Looking for Alternative Pain Management Strategies? The Key to Relief May Be Cannabis.

Bonus: Side effects include the giggles, the munchies and deeply restful sleep.

Dope Medicine

Chances are good you know someone who is struggling with chronic pain—and that may even be you. In 2019, a National Health Interview Survey revealed that more than 20% of U.S. adults suffered chronic pain and, of those, more than 7% reported suffering from high-impact chronic pain. Recent research shows that most of those cases could be treated with cannabis.

Prescription pharmaceuticals have long been the go-to for patients struggling with daily, debilitating pain, but often those medications are costly and come with unwanted side effects. Cannabis, by contrast, offers a solution to chronic pain that’s not only holistic, but patients can also grow it themselves. Bonus: Side effects include the giggles, the munchies and deeply restful sleep.

How Does Weed Treat Chronic Pain?

Compounds in cannabis treat pain by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, known to be one of the key endogenous systems regulating pain sensation. Primary cannabinoids THC and CBD play critical roles, but more than 500 unique cannabis molecules have been discovered, and their synergistic effects are also thought to support pain relief.

THC inhibits our release of glutamate, the brain’s most abundant and excitatory neurotransmitter, thereby modulating the nervous system’s inflammatory activity and releasing serotonin, aka the happy hormone. THC also affects the brain’s pain pathways by altering dopamine function, readjusting the body’s responses to pain and easing the healing process. Functioning similarly but without the psychotropic side effects, CBD has both painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties.

Consult your primary care doctor before turning to cannabis as your new cure-all, but for people interested in exploring plant-based pain relief, a few cultivars are listed below to get you started. Pro tip: You don’t even have to smoke it; instead, you can decarboxylate your cannabis by heating it at a low temperature in your oven and then put it in your tea.


Cannatonic is a balanced medicinal strain with a 2-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC. This cross of MK Ultra and G13 Haze delivers mildly euphoric head effects and a soothing body buzz that relieves chronic pain, migraines, cramps and spasms, according to therapeutic users. As a recreational strain, the toned-downTHC content makes for a potent, blissful high—particularly for users with lower tolerances. Expect a citrusy, earthy aroma and taste.

BUY: TJ’s on Powell, 7827 SE Powell Blvd., 503-719-7140, visittjs.com.


Another low-THC strain with a therapeutic reputation is Harlequin, a cross of Colombian Gold, a Nepali Indica, and Thai and Swiss landrace strains. It typically features a 1-to-1 THC-to-CBD ratio that tops out around 15%. Therapeutic patients describe the high as bright, airy and deeply physically soothing. Conditions treated with Harlequin include arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines and chronic pain. Expect a funky fruit nose and botanical, woody aftertaste.

BUY: Kaleafa Cannabis Company, 5232 SE Woodstock Blvd., 971-407-3208, kaleafa.com.

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies, or GSC, is a potent, pain-relieving cultivar with THC percentages that often crest at a stoney 25%—a great option for potheads building up an apothecary stash. Medical users cite GSC as an effective treatment for not only chronic pain, but also the accompanying maladies of anxiety and depression. The same is reported about several of the strain’s offshoots, such as Thin Mint, Do-Si-Dos and Platinum Cookies. Expect a profile reminiscent of, you guessed it, cookies.

BUY: Eden Cannabis, 128 SE 12th Ave., 503-477-9998, edencraftcannabis.com.

Blueberry Cheesecake

For users whose moods have been affected by prolonged chronic pain, this cross of Big Buddha Cheese and Blueberry could be a panacea. Blueberry Cheesecake’s reported effects include a bright, clear euphoria and relaxing elasticity in the body. This cultivar’s lower CBD percentages make it less effective at treating certain nerve disorders, like epilepsy and spasms, but its moderate THC percentage (20% on average) delivers blissful relief from pain and the anxiety that accompanies it. Expect a profile that’s both funky cheesy and berry sweet.

BUY: Lifted Northwest, 11121 SE Division St., 503-894-9495, liftednorthwest.com.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.