Researchers have revealed strong evidence that cannabis flower with high levels of THC can significantly reduce pain.
The study, conducted by the The University of New Mexico (UNM) has shown that the greatest analgesic responses reported were from participants that used whole dried cannabis flower, or ‘buds,’ and particularly cannabis with relatively high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC.
The more recently popularised cannabinoid, cannabidiol or CBD, in contrast, showed little association with the momentary changes in pain intensity, based on the massive database explored in the study.
Jacob Miguel Vigil, one of the lead investigators of the study, The Effectiveness of Self-Directed Medical Cannabis Treatment for Pain, and published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, said: “Cannabis likely has numerous constituents that possess analgesic properties beyond THC, including terpenes and flavonoids, which likely act synergistically for people that use whole dried cannabis flower.
“Our results confirm that cannabis use is a relatively safe and effective medication for alleviating pain, and that is the most important message to learn from our results.
“It can only benefit the public for people to be able to responsibly weigh the true risks and benefits of their pain medication choices, and when given this opportunity, I’ve seen numerous chronic pain patients substitute away from opioid use, among many other classes of medications, in favour of medical cannabis.
Lead author of the study, Xiaoxue Li, said: “Perhaps the most surprising result is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95% of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain.”
The researchers used the largest database of real-time recordings of the effects of common and commercially available cannabis products in the United States and the average user experienced a three-point drop in pain suffering on a 0-10 point scale immediately following cannabis consumption.
With a mounting opioid epidemic at full force and relatively few alternative pain medications available to the general public, scientists found conclusive support that cannabis is very effective at reducing pain caused by different types of health conditions, with relatively minimal negative side effects.
Chronic pain afflicts more than 20 percent of adults and is the most financially burdensome health condition that the U.S faces; exceeding, for example, the combined costs of treating heart disease and cancer.
Vigil said: “Our country has been flooded with an over-prescription of opioids medications, which then often leads to non-prescription opioid and heroin use for many people. This man-made disaster is killing our families and friends, regardless of socio-economic status, skin tone, and other superficial human differences.
Access for research
Co-author Sarah Stith said: “Cannabis offers the average patient an effective alternative to using opioids for general use in the treatment of pain with very minimal negative side effects for most people.
“Even just rescheduling cannabis just from Schedule I to Schedule II, i.e., classifying it with fentanyl, oxycodone, and cocaine rather than heroin and ecstasy, could dramatically improve our ability to conduct research and only would require that the DEA recognizes that accepted medical uses for cannabis exist, as clearly evidenced by our results and the flourishing medical cannabis programs in the majority of U.S. states.”
The authors of the paper have cautioned that cannabis use does carry the risks of addiction and short-term impairments in cognitive and behavioural functioning and may not be effective for everyone.
However, they say there are multiple mechanisms by which cannabis alleviates pain suffering. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis activates receptors that are co-localised with opioid receptors in the brain.
Vigil explained: “Cannabis with high THC also causes mood elevation and adjusts attentional demands, likely distracting patients from the aversive sensations that people refer to as ‘pain’.
“When compared to the negative health risks associated with opioid use, which currently takes the lives of over 115 Americans a day, cannabis may be an obvious value to patients. Chronic opioid use is associated with poorer quality of life, social isolation, lower immune functioning and early morbidity. In contrast, my own ongoing research increasingly suggests that cannabis use is associated with a reversal of each of these potential outcomes.”