Marijuana eases chronic pain
07/17/06 11:49 AM
Loc: Seattle, WA
Marijuana eases chronic pain, study finds
Cannabis extract from marijuana gives powerful relief for chronic pain, and should be studied for future clinical use, a medical researcher has told a conference in Glasgow.
Dr William Notcutt of the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, England, said the cannabis extract used in his study - applied as a spray under the tongue - was remarkably effective in easing chronic pain. He announced the findings at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The cannabis extracts can produce high-quality pain relief, symptom control, and improvement in the quality of life, without significant side effects," said Dr Notcutt.
He tested cannabis extracts collected from cloned plants, in 23 sufferers of chronic pain.
Subjects were mostly patients with multiple sclerosis or spinal injury. Nine had used marijuana regularly in the past, while the remainder were 'na´ve': they had either not used it at all, or had tried it infrequently.
The cannabinoid extract was given over eight weeks, and participants' pain levels monitored. Asked to rate their improvement in pain relief on a scale from one to 10, the majority rated it at "between 9 and 10".
Without their knowledge, a placebo was introduced during the trial, and later replaced with cannabinoid. When the extract was removed, pain levels shot up 20 to 30 per cent, and subsequently dropped off once the extract was again provided.
Dr Notcutt said subjects reported improvements ranging from 'life-changing' to allowing them to get a good night's sleep. One subject had returned to work; others had started driving, gardening and caring for children again.
In all, 17 of the 23 subjects found the extract useful in reducing pain. Of the remainder, three said it had little or no effect, two disliked the euphoria produced, and one was withdrawn from the program due to 'protocol violations'.
Previous anecdotal reports from multiple sclerosis patients have suggested that smoking cannabis has a beneficial effect. Dr Notcutt said he was interested in establishing if this was true, whether there were any side effects and what appropriate dosages might be.
Although cannabis use is illegal in most countries, some multiple sclerosis and cancer patients have been lobbying to legalise its medicinal use, particularly in Britain and the United States.
Despite his positive results, however, Dr Notcutt said more research was needed before scientists could recommend cannabis as a treatment.
"I think it's too early - we need a lot more basic information on just on how to use the drug," he told reporters. He decried the fact that, because of its status as a prohibited substance, very little is known about its pain-relieving properties.
"What we're trying to do is study it in depth, get a lot of information. What is going on, what are the effects on individual patients?"
Notcutt did the study in his own time, with cannabis extract supplied by GW Pharmaceuticals, a company licensed by the British government to grow and supply cannabis for medical research.
He said the use of cannabis extracts for pain alleviation could pave the way for the drug to be used for other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy and cancer.
Studies in Europe suggest that 18 per cent of people suffer chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts six months or more.
Wilson da Silva - ABC Science Online
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