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Post-Op Pain Can be a Beast

Emily Robertson
post-op, cannabis, post-op pain, pain relief, pain management, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, endocannabinoid system

It’s true that chronic cannabis use pre-surgery can cause problems with anesthesia, but what about post-op treatment for accute pain?

Over recent years, we now use cannabis to treat such a wide range of conditions that it’s almost easier to list the conditions it doesn’t treat. With this in mind, it can be tough to know when and if cannabis is useful. As research opportunities continue to expand, we’re learning more and more about which conditions are best treated with cannabis. One inquiry – the effect of cannabis on post-op pain management.

There are several factors in understanding this. Does the patient use opioids as well? Does that patient regularly smoke cannabis and did they close to the date of their surgery? How does this affect their opioid tolerance? Pre-op and post-op data is important in understanding the effects of cannabis on operation recovery and pain management.

Pre-Operative Management

First things first: if you’re going in for surgery, you need to be honest about your medication use. Your doctors aren’t there to judge – they’re there to treat your condition and the resulting pain. This means they need to know how much cannabis you’re consuming, and other medications too.

The reality is that cannabis, while an extremely beneficial medicine, does have some side effects when used in conjunction with operations and opioids. One study found that frequent cannabis use might actually increase the opioid tolerance of users.  Duty of care calls for caution, and you don’t want to be prescribed too low a dose to treat your pain nor too high a dose that you are at risk of addiction or other side effects. Cannabis may be included in your post-op plan but your doctor must be privy to this information so they can adjust their treatment accordingly.

Furthermore, the study encouraged awareness of the effects of frequent cannabis use on  anesthesia. Simply put, it causes complications. The study advised users to abstain from cannabis use for a couple weeks prior to surgery. This is in order to mitigate risk factors. This can be tough if you use cannabis to treat your condition. But, it’s important – complications with anesthesia can be dangerous or cause pain during the operation from waking too early, which is the last thing you want.

Post op young smiling woman

Battle Royale: Cannador, Cannabis, and Opioids

So what’s the best option for post-op pain? You may want to avoid cannabis pre-op but does that mean it isn’t suitable for post-op pain management?

A study in 2006 from Imperial College London found that a whole plant (cannabis) extract, Cannador, was effective at reducing post-operative pain. Researchers gave a small group of patients 5 mg, another 10, and a final 15 mg. The highest dose was incredibly effective in treating pain. Still, it had some small side effects like nausea and elevated heart rate. Just half of those with the 10 mg dose required additional pain relief. All patients on 5 mg asked for more pain relief. Only 25 percent of those on 15 mg asked for further pain relief.

Cannabis works with the endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation, and therefore decrease pain. A study published in PLoS One in 2010 found that opioids may not work as well as we think in reducing pain, and in fact, 2 to 10 percent of those who have taken prescription opioids post-op go on to experience chronic pain. The study pointed to the endocannabinoid system’s presence in the spinal cord for communicating pain relief and reduced inflammation, once triggered by cannabinoids from cannabis. Already, more and more patients are looking to cannabis and its trusty array of cannabinoids for post-op pain relief.

male patient sitting up in hospital bed with brace on back

Medication for Post-Op Pain is Your Choice

At the end of the day, your comfort and preferences should come into play. With the opioid epidemic sweeping North America, it’s becoming increasingly common for patients to debate the merits of prescription drugs versus the downsides.

Ingestion Methods for Pain Patients

CBD rich strains could remove the anxiety and depression surrounding an operation. Strains with THC may be necessary as well, for stronger pain treatment. In some cases, absorption methods like THC patches could also benefit the consumer. Edibles provide perhaps the longest pain relief, but quick absorption methods like vaping or smoking can provide relief the fastest. Further, if the consumer is worried about smoking, know that vaping dry bud is free from the concerns of the EVALI crisis of late 2019; vaping dry bud also removes any concerns about combustion via smoking.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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