not make you sleepy, which makes it great for the day. However, GSC is not a beginner strain as it is very potent and can get you very high in just a few puffs.
Blackberry Kush (THC 19%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, severe pain
Blackberry Kush is high in THC, so you can expect that it will numb you down and reduce the pain sensation. This strain should be avoided if you have important work to do that day since it is recommended for nighttime use.
Sour Diesel (THC 25%, CBD 2%)
Best for: Chronic pain
Sativa-dominant hybrid with very high levels of both main cannabinoids, Sour Diesel is a good choice for mild and persistent pains. While it will undoubtedly provide a pain-free feeling, it will also ensure an uplift in your mood. These features make it one of the favorites among medical marijuana patients.
Bubba Kush (THC 25%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Back pain, Multiple Sclerosis, muscle tension, headache
Bubba Kush is an indica that provides a very strong narcotic effect, making it perfect for easing all sorts of pain, especially for more severe pain. Keep in mind that it is best to use Bubba Kush after work hours since its relaxing high will probably make you sleepy. Also, prepare some snacks before taking Bubba — it is known to boost appetite as well.
ACDC (THC 3%, CBD 19%)
Best for: Back pain, chronic pain, Multiple Sclerosis
This sativa-dominant strain, with 19% of CBD, has almost no psychoactive effects and has shown to be very helpful for controlling pain. If you have work to do, this strain will make you focused and communicative, while allowing you to go through your day undisturbed.
Redwood Kush (THC 13%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain, inflammation, muscle spasms
Redwood Kush is an indica-dominant strain, perfect for minor pains and inflammations. It provides gentle sedation and relaxation. It is not recommended for daytime use because you’ll probably only want to chill and relax once you smoke it.
Granddaddy Purple (THC 20%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Chronic pain, muscle spasms
Pure indica, with high levels of THC, Granddaddy Purple is mostly used for fighting stress, sleepless nights, as well as pain. With its painkilling attributes, this strain is perfect for patients looking for that “chill and relax” high.
OG Kush (THC 24%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Back pain, generalized pain
OG Kush is a famous hybrid, that’s rich in THC and also perfect for all sorts of pain, especially for back pain. OG Kush also provides strong cerebral effect and should be avoided by those who are sensitive to THC. If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to skip this one as well.
AK-47 (THC 15%, CBD 1%)
Best for: Generalized pain
The name might sound dangerous, but actually, this strain will make you rather tipsy and relaxed. Besides all of its different medical benefits, AK-47 is effective in easing different kinds of pain and will boost relaxation and finally, leave you uplifted.
Northern Lights (THC 17%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Severe pain, chronic pain, back pain, arthritis
Northern Lights will provide a relaxed and calming effect, making your body peaceful and helping you forget about the pain. This is an indica strain and is best used in the evening. It is also very beneficial in fighting stress, an issue that goes hand in hand with chronic pain.
Blueberry (THC 18%, CBD < 1%)
Best for: Fibromyalgia
Blueberry is an indica hybrid and it is a notorious pain assassin. Even though this strain is a muscle relaxant, it does not induce sleepiness and drowsiness, which makes it a perfect daytime painkiller. It is also effective in relieving everyday stress.
From after-workout cramps to chronic neuropathy, marijuana is proven to be very effective in pain management.
The way you approach this matter is entirely up to you. My advice would be to find a cannabis-friendly pain doctor that can give you a proper check up and prescribe the best strain for your type of pain.
Like millions of people on this planet suffering from the same condition, finding a natural relief from pain might seem impossible at the moment.
But just have in mind that medical marijuana is a completely organic solution that may significantly improve your quality of life and even completely eradicate your pain.
It just might.
And you have absolutely nothing to lose.
- J Manzanares, MD Julian, A Carrascosa; Role of the Cannabinoid System in Pain Control and Therapeutic Implications for the Management of Acute and Chronic Pain Episodes; Current Neuropharmacology; July 2006; 4(3):239–257.
- Wei Xiong, Tanxing Cui, Kejun Cheng, Fei Yang, Shao-Rui Chen, Dan Willenbring, Yun Guan, Hui-Lin Pan, Ke Ren, Yan Xu, Li Zhangcorresponding; Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors; The Journal of Experimental Medicine; Jun 2012; 209(6):1121–1134.
- Mark A. Ware, Tongtong Wang, Stan Shapiro, Ann Robinson, Thierry Ducruet, Thao Huynh, Ann Gamsa, Gary J. Bennett; Jean-Paul Collet; Smoked cannabis for chronic neuropathic pain: a randomized controlled trial; Canadian Medical Association Journal; October 2010; 182(14):E694-E701
- Marcus A. Bachhuber, Brendan Saloner, Chinazo O. Cunningham, et al.; Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States 1999-2010; JAMA Internal Medicine; 2014; 174(10):1668-1673.