• John Swiden

How Does Cannabis Affect Pain Tolerance Differently Than Opioids?

Updated: Mar 20

Pain can come in a multitude of forms - joint aches, headaches, or a burn.

Our pain tolerance is defined by the highest amount of pain that our bodies can handle. This pain tolerance differs for each individual, depending upon how the person’s brain and nerves interact with each other.

There are people who have a much higher pain tolerance as compared to others. This is the reason why maybe one of your friends can have a tattoo done without even batting an eyelash, while another finds the pain unbearable. Regardless, to be able to experience pain is extremely important as it signals to the brain if and where there is an illness or an injury that needs to be addressed.

There are a lot of things, including age, illness, genetics, sex, medications, as well as past experiences with pain, that affect our pain tolerance.

Pain Tolerance

Here we are going to focus on what role do medications play when it comes to pain tolerance.


Every time we feel pain, we don’t even take a moment to reach for over-the-counter opioid medicines. While stronger opioids exist to help intense pain that comes with chronic illnesses such as cancer, some of the most common prescription opioids are fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine.

People have created a dependency on opioids for their pain which, unknown to them, can prove dangerous as taking opioids for too long can cause opioid-induced hyperalgesia. It means experiencing much lower pain as a result of decreased pain tolerance.

Hyperalgesia is more common in those who take prescription opioids. But, these medicines can cause the sensitivity of the felt pain to be more pronounced. There are many detrimental side effects to hyperalgesia that include addiction to opioids and potential overdosing, the latter of which can prove to be fatal.


Cannabis, on the other hand, does not affect pain tolerance, when used to medicate the pain.

Studies have confirmed that regular consumption of cannabis does not mark an increase in pain sensitivity. It comes as no surprise then that people have been more and more interested in the adoption of cannabinoid medicines in recent years and have experienced its effectiveness for the treatment of chronic pain, first hand. However, it is yet to be systematically examined as to how much does in fact the frequent use of cannabis influence sensitivity to acute pain.

Unlike opioids that result in an increase in pain sensitivity, thereby complicating an already tough situation, it is good news that such a pattern hasn’t been identified with cannabinoids, especially as there has been a marked increase in the uptake of cannabis-based pain medications in the recent years.

As we pointed out earlier, there has been much research conducted to see how cannabis affects pain, and how it works differently than opioid therapy. The result of one such research has gone on to suggest that frequent use of cannabis does not seem to be associated with increased sensitivity to experimental pain in a way that usually is seen to occur in opioid therapy. This has helped researchers make an important distinction that both care providers and patients should consider when they are looking at various pain management options. These findings gain particular relevance in light of the many reports that authorities get regarding opioid overprescriptions and high rates of pain in people; it goes on to suggest that cannabis may be different from opioids, not carrying the same risk of hyperalgesia as the latter.

The fact that cannabinoid drugs have been seen to prevent the very onset of pain by producing tiny increases in pain thresholds without reducing the intensity of experimental pain that is already being experienced, is an incredible fact. Cannabinoids may even make experimental pain feel more tolerable, less unpleasant, hence suggesting an influence on the affective processes. This is a brilliant piece of news, considering how the opioid epidemic has been hitting just about every country in the world.

If you are someone who is been medicating with cannabis frequently, you should understand that unlike opioid medicines, cannabis no longer makes you experience relief; it means, you can rest assured that it won’t cause you to need more over time.

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