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Is Medical Cannabis the Answer to Chronic Illness?

Many patients with chronic illness are familiar with the spoon theory; it proposes we start each day with a limited amount of energy (spoons) to accomplish needed goals and tasks. Once the energy is gone, we lose our ability to function effectively, cope with unexpected events, and interact with others on a meaningful basis. Medical cannabis can help “spoonies” live better lives. If you have health issues and wonder if using cannabis would benefit you, please take our quick eligibility survey to see if you may qualify to become a patient. At your first appointment, speak with one of our Ohio medical cannabis doctors to see what products and strains will work best for you. 

Long-term or chronic health conditions can affect patients in several aspects of their lives. They often have to choose between activities that drain their energy; dealing with a crisis or other stressful issue can quickly become overwhelming. Recovery from stressful situations can take longer because there are no extra inner resources available to draw from. Though the buildup of stress over time can be difficult for anyone to deal with, the effects are multiplied for a chronic illness patient. The effects of simple daily pressures can stockpile much more quickly for those who don’t have the stamina to deal with them. In time, a significant number of these patients are prone to isolation and withdrawal from daily activities. 

Other problems experienced by those with chronic illness include the following:

  • Decreased mobility
  • Unpredictability of the illness itself
  • Pain 
  • Dealing with the side effects of prescription medications
  • Difficulty doing housework or routine chores
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Changes in relationships
  • Insomnia

How Cannabis Helps with Chronic Pain and Inflammation

Pain is a symptom experienced by many of those suffering with a physical chronic illness. Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, located in the central and peripheral nervous system, help moderate not only how our body perceives pain, but how it responds to painful stimuli. Cannabis helps by doing these things:

  • Controls and decreases inflammation or swelling
  • Blocks the response of nerves triggered by painful stimulation
  • Helps decrease nerve pain
  • Eases or prevents muscle spasms 
  • Is effective, based on type of administration, for either body-wide or site-specific pain
  • Helps relieve the wind-up response, which is activated after repeated exposure to negative stimulus (think Irritable Bowel Disease, Fibromyalgia, or Myofascial Pain)


While some types of pain respond well to CBD alone, particularly those involving the peripheral nervous system, there are situations where adding THC exerts a significant benefit. Some chronic illnesses respond better to a combination of these cannabinoids include Multiple Sclerosis, Phantom Limb Syndrome, diseases that cause neuropathic pain, Fibromyalgia, cancer, migraines, and diseases that result in muscle spasticity. For patients who continue to experience pain when taking pharmaceutical drugs, adding medical cannabis to their treatment regimen can help decrease the levels of residual discomfort they feel. Cannabis has even been proven effective in some cases involving patients who did not respond to currently available prescription pain relievers. 

Medical Cannabis is a Mood Elevator

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “…an estimated one-third of individuals with a chronic illness or condition experience symptoms of depression.” (1) Cannabinoids, as well as terpenes such as limonene, pinene, myrcene, and linalool, have been noted for their mood-elevating and stabilizing effects. CBD, along with linalool and limonene, are also known to ease anxiety. 

Cannabis Promotes Digestive Health

Some chronic illnesses directly affect the digestive system; for other patients, the medications they are taking can alter normal activity. Nausea, vomiting, changes in appetite, abdominal cramping, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux can be decreased or eliminated with regular medical cannabis use. 

Cannabis Helps You Sleep

Even healthy people use cannabis to relax, unwind, and fall asleep at night. For those with chronic illness, being able to shut down a noisy mind and let go of the day’s stressors can be a critical part of getting the rest they need to function on a daily basis. The pain-relieving properties of medical cannabis also come in handy when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep for those with PTSD, headaches, muscle spasms, and aching joints. In addition, THC has been found to help regulate serotonin levels, which can help you breathe better while you’re sleeping. This can be beneficial for those with sleep apnea. 

Patients should take note of which strains help them rest better and which ones keep them awake. For most of us, an Indica strain more beneficial at bedtime than a Sativa; however, how we react to different varieties depends on the person, so there is no guarantee using a product that works for your neighbor or best friend is going to help you. It’s important to remember that route matters – while smoking, vaping, drops, tinctures, and oils work more rapidly than edibles, they also don’t last as long. If you use one of these options, you may find the need to re-dose partway through the night in order to maintain good rest. Edibles take longer to work (up to 90 minutes) but the effects can last up to 8 hours or more. For nighttime use, taking an edible an hour or so before you plan to go to bed can help you sleep better and longer than other routes. Sometimes experimentation is the only way to find the best option for your bedtime dose.

How Medical Cannabis Helps with Mobility

Patients with chronic illnesses that affect their ability to move around normally benefit from cannabis use in several ways:

  • It eases pain and inflammation
  • It helps prevent or lessen the severity of muscle spasms and rigidity
  • It helps patients sleep better, which decreases muscle fatigue and makes movement easier
  • It functions as an antidepressant, which increases energy levels in affected patients
  • It can lessen the need for opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines, which increases stability and decreases the chance of irregular gait as well as the probability of falls or other accidents
  • It protects nerve cells, slowing the progression of such diseases as MS, ALS, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s disease

Other Considerations

  • Cannabis can decrease the severity of tics in patients with Tourette’s Disease
  • CBD oil taken by itself or in conjunction with THC can stop or reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of seizures in those with epilepsy or other forms of seizure disorder
  • Due to the dry mouth caused by cannabis, it is helpful in conditions that lead to drooling or excess saliva production
  • Applied topically, cannabis can ease muscle aches and pains as well as the discomfort caused by arthritis

For those with chronic illnesses, it’s not always about the disability itself, but rather how being disabled makes them feel. Fighting to get through the day leads to fatigue, stress, depression, lack of sleep, altered appetite, and affects thinking as well as coping skills. Using medical cannabis can help these patients regain focus, function, and a more positive outlook on life. For some, it is a chance to step away from prescription pharmaceuticals and the side effects that can seem at times to cause more harm than good. Many “spoonies” find it gives them a better quality of life, helps reduce their symptoms, and provides them the opportunity to exert some control over their long-term health conditions. 

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9288-chronic-illness-and-depression
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430692/
  3. https://alsnewstoday.com/2017/08/14/five-benefits-cannabis-tea-chronic-illness/
  4. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/linalool-cannabis-terpene-benefits
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25771248
  6. https://www.alchimiaweb.com/blogen/marijuana-terpenes-effects/
  7. https://www.sleepadvisor.org/marijuana-and-sleep/
  8. https://www.aan.com/Guidelines/Home/GetGuidelineContent/650
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604192/
  10. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2018.00183/full