Smoking vaporized cannabis can significantly reduce chronic pain caused by neuropathy, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis Medical Center.
Millions of Americans suffer from neuropathy, including about half of all diabetics. Damaged or diseased nerves cause chronic pain or loss of feeling in the toes, feet, legs, hands and arms. Neuropathy may also include a persistent burning, tingling or prickling sensation. Drugs often don’t provide much relief.
“Unfortunately, pharmacologic management of neuropathic pain can be quite challenging. In randomized clinical trials, no more than half of patients experience clinically meaningful pain relief from pharmacotherapy,” wrote Barth Wilsey, MD, of UC Davis Medical Center and lead author of a small study published in the Journal of Pain. “Given a lack of alternatives, validation of unconventional analgesics such as cannabis may address unmet needs.”
In the study, 39 patients with central and peripheral neuropathic pain inhaled a medium dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a low-dose, or a placebo through a Volcano vaporizer. THC is marijuana’s active ingredient.
Vaporization is a way to avoid toxins and irritating side effects from marijuana smoke by heating cannabis to a temperature where the psychoactive ingredients evaporate without causing combustion. THC and other cannabinoids are emitted with little of the carcinogenic tars and noxious gases found in smoke.
Patients smoked the vaporized cannabis three times over the course of a few weeks. Researchers say both the low and medium doses of THC provided 30% reductions in pain intensity when compared to the placebo; an efficacy rate that is comparable to that of traditional neuropathic pain medications. Researchers say the psychoactive effect or “high” that came from smoking cannabis was minimal, particularly for the low doses.
“Vaporized cannabis, even at low doses, may present an effective option for patients with treatment-resistant neuropathic pain,” said Wilsey. “The use of low doses could potentially be prescribed by physicians interested in helping patients use cannabis effectively while minimizing cognitive and psychological side effects. Viewed with this in mind, the present study adds to a growing body of literature supporting the use of cannabis for the treatment of neuropathic pain.”
Over a decade ago, the National Institutes of Health concluded that neuropathic pain is a condition in which currently available analgesics are marginally effective and suggested that cannabis might hold promise for many sufferers. Researchers recently reported that a synthetic version of THC was effective in treating neuropathic pain and had fewer side-effects than opioid pain relievers.