Cannabis for Alleviating Post-Surgery Pain

What is the effectiveness of cannabis in alleviating post-surgery pain compared to opioids and other pain medications? How does it compare in terms of effectiveness, accessibility, and side effects? Continue reading to delve into these questions.

In recent times, cannabis has emerged with diverse applications. Beyond its recreational usage, this remarkable plant is garnering scientific recognition for its potential to enhance health and well-being. Extensive research conducted over the past few decades has produced a significant body of literature on cannabis.

In this article, we will explore the potential effectiveness of cannabis in relieving pain following major surgery. Is cannabis a superior alternative to over-the-counter medication, or do opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs hold an advantage? Let’s delve into this discussion.



In order to explore this subject thoroughly, we will examine the findings of scientific research and explore alternative approaches chosen by individuals. If you are contemplating the use of CBD or THC for relieving post-operative pain, this article aims to provide you with initial insights and address some of your inquiries.

Current Treatments for Post-Surgery Pain

Surgeries can vary in terms of their smoothness and intensity. While some procedures may be relatively straightforward and result in a smooth recovery, others can leave you feeling sore and fatigued, as if you had just completed a strenuous six-round boxing match.

Prior to the legalization of cannabis, doctors used to offer various pain relief options, including both pharmaceutical interventions and non-drug approaches.

The choice of treatment for an individual is determined by the specific type of surgery and their personal pain threshold. While most of these treatment options are generally considered safe, it’s important to note that drug-based treatments may carry potential side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, and vomiting.

Local Anesthetics

Anesthetics are used to temporarily numb specific areas of the body. They can be administered through subcutaneous injections or applied topically in the form of drops or creams.

For patients experiencing severe pain, nerve blocks are sometimes provided as a treatment option. Similar to other anesthetics, a nerve block numbs the specific area of the body where the pain is originating from. This procedure typically involves the administration of a catheter.

The advantage of nerve blocks is that they reduce the need for opioid medications, resulting in a decrease in both the frequency and intensity of side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, and other related symptoms.

  • Regional Anaesthetics

Patients experiencing severe pain may be offered nerve blocks as a potential solution. Like many other anesthetics, a nerve block numbs the specific area of the body where the pain is originating from. Typically, it is administered through an injection.

The remarkable aspect of nerve blocks is their ability to reduce the need for opioid medication. This results in a decrease in both the frequency and severity of side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, and other related symptoms.

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Chances are, you’ve turned to ibuprofen for a severe toothache or taken aspirin to alleviate a migraine.

These medications fall under the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which, as the name implies, are primarily utilized to reduce inflammation. The convenience of purchasing them without a prescription adds to their accessibility.

The primary benefit of using NSAIDs is that they do not induce cognitive impairment. However, it is essential to consider potential side effects such as elevated blood pressure and digestive problems. Moreover, individuals with asthma, stomach ulcers, or those taking blood thinners may face complications when using NSAIDs.

Despite the ease of access to these medications, it is advisable to seek professional advice before incorporating them into your regimen.


  • Relaxation Techniques

For individuals who prefer to minimize their reliance on medication, there are relaxation techniques available to alleviate post-surgery pain.

A notable example is guided imagery, where you envision a peaceful and soothing image in your mind. This technique aims to provide a pleasant distraction from the pain, ultimately reducing its intensity.

Non-pharmacological remedies, such as cold or heat therapy, can also be effective in reducing swelling and making the pain more manageable.

  • Non-Opioid Analgesics

If you’re seeking relief from mild to moderate pain and wish to avoid discomfort, analgesics are a suitable choice. They are frequently effective as standalone treatments, reducing the necessity for additional medications and minimizing the risk of potential side effects.

Similar to NSAIDs, most analgesics are considered safe for use. They are readily available for purchase at local drug stores without the requirement of a prescription.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to exercise caution and adhere to the prescribed dosage, as exceeding it may lead to potential liver or kidney damage.

Opioids for Post-Surgery Pain Relief

Post-surgery pain is often alleviated through the administration of specific opioids. These medications are commonly prescribed for individuals experiencing severe pain.

When opioids are ingested, they bind to opioid receptors located predominantly in the brain and spinal cord. This triggers signals throughout the body, effectively conveying the message that pain is no longer present. The most significant benefit of using opioids for pain relief is the nearly immediate onset of effects. Discomfort is replaced by a distinctive and occasionally moderately euphoric sensation.

However, it is essential to recognize that like any other synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs, there can be severe consequences, particularly when opioids are misused or abused.

  • Physical Side Effects of Opioids

In addition to providing pain relief, the use of opioids can lead to various physical side effects. Drowsiness and episodes of constipation are common experiences among opioid users. While some individuals may dismiss these side effects as normal, personally encountering such symptoms is far from comfortable, particularly following a surgical procedure.

  • Tolerance and Withdrawal

With regular opioid use, the body tends to develop a higher tolerance over time. As a result, individuals may find it necessary to increase their dosage in order to achieve the same desired effects.

However, abruptly discontinuing opioid intake leads to highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and more.

Ironically, when one decides to abruptly cease opioid treatment, the very drugs intended to provide relief end up causing excruciatingly uncomfortable moments.

  • Mental and Behavioural Changes

Prolonged use of opioids can result in the body becoming dependent on these drugs. The brain reduces its production of specific hormones and neurotransmitters, relying on the opioids to fulfill those functions instead.

Consequently, the brain’s response to the environment undergoes changes. Certain cues and triggers can evoke memories or associations with the drug, leading to unwanted cravings.

Dependence on opioids may also drive individuals to desperate actions in order to obtain their next dose. This could involve acts such as stealing money from family members or engaging in other illicit behaviors. Fortunately, such extreme behaviors are not commonly observed among opioid users when the drugs are viewed as a medication rather than a recreational substance.

What Does Research Say About Cannabis for Pain?

Now, let’s delve into the core of the subject: How does the scientific community perceive the use of medical cannabis for post-surgery pain?

Similar to other research on cannabis, experts have discovered both positive and negative aspects regarding its efficacy in this context.

  • Medical Cannabis for Pain Control

In a 2008 study, researchers established a correlation between cannabis and pain management.[1] The key factor? Our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).

When THC or CBD is introduced into the body, they interact with the cannabinoid receptors present within the ECS. The activation of these receptors has the potential to generate analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, providing relief from pain and reducing hyperalgesia (an abnormal heightened sensitivity to pain). Individuals experiencing conditions such as fibromyalgia and migraines are often acquainted with this phenomenon.

But there’s more to it. THC has the ability to regulate dopamine and serotonin levels, which could contribute to pain alleviation.

Ongoing research is also investigating the potential role of CBD (a non-psychotropic cannabinoid) in inflammation through studies conducted on cell and animal models. These studies aim to determine if CBD holds promise for future applications in this field.[2]

  • Medical Cannabis to Lower Painkiller Use?

The concerns surrounding opioids extend beyond their side effects. Accessibility to these drugs and the potential for misuse and abuse pose significant challenges.

Nevertheless, recent studies[3] highlight the potential of medical cannabis to decrease the reliance on opioids. One study discovered that among 1,000 participants using cannabis for pain management, 82% were able to reduce or entirely discontinue the use of over-the-counter pain medication. Additionally, 88% of participants were able to completely stop taking opioid painkillers.

In certain situations, individuals turn to medical cannabis as an alternative to prevent the eventual undesirable side effects associated with certain medications. By carefully utilizing marijuana for therapeutic purposes, patients may find relief with reduced or even without the need for opioids, depending on their specific circumstances. As a result, the likelihood of developing tolerance and dependence on opioid drugs is significantly diminished.

  • Medical Cannabis as a Possible Gateway to Opioid Use

On the other hand, it is important to consider the drawbacks of medical cannabis use. A retrospective pilot study conducted in 2016[4] highlighted a potential association between chronic marijuana consumption and subsequent opioid use.

The study involved motor vehicle crash patients treated in hospitals in Colorado and Texas. The findings suggested that chronic cannabis use might impact the pain response, necessitating higher doses of analgesic opioids to attain relief.

However, it is worth noting that these observations were primarily observed in chronic users, whereas episodic users did not exhibit any significant differences in their inclination to use opioids.

Opioids vs Cannabis for Post-Surgery Pain Relief

On paper, the case for medical cannabis as a solution for post-surgery pain relief is compelling. However, when compared directly to opioids, the situation becomes more nuanced and complex.

  • Addiction Tendencies

Both opioids and marijuana carry a significant risk of excessive use. While they have distinct characteristics, both substances can elicit a euphoric sensation, making them susceptible to addiction and long-term use. However, withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids are notably more unpleasant.

Conversely, cannabis can be viewed as a potential alternative to opioids for certain patients. Notably, it tends to produce less distressing side effects, and the risk of a lethal overdose is virtually non-existent.

  • Accessibility

This is where opioids hold a slight advantage. Irrespective of geographical location, opioids are obtainable with a valid doctor’s prescription.

On the other hand, cannabis faces a different situation. It is still regarded as a “dangerous” substance in numerous countries, carrying severe penalties for possession, cultivation, and distribution. Additionally, in the United States, it remains classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside substances like ecstasy, heroin, and LSD. Essentially, the government has deemed these substances to possess “no accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.”

  • The Process of Pain Relief

Cannabis and opioids offer distinct approaches to pain relief. As mentioned earlier in the article, opioids work by interfering with nociceptive neurons, creating a sense of diminished pain perception. This effect occurs promptly upon the drugs binding to specific opioid receptors.

In contrast, the process involving cannabis is somewhat different. It appears that CB2 receptors play a role in this context. The activation of these receptors may reduce the sensation of pain through mechanisms that are not yet fully comprehended, albeit potentially with less efficacy compared to opioids.

Should You Use Cannabis for Post-Surgery Pain Relief?

This discussion encompasses at least two contrasting viewpoints. Some individuals favor cannabis due to its relatively milder side effects in comparison to opioids. Conversely, others opt for opioids due to their accessibility and the legal considerations associated with marijuana.

While cannabis holds therapeutic potential, it may introduce certain complexities depending on the nature of the surgery. For example, smoking cannabis is strongly discouraged if the procedure involves the respiratory system.

Further research is required to fully understand the potential of cannabis in alleviating post-surgery pain, although current findings show promise. Additionally, cannabis seems to be relatively safe for use before and after surgical procedures.

Nevertheless, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before considering cannabis as a post-surgery option, ensuring a cautious approach.

Medical Disclaimer: The information presented, referenced, or linked to on this website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as professional medical or legal advice.

The content provided is strictly for informational purposes and is sourced from external references. Royal Queen Seeds and its affiliated personnel cannot be held responsible for the utilization or interpretation of the information provided.

External Resources:
  1. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain
  2. Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol
  3. Could marijuana be an effective pain alternative to prescription medications? — ScienceDaily
  4. The grass is not always greener: a multi-institutional pilot study of marijuana use and acute pain management following traumatic injury – PubMed