Using Medical Marijuana for Pain Relief in PA: What You Need to Know

by Haley Mills · March 11, 2023

Find out how medical marijuana can help with pain relief in PA. Learn about different strains, dosing, and how to get started.

pa medical marijuana for pain

Pennsylvania has recently legalized medical marijuana, allowing for dispensaries across the state. However, due to insufficient public knowledge regarding medical marijuana, the legalization has led to more misinformation than accurate information regarding its medical aspects. There is a lack of understanding regarding the complexities and various medical uses of marijuana among physicians and the general public.

MMJ vs. Opioids for Severe Chronic Pain

The opioid crisis facing the United States is one of the reasons for legalizing medical marijuana. Compared to opioids, medical marijuana is considered a safer alternative for treating chronic pain. The opioid crisis has caused over 600,000 deaths from overdoses since 2000, costing the American economy and public over a trillion dollars. The opioid problem is prevalent in rural and affluent suburban communities. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana has never been linked to a fatality.

Who Can Prescribe PA Medical Marijuana for Pain?

Although over twenty medical conditions are approved for treatment with medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, chronic pain is expected to become the most diagnosable condition for MMJ treatment. It is crucial that a licensed medical professional, aware of the patient’s medication regimen and need, provides guidance and recommendations on the best type of medical marijuana for the patient.

Pennsylvania requires patients to see a certified physician for medical marijuana certification, and selecting a physician with whom they are comfortable is essential. Patients must continue seeing their physician every three months to monitor the treatment’s efficacy and side effects. Physicians certified by the medical marijuana program have the necessary skills, knowledge, and capability to understand how medical marijuana can alleviate the listed conditions.

Will Insurance Approve MMJ?

Insurance companies, including Medicare, do not cover medical marijuana prescriptions. This federal program will not cover medical marijuana until it is approved nationally for medical use. Private insurance will unlikely cover medical marijuana until Medicare changes its policy. State-regulated private businesses will operate medical marijuana for now.

MMJ & The FDA

The Federal Drug Administration currently does not approve medical marijuana for pain management. Carefully conducted clinical trials on thousands of human subjects are required to determine the benefits and potential risks associated with the drug. To date, no large-scale clinical trials have provided definitive evidence that the clinical benefits of medical marijuana outweigh its perceived risks.

The approved qualifying conditions that benefit from medical cannabis include the following:

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Dyskinetic Disorders
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with an objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/Aids
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Intractable Seizures
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Neurodegenerative Disorders
  • Neuropathies
  • Opioid Use Disorders
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Terminal Illness
  • Tourette Syndrome

What is Chronic Pain? 

Pain is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that serves as a warning signal for potential damage or injury to the body. Acute pain, which typically resolves after tissue healing, is a biologically adaptive response. However, chronic pain, which persists beyond the expected healing time, has no biological purpose and often represents a complex interplay between physical, psychological, and environmental factors. In this article, we explore the mechanisms underlying chronic pain, its distinction from acute pain, and the role of medical marijuana in its management.

Chronic Pain: Causes and Mechanisms

Chronic pain can arise from various sources, including injury, illness, or disease. While acute pain typically resolves as the underlying condition improves, chronic pain persists beyond the expected healing time, often resulting from nerve damage or changes in the central nervous system. Chronic pain conditions include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Chronic vs. Acute Pain

Acute pain is typically characterized as a sharp pain resulting from an underlying condition lasting no longer than six months. In contrast, chronic pain persists for three to six months, even after the underlying condition has healed or gone away.

The ECS and Chronic Pain Management

Medical marijuana is effective in managing chronic pain. This is due primarily to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates pain perception and promotes homeostasis. The ECS comprises endocannabinoids and receptors throughout the body, including in the brain, connective tissues, glands, immune cells, and organs.

Endocannabinoids are crucial in coordinating and communicating between different cell types. They can help stabilize nerves, prevent excessive firing, and calm immune cells, which prevents releasing inflammatory compounds. Medical marijuana contains cannabinoids that mimic the body’s endocannabinoids, helping to relieve pain and maintain homeostasis.

Can MMJ Help Manage Chronic Pain?

Medical marijuana, which consists of dried buds of the female cannabis plant, has five types of cannabinoids, among which THC (delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most active ingredient in relieving severe pain. THC interacts with the brain in pain transmission and can also act as a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and psychological stimulant. Another type of cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), is often used as CBD oil for chronic pain, inflammation, or overall discomfort related to a health condition. Medical marijuana is widely used to treat and manage severe chronic pain, intractable pain of neuropathic origin, or severe chronic or intractable pain. Over the years, several studies have reported positive results of marijuana use for regular pain treatment, including improved pain and general well-being, reduced chronic migraine episodes, decreased side effects of other pain medications, and reduced opioid use.

The Science Behind Medical Marijuana & Chronic Pain Relief

The use of medical marijuana for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis is supported by high-quality evidence. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 28 randomized clinical trials and found significant improvements in pain-related outcomes. Another study exploring the effects of medical marijuana on cancer pain found a 64 percent reduction in opioid use for pain.

Best Strains for Chronic Pain

According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, individuals experiencing chronic pain prefer indica strains of medical marijuana. Indica strains are known for their calming properties, which can aid in promoting restful sleep and soothing discomfort associated with chronic pain.

The study participants reported significant improvements in managing their pain levels when using indica strains to address issues such as neuropathy, joint pain, spasticity, and non-migraine headaches. These findings suggest that medical marijuana may be a viable alternative for individuals seeking relief from chronic pain who have not succeeded with traditional pain management options.

Medical marijuana strains containing cannabidiol (CBD) may benefit patients suffering from chronic pain disorders. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it does not produce the euphoric effects commonly associated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana. Instead, CBD acts on CB2 receptors throughout the body, reducing inflammation and pain. As such, CBD-rich strains of medical marijuana may offer a safe and effective alternative for those seeking pain relief without the psychoactive effects of THC.

How To Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient must be 18 or older to visit a medical marijuana dispensary. Only those who can prove PA residency can apply for a patient id number and a license for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. A potential patient must also have medical history showing a diagnosis that qualifies a doctor to recommend them as a patient that can legally obtain medical marijuana.

These are the steps to get a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania with the help of Leafy DOC:

  1. First, you’ll select your State to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information about the Pennsylvania medical marijuana card process.
  2. Submit an intake form with personal details and a medical history summary; then, we’ll help you book an on-demand telehealth appointment or schedule a convenient time later.
  3. An online recommendation with Leafy DOC starts at 195 USD for new patients and renewals in Pennsylvania. There is a money-back guarantee if you are not approved for PA medical use.
  4. Connect with the right doctor in minutes and easily chat with your provider on a smartphone, computer, or tablet via phone call or video.
  5. Our licensed physicians will evaluate your qualifying condition, address your questions and concerns, and then provide a recommendation for medical cannabis via email within two business days.
  6. A person must first be registered online at the Department of Health portal to administer medical marijuana or participate in the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program. Register as a patient or caregiver at www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov.
  7. After the State approves your registration, they will email you a temporary patient ID card and a physical card within ten business days. Once you have the MMJ card, you can visit Pennsylvania dispensaries and purchase medicinal cannabis products.

Last Updated: January 30, 2024

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