Medical Marijuana: Low THC Sufficient for Neuropathic Pain

AUGUST 29, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
hospital medicine, pain management, addiction medicine, neuropathy, neuropathic pain, pharmacy, medical marijuana, cannabis
Study results on the analgesic effect of cannabis have been mixed over the years. However, many states allow prescriptions for medical marijuana for a variety of health conditions, including pain. A recent study published in The Journal of Pain looked at the effect of marijuana treatment on neuropathic pain.

A team of researchers based in California conducted eight-hour human analyses to determine pain level outcomes with the use of vaporized cannabis. The cohort included 42 patients with neuropathic pain related to an injury or disease of the spinal cord. Although most of the participants were also on a traditional treatment, they were still experiencing pain.

The patients were randomized to take four puffs of vaporized cannabis that contained either placebo, 2.9%, or 6.7% delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Three hours later, the participants took another four to eight puffs – the number of puffs was decided by the patient in order to reduce the placebo effect. An 11-point numerical pain intensity rating scale showed that the vaporized cannabis produced a significant analgesic response.

“When subjective and psychoactive side effects (eg, good drug effect, feeling high, etc) were added as covariates to the model, the reduction in pain intensity remained significant above and beyond any effect of these measures,” the report said.

Psychoactive side effects did occur as a result of the delta 9-THC, which is expected as marijuana is a brain-altering drug. The researchers said that neuropsychological performance was challenging to measure because many of the participants had disabilities.

Nevertheless, two of the highlighted findings included:
  • There was significantly more pain relief with active cannabis than placebo.
  • The two active doses did not have significantly different outcomes when it came to analgesic potency.
Since the higher active dose didn’t appear to provide more pain relief, the authors advise that patients with neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injury or disease should be provided with the lower dose in order to avoid potential risks.

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