Using cannabis or marijuana for pain relief is a common practice, with doctors often recommending it for patients with terminal diseases. A banned substance in most parts of the world, this cannabinoid has proven to be quite effective in pain relief among those who use and a new study suggests that the effect that this substance has on patients tends to be more emotional than physical.
In a new research conducted by the University of Oxford, cannabis has been found to make pain more bearable and consequently help patients feel less troubled by pain from their diseases rather than actually reducing it.
Researchers from Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain conducted tests on 12 male participants, who were either given 15mg tablets of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the substance within cannabinoids that gives the “high” to smokers, or a placebo. In order to see how they reacted to pain, a dummy cream or a cream that contained chili was rubbed onto the participants’ legs and they were then each put through four MRI scans to see just how their brains reacted to the pain either on or off the THC tablets.
From the resulting brain imaging, it was found that those participants who were given THC had reduced activity in a part of the brain linked to the emotional aspects of pain. This effect, though varying greatly, according to the researchers, helped the participants to bear the pain much better, something which lead researcher Dr. Michael Lee, explained as, "We found that with THC, on average people didn't report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less,” adding, "Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way."
The researchers did note that the effects of cannabinoids varied greatly from person to person, with some experiencing great relief, while others nothing at all. Dr. Lee said, “We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods. Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.”
Details of the research have been published in the journal, Pain.