By Dr. Ravi Patel
When it comes to chronic pain, there are many sufferers who will try just about anything if there is hope that It might provide relief, including Marijuana. The Cannabis plant, commonly referred to as Marijuana, has actually been in use for thousands of years by cultures all around the world. In fact, records show it was used by the most ancient civilizations in China, Egypt and India. The reasons for its use are many and varied including spiritual, recreational and even medicinal. The latter has gained increasing notoriety lately with more state governments passing laws that allow the use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes. Interestingly however, the federal government still outlaws the use of Cannabis in any form, for any reason. There remains a great deal of controversy around the use of Cannabis.
Due to this controversy, many medical associations are still unable and unwilling to endorse the use of Medical Marijuana until more research is performed. There is no denying however, that the use of Medical Marijuana is on the rise. About 10-15% of people suffering from chronic pain are estimated to use Marijuana as part of their pain control regimen. Some of the potential benefits of Cannabis may include reducing chronic pain, improving nausea and vomiting, alleviating stress and enhancing appetite.
The active ingredient in Marijuana is called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). In the human body, it works by attaching to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Cannabinoid receptors are part of the Endocannabinoid system, which is involved in several of the body’s processes including pain sensation, appetite, mood and memory. Interestingly, there are several FDA-approved medications that are currently on the market that use the extracts of Marijuana in an effort to address problems involved with the above mentioned processes.
In 2010 a randomized, controlled trial was performed by Dr. Mark A. Ware et al to investigate the potential benefits of smoking Marijuana for chronic nerve pain. There were 21 adults included in the study and they were randomly assigned to receive one of the following: no Cannabis, 2.5% Cannabis, 6.0% Cannabis or 9.4% Cannabis. Three puffs of Marijuana were administered to each patient per day. The researchers found that the 9.4% concentration of Marijuana treatment did reduce the intensity of pain and improved sleep in the subjects, but not significantly so.
Despite studies of the potential benefits of Medical Marijuana, further long-term safety and efficacy studies are necessary. Some of the side effects of Marijuana usage can include dizziness, drowsiness, respiratory disorders and memory loss. More serious side effects may include severe anxiety and paranoia. There also exists a potential for cancer risk. All of these details need to be better understood before Marijuana can receive support from expert pain management physicians and medical associations in the treatment of chronic pain.