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Post: Explained | How cannabis and psilocybin might help some of the 50 million Americans who are experiencing chronic pain

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Explained | How cannabis and psilocybin might help some of the 50 million Americans who are experiencing chronic pain
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Cannabis, also known as marijuanaCredit: iStock Photo By Kevin F. Boehnke for The Conversation

Michigan: The US Drug Enforcement Agency announced in late April 2024 that it plans to ease federal restrictions on cannabis, reclassifying it from a Schedule I drug to the less restricted Schedule III, which includes drugs such as Tylenol with codeine, testosterone and other anabolic steroids. This historic shift signals an acknowledgment of the promising medicinal value of cannabis.

The move comes in tandem with growing interest in the use of psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms, for treatment of depression, chronic pain and other conditions. In 2018 and 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration granted a breakthrough therapy designation to psilocybin, meant to expedite drug development given that preliminary studies suggest it may have substantial therapeutic value over currently available therapies for treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorder.

Both of these developments represent a dramatic change from long-standing federal policy around these substances that has historically criminalised their use and blocked or delayed research efforts into their therapeutic potential.

As an assistant professor of anesthesiology and a pain researcher, I study alternative pain management options, including cannabis and psychedelics.

I also have a personal stake in improving chronic pain treatment: In early 2009 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread pain throughout the body, sleep disturbances and generalized sensory sensitivity.

I see cannabis and psilocybin as promising therapies that can contribute to bridging that need. Given that an estimated 50 million Americans have chronic pain – meaning pain that persists for three months or more – I want to help understand how to effectively use cannabis and psilocybin as potential tools for pain management.

Cannabis versus other pain medications

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is an ancient medicinal plant. Cannabis-based medicines have been used for at least 5,000 years for applications such as arthritis and pain control during and after surgery.This use extended through antiquity to modern times, with contemporary cannabis-based medications for treating certain seizure disorders, promoting weight gain for HIV/AIDS-related anorexia and treating nausea during chemotherapy.As with anything you put in your […]

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