Studies show that marijuana can effectively treat certain types of pain. Marijuana does not ease all pain, and dosage is a factor in how well marijuana works as an analgesic. According to the U.S. Society for Neuroscience, "substances similar to or derived from marijuana could benefit the more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year." (1)
How does marijuana relieve pain?
Cannabinoids are the active chemical compounds in marijuana. Marijuana cannabinoids enter the bloodstream through ingestion of cannabis, and interact with the receptors CB1 and CB2 in the brain and nervous system. Cannabinoids also occur naturally in the human body.
Marijuana has over sixty cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabichromene (CBC) produce the high as well as the pain relief associated with marijuana use. In general, cannabinoids target pain, appetite, memory and mood.
What kind of pain does marijuana treat?
Like most analgesic drugs, marijuana is effective only for certain types of pain. Cannabinoids have little effect on headaches and menstrual cramps, for instance. Marijuana has shown anti-spasmodic and chronic pain relief for conditions such as:
*cancer and chemotherapy treatment
*neuropathic pain and muscle spasms as in Huntington's disease or epilepsy
* pain in HIV and AIDS patients
*chronic back pain
*arthritis; other rheumatic and degenerative joint and tissue disorders
A 2007 study at the University of California, San Diego showed that marijuana eased pain in HIV patients. Participants who smoked cannabis experienced a thirty percent or more reduction in pain, compared to those who smoked the placebo.
Another study in 2008 confirmed that dosage was a factor in effective pain relief. Participants smoked marijuana cigarettes containing zero, two, four or eight percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
"Subjects reported a decrease in pain at the medium dose (4%)," said Dr. Igor Grant, Executive Vice-Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UCSD and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. "There was also a significant correlation between plasma levels of THC ... and decreased pain." (2)
A high dose of marijuana actually increased pain, the study found. A lower dose had no effect.
Further research at the University of California in San Francisco, by Dr. Donald Abrams, found that marijuana can relieve neuropathic pain. In an interview, participant Diana Dodson explains, "I have been living with HIV/AIDS for 21 years and owe my life to the benefits of medical cannabis. It reduces the pain and side-effects such as nausea and stomach pains that are caused by the drugs I need to take in order to stay alive. But I need the government to grant me safe access to my medicine." (3)
Benefits of Marijuana Use
Prescription medication such as Marinol contains only THC as the active ingredient. According to a study by the Institute of Medicine, THC is most effective for pain relief when used together with other cannabinoids(4)
Users of medical marijuana report numerous benefits, including:
*treatment of chronic pain
*relief of nausea
*increase in appetite
*decrease in muscle spasms and pain
*alleviation of stress
*treatment of insomnia
According to a publication by the Institute of Medicine, "Marijuana-based medicines could perhaps be combined with opiates to boost their pain-relieving power while limiting their side effects." (5)
Risks of Marijuana Use
Some users who smoke marijuana experience respiratory problems. Patients who vaporize marijuana do not report respiratory difficulties. Other possible side effects include faster heartbeat, paranoia and lethargy.
Because marijuana is illegal in most states, use of medical cannabis is subject to penalties. Depending on the state, the user may be fined or incarcerated.
Marijuana for medical purposes is legal in thirteen U.S. states. Doctors may prescribe marijuana in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Currently, eight other states are considering the introduction of medical marijuana bills to their legislatures: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina and South Dakota.
Links and Citations
1. "Chronic Pain and Medical Marijuana"
2. "Medicinal Marijuana Effective For Neuropathic Pain In HIV, Study Finds"
University of California, San Diego
3. "New Study Shows Neuropathic Pain Relief"
4. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base
Joy, Watson and Benson; National Academy Press Washington, D.C.
5. "Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Behind the Controversy"
Mack/Joy - National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.