Study: Cannabis Flowers Rich in THC More Effective for Pain Relief

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Another study by researchers at the University of New Mexico suggests that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – should not be ignored as a treatment for chronic pain.

In an unconventional survey of nearly 3,000 cannabis users, researchers found that those who used whole cannabis flowers or buds rich in THC reduced their pain levels an average of three points on a 0 to 10 pain score. Those who ingested cannabidiol (CBD) did not experience similar pain relief.

The researchers relied on information collected from the Releaf App, a mobile software program they created that allows cannabis users to self-report their experiences using different cannabis products, including flowers, edibles, tinctures and ointments.. Their findings are published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

"Perhaps the most surprising result is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95 percent of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain," said Xiaoxue Li, PhD, an assistant professor of economics at UNM.

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"Cannabis likely has numerous constituents that possess analgesic properties beyond THC, including terpenes and flavonoids, which likely act synergistically for people that use whole dried cannabis flower," added Jacob Miguel Vigil, PhD, a professor in UNM’s Department of Psychology. "Cannabis offers the average patient an effective alternative to using opioids for general use in the treatment of pain with very minimal negative side effects for most people."

The authors caution that cannabis use does carry the risk of addiction and short-term impairment in cognitive and behavioral functioning.

“Cannabis with high THC also causes mood elevation and adjusts attentional demands, likely distracting patients from the aversive sensations that people refer to (as) pain," explains Vigil.

Previous studies using data from the Releaf app found that cannabis also provides relief from insomnia, seizures, depression, anxiety and fatigue. Despite conventional wisdom, THC was found to be more important than CBD in generating therapeutic benefits.

A significant weakness of the app is that it relies on cannabis users to subjectively self-report their experiences outside of a clinical setting. There is also no way to measure the quality or quantity of the cannabis they are ingesting.   

Two-Thirds of Americans Accept Cannabis as Pain Treatment   

Another new survey – conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) – found wide acceptance of cannabis as a possible treatment for pain. The online survey 1,005 adults was conducted earlier this month.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they have used or would consider using cannabis to manage pain. Nearly three-quarters of millennials fall in that category. Two-thirds of Gen Xers and baby boomers expressed interest in cannabis, with 25% of Gen Xers and 18% of baby boomers saying they have used cannabis for pain.

Most of those who expressed interest in using cannabis products believe they are safer or have fewer side effects than opioids or other medications.

Other key findings:

  • 57% believe more cannabis research is needed

  • 34% don't feel a need to discuss cannabis use with their doctor

  • 13% believe no other type of pain management works for them

  • 40% wrongly believe CBD products sold at grocery stores, truck stops, health food stores and dispensaries are approved by the FDA.

The ASA recently endorsed two bills that seek to expand research on CBD and marijuana: the Medical Cannabis Research Act and the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. The bipartisan bills would increase the number of manufacturers allowed to grow cannabis for research purposes and streamline the application process.

“As experts in managing pain, physician anesthesiologists are concerned about the lack of research regarding the safety and effectiveness of marijuana and cannabinoids," said ASA President Linda Mason, MD.