Marijuana Effective for Diabetic Neuropathy Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

New research shows that inhaled medical marijuana can significantly reduce pain from diabetic neuropathy within minutes of treatment.

The study, published in The Journal of Pain, also found there was a dose dependent reduction in pain depending on the strength of marijuana used.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego followed 16 patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) in a double-blind study as they were exposed to low, medium and high doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes people “high.”

Patients used a Volcano vaporizer to inhale marijuana with 1%, 4% and 7% THC, as well as a placebo. A vaporizer was used because it is less harmful than smoking and delivers THC into the bloodstream rapidly.

“We hypothesized that inhaled cannabis would result in a dose-dependent reduction in spontaneous and evoked pain with a concomitant effect on cognitive function,” said lead author Mark Wallace, MD, professor of anesthesiology, University of California San Diego School of Medicine. 

Results showed that the highest dose of THC reduced pain by nearly 70%, with the analgesic effect starting within minutes of inhaling and reaching its peak about an hour after treatment. The analgesic effect of the low and medium doses of THC was slightly lower.

All of the patients experienced either euphoria or somnolence, regardless of the dose, with modest effects on attention, memory and impairment.

“These findings along with previous studies suggest that cannabis might have analgesic benefit in neuropathic pain syndromes, including treatment-refractory DPN,” said Wallace.

Nearly 26 million people in the United States have diabetes and about half have some form of neuropathy, according to the American Diabetes Association.  Diabetic peripheral neuropathy causes nerves to send out abnormal signals. Patients feel burning, tingling or prickling sensations in their toes, feet, legs, hands and arms.

There are only two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat DPN -- Cymbalta and Lyrica – and many patients say they don’t work or have unpleasant side effects.

Marijuana Helps Heal Broken Bones

Meanwhile, researchers in Israel have discovered that a compound in marijuana can help heal fractures and rebuild bones.

In an animal study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, researchers at Tel Aviv University reported that cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) – a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – significantly enhanced the healing process in rats with broken legs.

Earlier studies by the same research team found that cannabinoid receptors in the human body stimulate bone formation and inhibit bone loss. The findings suggest that cannabinoid based drugs could be used to treat osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases.

"The clinical potential of cannabinoid-related compounds is simply undeniable at this point," said Dr. Yankel Gabet of the Bone Research Laboratory at the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

The researchers injected one group of rats with CBD alone and another with a combination of CBD and THC. They found that CBD by itself provided the most therapeutic benefit.

"We found that CBD alone makes bones stronger during healing, enhancing the maturation of the collagenous matrix, which provides the basis for new mineralization of bone tissue," said Gabet.

"Other studies have also shown CBD to be a safe agent, which leads us to believe we should continue this line of study in clinical trials to assess its usefulness in improving human fracture healing.”