A newly published study prepared by a group of international researchers doesn’t look good for the medical cannabis industry. In fact, it is bound to rile up medical cannabis advocates. The study suggests that cannabis is unlikely to help most chronic pain patients, despite chronic pain being the number one reason medical users cite when applying for their cannabis cards.
The research was recently published in the British Medical Journal and made available to members. It is based on an analysis of three dozen previous medical cannabis studies by a panel of experts and what the researchers described as “patient partners”, current and former cannabis users willing to share their experiences.
When all was said and done, the researchers concluded that cannabis can be helpful for some chronic pain patients under certain conditions, but it is probably ineffective for most chronic pain patients, most of the time.
Limited Body of Knowledge
In fairness, the researchers also admitted that they were working with a limited body of knowledge. Despite looking at three dozen studies, the quantity of data they had to work with was still limited. Indeed, that is an ongoing problem throughout the medical cannabis arena. Due to decades of legal restrictions, research into the medical efficacy of the cannabis plant has been severely lacking.
Researchers also say that the results were further limited by the fact that none of the analyzed studies considered smoking or vaping cannabis. The data only considered topical cannabis applications and oral medications, like capsules and tablets. That alone raises concerns about whether the study has any medical validity.
As a side note, Payson, Utah’s Pure Utah medical cannabis pharmacy says that patients typically have a full range of delivery methods and formulations to choose from. What works for one may not work for another. Research rarely accounts for that.
Questions of Their Own
Concluding their analysis actually left the researchers with questions of their own. For example, they questioned if cancer patients might possibly respond to medical cannabis treatment differently compared to other chronic pain patients. This suggests they may have found some evidence of efficacy within this particular cohort.
Researchers also want to know if medical cannabis can help chronic pain patients reduce opioid use, and if the possible dangers of smoking and vaping cannabis outweigh any medical benefits the plant may offer.
The fact that researchers are willing to ask questions indicates that the debate over cannabis efficacy is not settled. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest THC- and CBD-derived medications do benefit some patients suffering from a limited list of chronic conditions. But anecdotal evidence alone is not enough to satisfy the medical community.
Defining Pain Relief
As for the main topic of the international study (pain relief) the more important question is how patients define relief. Technically, opioids do not stop pain. They simply mask it through the psychoactive effects they have on the human brain. That being the case, does THC really block pain signals or just make them easier to deal with?
More than one medical cannabis patient has said that consuming cannabis takes the edge off their chronic pain. Others have said that cannabis changes their state of mind so that they can ignore the pain. In both cases, patients are defining pain relief differently.
That may explain why science is having such a challenging time determining the efficacy of cannabis for pain relief. Perhaps a hard and fast definition of relief makes it impossible to draw concrete conclusions. So where does that leave us? With the need for more research.