Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Marijuana and marijuana-based products may help relieve the pain associated with hernias and lessen post-operative pain. In addition, the cannabinoids found in marijuana plants could be beneficial for discouraging the formation of post-operative scars.
To understand how cannabis may help relieve hernia-related pain and promote effective healing, it’s essential to understand pain mechanisms and how cannabis interacts with the body.
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How Cannabis Works To Lessen Pain
Pain is how our body notifies us that something is wrong, like touching a hot pan or getting cut with a knife. Medical conditions, such as hernias, can be pretty painful, interfering with how we live our daily lives. Cannabis and cannabis-based products may help us manage this pain.
How Do We Feel Pain?
We perceive pain when a pain message is transmitted to our brain by special nerve cells known as “nociceptors” or pain receptors. These nerve cells are present throughout the body, passing messages along to each other until the signals reach the brain. We don’t feel pain until the message reaches the brain, where it is interpreted as a painful sensation.
And just like our bodies produce certain signals that trigger pain, they also have certain signals that can regulate and lessen our responses to pain, thanks to systems like the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is part of your body’s natural regulation of cellular signaling. It is involved in virtually all bodily functions — including eating and digesting, hearing, emotional regulation, mood, and pain perception — and is made up of receptors (called CB1 and CB2 receptors), enzymes, and compounds called endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are involved in regulating pain perception at all stages of the pain pathway, presenting the opportunity to artificially regulate pain through the supplementation of plant-based cannabinoids (like THC) called phytocannabinoids.
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How Does the Endocannabinoid System Regulate Pain?
The endocannabinoid system primarily works to control pain through the regulation of the neurotransmitters that pass the pain signal from one nerve cell to another.
Phytocannabinoids from plants, such as Cannabis sativa, can activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors, eliciting a response from our ECS similar to that triggered by our natural endocannabinoids.
In this case, endocannabinoids are created on-demand and inhibit neurotransmitters that would otherwise go on to activate the part of the brain that tells the body it’s in pain. This inhibition of neurotransmitters by endocannabinoids works to “turn down” presynaptic firing, thereby reducing signal transmission and pain sensation.
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Using Cannabis To Help With Hernia Pain
A hernia occurs when an organ pushes through a hole in the tissues or muscle that normally holds it in place. This occurs primarily in the abdomen but can also happen in the groin and upper thigh. The pain is usually dull, similar to an uncomfortable pressure, and is worse when strain is put on the abdomen, like when you lift something heavy or perform a twisting or bending motion.
There’s not a lot of research looking at managing hernia pain with cannabis. Still, there is plenty of evidence that cannabis can provide pain relief in similar conditions, such as post-operative pain.
In a review on cannabis-based pain relief for post-surgical pain, reviewers found multiple clinical studies that all agreed cannabis was an effective pain relief option. These studies used various forms and dosages of cannabis.
One of these studies treated patients with oral capsules of nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the action of THC. Another of the studies had participants smoke or vaporize 20-30 grams of cannabis flower each month at a 1:4 THC to CBD ratio. A third study orally dosed patients with dronabinol, a synthetic derivative of THC.
These studies suggest that cannabis can provide pain relief regardless of the method of application or type of cannabinoid used. However, there is likely some variation in effect based on the type of cannabinoid used. Dosages will also dictate how strong the effects are for each user. Further supporting cannabis-based pain relief, Canada has recently approved THC- and CBD-based treatments for neuropathic pain.
While cannabis and cannabis-based products may be able to provide you with some relief from your hernia pain, they will not address the root cause of the pain, which is the herniating organ. It is crucial to receive medical treatment for a hernia as the only fix is a surgical hernia repair.
Potential Benefits and Risks
Not all treatments are created equal, and they all come with their potential benefits and risks. Choosing a suitable therapy involves understanding those benefits and risks and selecting the best approach for your situation.
The primary symptoms of hernias are a swelling or bulge at the site of the hernia, pain that intensifies when the abdomen is under stress, and a consistent, dull ache when at rest. Cannabis-based therapies may relieve this pain, giving some comfort to patients waiting for hernia surgery.
Those with hernias may also have difficulty sleeping due to their hernia pain. In addition to helping control pain, cannabis is commonly used as a sleep aid and may be able to help you nod off to sleep.
Cannabis may also provide some topical benefits. Scars from hernia surgeries are common, and CBD-based ointments have been indicated beneficial for scar healing, especially for controlling inflammation. The use of cannabis-based ointments is believed to be safe for post-operative care as topical cannabinoids have not been shown to harm the healing process.
Finally, some patients can decrease their use of opioids for pain management dramatically when they have access to cannabis-based alternatives. This is beneficial as opioids are far more habit-forming than cannabis.
Despite providing pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits, some risks come with using cannabis while you have a hernia.
Smoking or vaporizing cannabis can trigger coughing in some patients, which may exacerbate a hernia due to increased abdominal pressure. (Chronic cough and smoking are also risk factors for developing a hernia in the first place.) Oils and edibles may be a more suitable way to use cannabis for pain relief.
Chronic use of cannabis can also cause changes to how your body responds to pain-altering substances, like the anesthetics used during surgery. It is important to advise your anesthesiologist if you use cannabis, as cannabis users have been found to require more anesthesia than those who do not consume the plant.
Cannabis users were also found to have prolonged anesthesia effects from some pain-relief substances like morphine. Smoking cannabis may also increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Still, due to the limited and inconsistent data, drawing firm conclusions on this topic is not appropriate.
The Bottom Line
Hernias come with pain and discomfort, sensations that cannabis may be able to alleviate. Evidence shows that pain relief is a possible effect of various cannabinoids administered in multiple ways.
If you are suffering from hernia-related pain, you may want to look into taking medical cannabis to help relieve your symptoms while you wait for surgical treatment. It is a good idea to talk to a doctor if you have any plans for using medical marijuana to relieve hernia pain.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can CBD oil make GERD worse?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid repeatedly enters the esophagus, irritating the esophageal lining. There is no evidence that CBD oil can exacerbate GERD or similar conditions, and Cannabis-based products may be a potential therapy for GERD.
A 2017 review described cannabinoid receptor presence in the esophagus, proposing it could be a possible target for cannabis-based therapies, though researchers stated that further research is needed.
Can I use topical CBD on my surgery scars?
Yes, topical CBD oils and ointments are safe to use on surgery scars. Scars from surgical procedures can sometimes be unsightly, and many patients find them undesirable. CBD oil is shown to have multiple beneficial actions that improve wound healing and scar formation.
A 2011 study found that activation of CB2 receptors significantly reduced fibrosis of the liver. Fibrosis is the primary mechanism of scar tissue development. This suggests that cannabis may be a beneficial treatment for minimizing scars.