A study published in the The Journal of Pain: Official Journal of the American Pain Society found that low-doses of vaporized cannabis provide significant improvement for neuropathic pain sufferers. The study, a double-blind crossover, was placebo-controlled, and tested the efficacy of cannabis to treat the neuropathic pain of patients who were not responding to traditional treatments.
In the study, patients with central and peripheral neuropathic pain were administered either a medium-dose of 3.53 percent, a low-dose of 1.29 percent, or a placebo through vaporizing. Each patients’ pain was then rated using a visual analog scale of intensity. Psychoactive side effects and brain function were also monitored and evaluated throughout the study.
Analyzed results revealed that the cannabis provided at least the equivalent pain reduction as other patients reported from using traditional neuropathic pain medication. The low-dose (1.29%) and medium-dose (3.53%) were equally as effective, proving that even the lower dose of cannabis improved symptoms.
As a result, the study revealed that “even at low doses, [cannabis] may present an effective option for patients with treatment-resistant neuropathic pain.” The study conclusion also stated that “one might not anticipate a significant impact on daily functioning.”
What is neuropathic pain?
Neuropathic pain is the result of nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system, which includes all nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. It is usually described by patients as chronic. The damaged nerves send incorrect signals to the body that there is pain. The damage to nerve fibers is most often the result of a tissue injury caused by trauma or infection. Patients describe this kind of pain as “shooting and burning” or “tingling and numbness.”
What causes neuropathic pain?
The one, specific cause of neuropathic pain is often unknown unless it is the result of amputation (phantom limb syndrome). However, people diagnosed as suffering from neuropathic pain often also had or have one or more of the following:
- Back, leg, and hip problems
- Facial nerve problems
- HIV infection or AIDS
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spine surgery
Why is cannabis effective as a neuropathic pain reliever?
Cannabis is made up of many, diverse chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. There are more than 60 cannabinoids found in marijuana that we know to exist, and each of them reacts differently in the human body and produces different responses. Cannabinoids are responsible for producing all of the effects experienced when using cannabis.
Unfortunately, we know very little about most of them because researchers have difficulty gaining access to cannabis to study because of it’s current listing as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Being listed as a Schedule I, deemed the worst of the five categories, means that it has “no accepted medical value in the United States.” Because of this, researchers are rarely granted federal permission to study it.
Scientists have been able to identify the most common medicinal benefits produced by only seven different cannabinoids. Four of those seven are known to be analgesic, or pain relieving. The four known to act as strong pain relievers are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
Another reason that many patients report having a preference to medical marijuana is because the side-effects produced by cannabis, including those that are psychoactive, are less debilitating than those produced by many of the strong opiod pain reliving pharmaceuticals like Oxycontin.
Such heavy-hitting pharmaceuticals make it difficult for patients to function during normal day-to-day activities, and can cause serious addiction or result in accidental overdoses and deaths. A cannabis overdose has never resulted in the death of a person. A recent report even revealed that opiod overdoses were reduced by 25 percent in states where medical marijuana is legal because patients in those states were more likely to use cannabis.
Although much more research needs to be completed on this topic to make any certain conclusions, there is at least enough evidence to prove that cannabis as a viable treatment option for neuropathic pain should be explored further.
This post was originally published on February 14, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.