Medicinal cannabis no more effective than placebo for treating back pain

Apr 19, 2021
The Aussie researchers found no evidence of CBD effectiveness for lower back pain. Source: Getty.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is fast becoming a popular remedy for a number of ailments, however Australian researchers have found the highly sought-after substance is no better than a placebo at reducing pain for people visiting the emergency department for lower back pain. Their findings were published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday.

Put simply, medicinal cannabis is made from the cannabis sativa plant. The cannabis plant contains hundreds of compounds, however there are only two major compounds (so far) that health experts believe have real medical benefit: THC, the compound that gets people high if you take it in large enough quantities, and CBD.

Although CBD may be beneficial for reducing pain caused by inflammation, its ability to treat acute low back pain has not been assessed, until now. So researchers from Austin Health in Melbourne set out to determine whether CBD works for lower back pain sufferers.

For the study, patients who presented with acute, non-traumatic low back pain between May 21, 2018, and June 13, 2019, were given either 400 milligrams of CBD or placebo at random in addition to standard emergency department analgesic medication.

Study author Dr Bronwyn Bebee revealed the mean pain scores at two hours were similar for the CBD (6.2 points) and the placebo groups (5.8 points), adding the median length of stay was 9 hours for the CBD group and 8.5 hours for the placebo group.

“Oxycodone use during the four hours preceding and the four hours after receiving CBD or placebo was similar for the two groups, as were reported side effects,” Bebee said.

“We found no evidence of CBD used this way in patients with acute low back pain; the CBD and placebo groups did not differ with respect to hospital length of stay, adverse effects, and additional opioid medication use.”

Given its high costs, Bebee said this is an important finding for patients who may consider requesting Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval for access to CBD.

“With the gradual legalisation of medicinal and recreational cannabis use in Australia and other countries, physicians must expect to see increasing numbers of patients taking cannabis products, whether prescribed by physicians or not,” she explained.

“It is imperative that the medical utility of CBD and other cannabis products, their side effects, and how these products interact with other medications be investigated in well designed studies.

“[Our] trial was the largest clinical investigation of CBD for treating people with acute low back pain, one of the few to examine the effect of CBD without tetrahydrocannabinol on acute pain, and was undertaken in a setting representative of clinical management of acute back pain in emergency departments.

“We found that CBD was not superior to placebo as an adjunct medication for treating low back pain in this setting.”

Despite the recent findings, medicinal cannabis is showing promise for some people with chronic pain or terminal illnesses, such as cancer, who don’t get relief from other medicines. It can also be used for a variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia. Studies have also indicated positive effects for those living with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, but more research is needed in this area.

If you’re interested in accessing medicinal cannabis the best thing you can do is speak with your doctor, who can then refer you to a specialised cannabis clinic. If you’re eligible, the specialist doctor will then need to seek approval from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration to supply the product to you. However, the laws are different in each state. You can check the laws in your state by visiting:

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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Do you or someone you know take medicinal cannabis? Has it worked for you?

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