Marijuana and Ibuprofen
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Dealing with chronic pain and inflammation? Not sure if continued use of ibuprofen is the right remedy for you?
Marijuana isn’t just for getting high. Many cultures have used it for centuries to therapeutically treat a wide range of conditions.
Find out here what you need to know about this medically useful plant and how it stacks up against ibuprofen, an over-the-counter medication commonly used to treat pain and inflammation.
What is Ibuprofen?
If the drug name ibuprofen sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. It’s likely you know ibuprofen by one of its more common brand names–Advil, Motrin, or Nurofen.
An over-the-counter medication, ibuprofen is a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) taken to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation.
So what exactly is inflammation? If you’ve ever had an injury or infection, you probably experienced the affected area becoming inflamed. That is, it became hot, red, and swollen. It likely also was painful.
These changes are natural and are simply part of the body’s defense system as it sends in white blood cells to help heal the disturbed area. In general, inflammation can be broken down into two main types–acute and chronic inflammation.
For most, acute inflammations like scraped knees and elbows are a typical right of passage. When you fall and scrape your knee, the area will become warm, turn red, and possibly bleed. You’ll experience some swelling. Oh, and won’t it be smart!
But that’s on the outside. Inside your body, a lot of chemical processes will start happening.
Within seconds of the injury, your cells will release histamines, which will cause your blood vessels to dilate and blood flow to increase. White blood cells will descend upon the area to attack bacteria and foreign debris.
Other cells in your body will release neurotransmitters, which are responsible for your feelings of pain. They serve to alert you to the injury so you can quickly address it.
For the most part, incidents of acute inflammation will subside in a few days.
Unlike acute inflammation, the chronic type is much slower to subside and can, in fact, linger for weeks, months, or even years. Low-grade inflammation is typically caused by recurrent injuries, an infectious organism that cannot seem to be eradicated, or repeated exposure to a chemical irritant.
In some cases, chronic inflammation will occur even when there is no apparent injury or infection present.
Unaddressed, chronic inflammation can sometimes lead to white blood cells attacking healthy tissues. This can result in the development of a variety of diseases including diabetes, coronary artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
How Does Ibuprofen Reduce Inflammation?
Ibuprofen inhibits the production of two types of enzymes called Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes that produce prostaglandins. And what are prostaglandins? These are a group of hormones that play a vital role in the body’s healing process when it is confronted with injury or infection.
Prostaglandins generate inflammation, so when a person takes ibuprofen medication, inflammation and the associated pain that comes with it are reduced.
Adverse Side Effects of Ibuprofen
One of the problems with ibuprofen and other NSAIDs is that they cannot distinguish between Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes. Each plays a different role, with Cox-2 enzymes most focused on producing prostaglandins at the injury or infection site.
Cox-1 enzymes, on the other hand, tend to reside in the gastrointestinal tract. A big part of their job is to create a hormone that causes blood clotting.
If a person takes too much ibuprofen, that hormone can become depleted and lead to stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding.
Ibuprofen is also known for certain side effects, including
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation or diarrhea
- High blood pressure
- Kidney failure
- Headache and dizziness
- Worsening asthma symptoms
- Allergic reactions
Taken in high doses, ibuprofen can be extremely toxic and life-threatening. Overdosing on ibuprofen is not uncommon.
Cannabis and Inflammation
There are more than 100 different cannabinoids that have been identified in the cannabis plant. The two we are most familiar with–and the ones that generate the most therapeutic interest–are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
THC, as you probably well know, is the cannabinoid that causes you to get high when smoked or otherwise ingested. CBD, on the other hand, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that researchers have found to have great healing potential.
When ingested, both of these cannabinoids modulate the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the system in the human body that impacts the central nervous system controlling a wide range of functions such as mood, emotions, appetite, and pain.
The federal government has taken an interesting stance on the subject of medical marijuana. It claims that certain components of the cannabis plant–like CBD–do have medicinal value, just not the whole plant.
This “single-molecule medicine” approach allows the government to acknowledge the anti-epileptic, anti-depressant, anti-nauseate, and, yes, anti-inflammatory qualities of CBD while still defining the whole plant as a Schedule I drug with no useful medical value.
How Does Marijuana Reduce Inflammation?
One of the problems with the federal government’s approach is that marijuana as a whole plant contains multiple features that address inflammation.
For example, studies have found that CBD inhibits the production of cytokines, a type of signaling protein manufactured by immune cells to promote inflammation. CBD also works much like ibuprofen in inhibiting Cox-1 and Cox-2 activity and prostaglandin production thereby reducing inflammation.
However, THC also has anti-inflammatory qualities as studies have found it inhibits the release of arachidonic acid, which is where prostaglandins get their origin. Without this acid, they cannot be produced.
THC may also reduce the bad kind of immune activity that kills white blood cells. As a result, it has been found to be helpful in treating multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Research has uncovered that terpenes, the aromatic, organic compounds in marijuana plants, also play a role in reducing swelling.
Cannabidiol or Ibuprofen: What’s Safer?
Some people curious about alternatives to traditional medications are of the mistaken impression that using marijuana for medical purposes requires that they smoke a joint to enjoy its medical benefits. Non-smokers might find the thought of it off-putting.
They may have questions, such as whether or not you can smoke weed if you have asthma. What they should know is that their lungs will be fine.
CBD is available in multiple forms including as an extract, a vaporized liquid, or capsule form. However, it is most commonly administered as an oil.
More importantly, the World Health Organization has found CBD to be non-addictive and non-toxic. The organization has specifically stated, “To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
Ibuprofen, on the other hand, can be toxic when taken in excess quantities. And as listed above, there are many adverse side effects.
Deciding Between Marijuana and Ibuprofen
If you’ve been using ibuprofen to treat inflammatory pain but want to explore the benefits of medical marijuana, talk to your doctor about it. There are many different cannabis products available today that can treat inflammation and your doctor can help you find the best one that works for you.
Is It Safe To Mix Cannabis With Over-The-Counter Prescriptions?
While serious adverse effects are uncommon with cannabis and the potential for dependence is low, mixing it with other drugs, whether over-the-counter or prescription-strength, can sometimes cause adverse reactions.
For example, people who mix cannabis with common cough and cold medications like NyQuil, Robitussin, or Thera-Flu may experience additional drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. Mixing cannabis with medications that include Benedryl may also cause dizziness and confusion.
Some common allergy medications, when mixed with cannabis, can produce not only increased drowsiness and confusion but also cognitive impairments and a temporary decrease in motor function skills.
It should be noted that no study to date has determined a drug interaction between ibuprofen and cannabis. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically good to go and smoke weed if you have an ailment you are taking ibuprofen for.
A perfect example is mononucleosis. Sometimes, under certain conditions, cannabis products are simply not the best for your body at that time and have nothing to do with potential drug interactions.
Interactions of Other Medications with Cannabis
If you are taking any kind of medication, you should always be forthright with your doctor about your marijuana use–whether you use it for medicinal or recreational purposes. Many drugs come with warnings of certain side effects and cannabis use can sometimes cause those side effects to increase.
For example, anti-depressants like Zoloft and Prozac often bring on drowsiness, and taking them with cannabis can sometimes magnify those feelings making it difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Or in the case of diabetic patients, cannabis use can lower blood pressure and may require your doctor to adjust your diabetes medications.
That’s why it’s always important to keep your doctor informed.
Well, here we are at the end. Hopefully, this article wasn’t a pain to read. If it was, however, will you reach for your ibuprofen?
Or are you thinking about a possible cannabis-related treatment? It’s a personal decision, of course. But and especially if you take any medications all ready for any kind of condition, be sure to have a conversation with your medical provider first.