Self-medicating with cannabis

Using cannabis for pain or treatment? Here is what you need to know.

If you've ever tried using cannabis to treat pain, you're not alone. Many people use cannabis for issues like anxiety, insomnia, depression, migraines and chronic pain. You may have heard a friend tell you it works for them, and maybe that's why you're considering it. But remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Personal experience is not the same as scientific research. So, what does the research say?


Talk to your doctor

It may be tempting just to try cannabis to see if it helps. After all, it's legal without anyone’s permission if you’re 18+. But no matter what issue you're dealing with, if you're considering treating it with cannabis, your best bet is to talk to your doctor first. They will be able to properly assess your symptoms, taking your medical history and overall health into account before making any recommendations.

Your doctor may say it's OK to try cannabis to treat your symptoms. They may also offer guidance on what product to try and what dosage. They may also authorize you to use medical cannabis. In Canada, you don't get a prescription; it's called an authorization. They may prescribe or recommend you another drug or treatment. Or they may do all the above for you.

Light green cannabis leaf

Bottom line

Your health is important, so it's worth taking the time to become informed on what’s right for you.

Who else can you talk to about cannabis?

If you're not comfortable talking to your doctor about cannabis – or if they're not comfortable recommending it for you – you can also go to a private cannabis clinic. These clinics can offer medical-cannabis authorizations, though some may require a doctor's referral. Most private cannabis clinics in Alberta can be found through a simple online search.

Note that people who sell cannabis, like a local budtender, cannot legally discuss the potential health benefits of cannabis with you. And they aren’t qualified medical professionals, which is another reason why it’s best to talk to your doctor first.

Medical cannabis vs non-medical cannabis – what's the difference?

Both medical and non-medical cannabis come from the same source – the cannabis plant. But medical cannabis consists of specifically chosen and developed strains to create specific medical properties. In Canada, cannabis is a highly regulated product grown by licensed producers, in a controlled environment. All cannabis is grown to standards set by Health Canada, however medical cannabis products focus more on specific strains and potencies.

Generally, the doctors, clinic staff, and licensed producers are more informed about medical cannabis and its effects. For example, they understand the differences between strains and potencies and how each of them may interact with specific health issues. As a result, the knowledge and care you'll receive while taking medical cannabis are usually superior to using regular cannabis on your own.

What is medical cannabis used for?

Although people have used cannabis for medicinal purposes for centuries, cannabis in Western medicine is relatively new. That's because it requires a high standard of scientific evidence and control. And it was difficult to study a product that, for decades, was illegal. For these reasons, there is not a significant amount of research available, at least compared with other areas of medicine.

Today, there are only a few medical uses for cannabis that research supports, and they include:

  • treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • relief for pain caused by nerve damage
  • appetite stimulation

Other uses of medical cannabis still being studied* include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy (some types)
  • Cancer
  • Anti-inflammatory diseases
  • Mental health issues
  • Neurogenerative disorders

Female Doctor

Self-medicating with cannabis

If you're using cannabis on your own to treat pain, anxiety, or other symptoms, it's important to be aware of the possible risks. First, know that everyone responds differently. You may have a different experience than your friend, even when using the same product for the same issue. Your response can be different each time you take it, even if it is the same strain and dose. Multiple factors can change how you respond.

Keep in mind that even if you feel that cannabis effectively treats your issue, there are possible side effects. These might depend on your health, your method of consumption, and multiple other factors. The next section below lists some of the most common side effects.


Learn more about the known health effects of cannabis here.

Common side-effects (of non-medical cannabis)

Cannabis use in any form – smoking, vaping, or edibles – can cause several side effects. These effects can be either short-term, long-term or sometimes both. And keep in mind that both your physical and mental health could be affected.

Some of the most well-known short-term effects of cannabis are:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • intoxication
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory loss
  • drowsiness
  • hunger
  • paranoia (in extreme cases)

Long-term effects of cannabis use may include:


Learn more about the known health effects of cannabis here.

When might cannabis use not be advised?

In some cases, cannabis is not advised, even under a doctor's care. Generally, you should avoid cannabis if you:

  • are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding
  • are under 18
  • have history, or family history, of substance abuse
  • have history, or family history, of psychosis
Light green cannabis leaf


Talking to your doctor first is always best if you're thinking about using cannabis to treat pain or another issue. Even if you are already using cannabis or have already decided to try it, it's still a good idea to let your doctor know. Also, be sure to educate yourself on the potential issues. Personal choice is essential – and so is your health.

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