Is It Safe to Use Pain Medications With Medical Cannabis?

by | Nov 27, 2023 | Health and Wellness

cannabis and medications

The majority of medical cannabis use centers around pain management. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with chronic pain conditions. Now that medical marijuana laws have changed and medical cannabis is a legal option for patients who are eligible, it presents new alternatives for safer pain management for chronic pain patients.

Opioid medications, prescription NSAIDs, and over-the-counter medications can help treat chronic pain. However, what many people may not realize is that using them in conjunction can exponentially increase the risk of experiencing adverse effects and injury.

If you are coping with moderate to severe chronic pain, there are a few important things you should know about combining pain medications with medical cannabis.

How Many Americans Suffer from Chronic Pain?

In April 2023, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and estimated that over 51 million people (or approximately 20% of the US adult population) suffer from chronic pain.

Another 17 million adult Americans (7%) have been diagnosed with the most severe form, which is high-impact chronic pain, which has debilitating effects on the quality of life, self-care, employment, and more for patients. Unless you know someone who lives with chronic pain or you have been diagnosed yourself, it is difficult to imagine the impact that it has on everyday life.

Many Different Types of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is defined as recurrent painful sensations that last for an extended period of time. Diagnosis of chronic pain usually happens after daily occurrences longer than a span of three months. People who have moderate to severe chronic pain may have other underlying medical conditions that have caused or exacerbated pain symptoms.

There are different types of chronic pain that vary in degrees of severity, but the most commonly diagnosed pain disorders are:

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

This chronic pain condition may develop after an individual has had a serious injury that damages the functioning of the peripheral and central nervous system. Complex regional pain syndrome can feel like a squeezing of the extremities or a painful sensation of “pins and needles.”

People diagnosed with CRPS often experience swelling, temperature (hot/cold) variances to the affected areas, severe pain, and changes in skin color.

pain medications cannabis


Individuals living with arthritis experience chronic pain and stiffness in one or more of the joint areas of the body. Types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

Arthritic pain (arthralgia) can be moderate to severe and feel like a burning sensation and dull ache centered on the bone joints impacted by the condition.


Imagine a sudden bolt of nerve pain that travels from your buttock, hip, thigh, and down to your feet. The longest nerve in the human body is the sciatic nerve, and when it is impinged or inflamed, it can cause excruciating pain.

Patients who have moderate to severe sciatica also experience tingling, weakness, and numbness in the affected leg(s), which can lead to problems with mobility.


Spasticity is a symptom that may be caused by chronic diseases like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or a side effect of spinal cord injury or stroke. Individuals living with spasticity experience severe muscle stiffness, which reduces muscle control and range of motion because of rigidity.

Because of restrictions to movement, many patients diagnosed with spasticity experience muscle wasting, which can result in a loss of independent mobility. While spasticity is not defined as a chronic pain condition, patients can experience discomfort due to persistent muscle spasms and muscular tension.

Diabetic Neuropathic Pain

Similar to complex regional pain syndrome, diabetic neuropathy is the result of nerve damage. Sustained high glucose levels lead to nerve malfunction, which causes a variety of symptoms, from painful “pins and needle” sensations to hot and cold variances in the affected areas.

Severe forms of diabetic neuropathy can cause pain not only in the peripheral areas (hands, fingers, feet, legs, and toes) but also in other areas of the body.

Chronic pain management is critical to ensure the comfort and quality of life for patients. It is important to understand that chronic pain does not only affect the body; coping with the difficulty of persistent pain sensations can also negatively impact mental health and relationships. Chronic pain may also present challenges to employability and income.

cannabis and pain medications

Pain Medications and Medical Marijuana

When you live with chronic pain, you have one goal: to find something, or a combination of things, that will help reduce the discomfort you feel. Chronic pain doesn’t take a break, and for many patients, it has no pattern of predictability. You have no way of knowing when or where it will strike and how severe it may be.

The use of pain medications with medical cannabis is an understandable choice when someone has severe chronic pain. That includes prescription medication use and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that are available at the local pharmacy. The goal is to reduce pain, but many people are not aware of the potential health risks when using pain medications and medical cannabis.

The Health Risks of Combining Pain Medications With Cannabis

Highly concentrated medical cannabis can be an effective analgesic and provide temporary pain relief. But when combined with NSAIDs, for example, it can cause gastrointestinal issues. Acetaminophen used daily and over a prolonged period of time, with or without medical cannabis, may increase liver toxicity and damage.

When it comes to pain management, physicians often recommend using one or the other. Prescription pain medications combined with OTCs can be harmful. Taking any other type of medicinal drug with cannabis can also cause dangerous levels of sedation, which may lead to adverse health effects.

The Opioid Epidemic is Still a Public Health Crisis

Prescription opioids are prescribed for patients who suffer from moderate to debilitating pain. By now, most people are familiar with the term “opioid epidemic” and the tragic fatalities that happen due to overdose on opioids and derivatives each year in America. But there isn’t a lot of media coverage about it anymore, which may lead some people to forget that opioids are a leading cause of death in the United States.

Opioids were originally formulated for short-term use and never intended (from a clinical compounding perspective) to be used indefinitely for chronic pain. However, as chronic pain impacts so many Americans, opioids became accepted for long-term symptom management.

prescriptions and cannabis

The fact is that opioids are not safe to use in this manner, and patients who do face increased risk of side effects, potentially life-threatening health problems, and overdose deaths.

The American Medical Association (AMA) released a new issue brief, “National Snapshot of Overdose Epidemic,” in November 2023. From May 2022 to May 2023, there were 106,000 reported fatalities where opioids were the single drug for cause of death.

Many more fatalities from overdose incidents occurred, where opioid use disorder was involved with the recreational use of prohibited substances. From a population health perspective, the ongoing opioid epidemic warrants decreased opiate medication and more focus on alternative health options that are safer, such as doctor-supervised cannabis.

What Should You Do If Your Chronic Pain Is Not Well Managed?

Drug interactions, whether from prescription opioids or other medications or over-the-counter remedies, can be fatal. Cannabis for chronic pain, when used without other pain medications, is well-tolerated and determined to be safer.

State-reformed medical cannabis laws have made doctor-supervised cannabis for chronic pain a new and legal option for eligible patients. There are more states with medical cannabis today than ever before, and some patients have used medical cannabis to reduce the use of or remove opioid pain medications entirely.

Many patients find medical cannabis effective for treating chronic pain, and the guidance of an experienced cannabis healthcare provider helps improve the safety and efficacy of adding cannabis to your treatment plan.

It is not safe to consume a prescription pain medication with any other controlled substance. Find out if herbal cannabis can help you manage chronic pain better. Pain is one of the most common reason why Americans become medical cannabis patients.

Schedule an appointment to discuss your pain management needs with one of our qualified providers at MedWell Health and Wellness in Massachusetts.


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