Patients with chronic pain wary of smoking pot could still benefit from the pain-alleviating effects of marijuana by taking oral tablets.
In fact, marijuana pills may provide better pain relief than smoking, according to a new study published in the journal Neuropyschopharmacology.
The pill contains the active ingredient found in regular marijuana, THC, and has already been approved to help chemotherapy and AIDS patients with nausea and vomiting. Although recent research has confirmed the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids, no studies have compared the effectiveness of smoking marijuana or taking the pill, known as dronabinol.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York recruited 30 pot smokers to track their response to pain. They asked half the volunteers to take dronabinol or a placebo instead of smoking, while the other half continued to smoke.
The volunteers then participated in a “cold pressure test” in which they held their hand in a bath of extremely cold water for up to two minutes. The researchers measured how it long it took for the volunteers to report pain (pain sensitivity) and how long before they pulled their hand out from the water (pain tolerance).
Compared to people taking placebo pills, both the volunteers using marijuana or dronabinol had increased pain tolerance, lower subjective ratings of pain, and reduced pain sensitivity. Although dronabinol and marijuana produced similar results in terms pain sensitivity and tolerance, the volunteers taking dronabinol experienced longer-lasting relief.
An earlier study has shown that oral tablets of THC don’t necessarily decrease the intensity of pain, but do make the experience more bearable.
Since the study only included daily pot smokers, the authors pointed out that the effects of dronabinol on nonsmokers is still unknown. While more research is needed, the results point to a potential medical use from THC tablets.
Of course, people with chronic pain seeking to avoid drugs all together can still find relief with other natural therapies like chiropractic, exercise, and acupuncture.
Cooper ZD, et al. Comparsion of the analgesic effects of dronabinol and smoked marijuans in daily smokers. Neuropyschopharmacology 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.97.
Gleen S. Marijuana Pill May Be Better For Pain Relief. Medical News Today. April 23, 2013. Accessed May 16, 2013. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/259482.php.