While people continue to turn to medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and other health problems, new research has investigated the effectiveness of cannabis when it comes to reducing pain.
Some who use the drug claim it does wonders for their pain management, while health experts have long debated whether cannabis can be used as an analgesic. Now, new research has found medical marijuana can increase the pain threshold for those who use it, although it’s not yet known whether tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – a substance found in cannabis that creates hallucinogenic effects – can actually reduce pain.
Findings published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal state that the active ingredient in cannabis produces only small increases in pain thresholds, but may not actually reduce the intensity of pain already being experienced. Researchers from Syracuse University in the United States also argued that THC offered no reduction in ongoing intensity of pain. It followed previous studies that haven’t been able to fully understand the analgesic properties of cannabinoids, making it difficult for researchers to form conclusive results.
The new study analysed data of 442 adults from 18 placebo-controlled studies and found that rather than impacting the body and reducing the pain, the analgesic properties of the drug likely affect the mind. That lead researchers to conclude that cannabinoid drugs can prevent the onset of pain through small pain thresholds, rather than the intensity of pain.
The findings have drawn debate from those within the industry. Providing comment to Scimex, Chair of Pain Adelaide, Professor Lorimer Moseley said the study was important because it showed that more research about the the benefits of marijuana and pain relief is needed.
“”It is a really important review mainly because it shows how little data are out there when it comes to cannabis and pain,” he said. “The data that do exist seem to show that, when it comes to very short-term pain induced in a laboratory, cannabis doesn’t change pain intensity but people find the same pain less awful and therefore more tolerable.”
In real scenarios of people living with chronic pain, he questioned whether using cannabis would be effective.
“Unfortunately this study tells us nothing about the potential role of cannabis in real-world pain, which is not so short-lived and has a totally different meaning,” he said. “Critically, it is even further removed from persistent pain, which is what people are using it for. The lesson? Don’t take these results and apply them to persistent pain.”
Meanwhile, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide ,Paul Rolan pointed out the findings weren’t new.
“This is not new research, it is a pooled analysis of previous work,” he said. “The reported effects were very small and not clinically relevant.”
Still, Director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research Professor Wayne Hall, said the findings were similar to previous research on the topic.
“These results are broadly consistent with systematic reviews of clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating chronic non-cancer pain, such as the pain experienced by persons with multiple sclerosis,” he said. “Systematic reviews have found that cannabinoids produce a small increase in the proportion of patients who experience a reduction in their pain compared to patients who were given a placebo.”
In Australia, recent changes to the federal Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 decriminalised the use and supply of medicinal cannabis. Obtaining any cannabis product needs to be prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, and they must abide by strict and specific laws in each state and territory. It’s always important to talk to a health professional about health and not to purchase cannabis off the street – given this is still illegal.