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.

Study: THC More Effective Than CBD in Treating Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – is more effective than cannabidiol (CBD) in treating chronic pain and other medical conditions, according to a new study that challenges the widespread belief that THC is harmful and has limited value in medical cannabis products.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico used the Releaf App, a mobile software program, to analyze self-reported data from over 3,300 people who logged their responses in nearly 20,000 user sessions to a variety of cannabis products, including natural dried flower, edibles, tinctures and ointments.

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Dried flower was the most commonly used product and was generally associated with greater pain relief than other cannabis products, regardless of the amount of THC.

"Despite the conventional wisdom, both in the popular press and much of the scientific community that only CBD has medical benefits while THC merely makes one high, our results suggest that THC may be more important than CBD in generating therapeutic benefits,” said Jacob Miguel Vigil, PhD, a professor in UNM’s Department of Psychology.

“In our study, CBD appears to have little effect at all, while THC generates measurable improvements in symptom relief. These findings justify the immediate de-scheduling of all types of cannabis, in addition to hemp, so that cannabis with THC can be more widely accessible for pharmaceutical use by the general public.”

Hemp is a strain of marijuana that was legalized by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill. It has very low levels of THC, but is being grown commercially as a source for CBD.

UNM researchers found that indica strains of cannabis were more effective than sativa strains in treating pain and insomnia. Both strains have substantially higher levels of THC than hemp, but are illegal Schedule I controlled substances under federal law.

“Only THC potency levels showed independent associations with symptom relief and experiences of both positive and negative side effects, with higher levels (of THC) resulting in larger effects,” Vigil said.

Researchers say the relative weakness of CBD in treating symptoms may be due to inaccurate labeling of CBD content in cannabis products, which is a widespread industry problem. It’s also possible that THC simply heightens the experience or awareness of symptom relief.

Vigil published his findings in the journal Scientific Reports. Three of his co-authors developed the Releaf App, which has collected information from cannabis users since 2016. The app is an important data source for researchers, who are currently limited in conducting clinical studies of cannabis because of federal regulations.

Two previous studies by Vigil using data from the Releaf App found that cannabis provides significant relief from a wide range of symptoms associated with chronic pain, including insomnia, seizures, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

App Helps Document Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Two innovative studies have found evidence that medical marijuana can provide significant relief from a wide range of symptoms associated with chronic pain, including insomnia, seizures, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Unlike many clinical trials that evaluate a small number of patients with surveys, researchers at the University of New Mexico relied on data from the Releaf App, a free mobile software program that collected user-entered, real-time information from over 2,800 people on their use of cannabis and its effects.

"If the results found in our studies can be extrapolated to the general population, cannabis could systematically replace multi-billion dollar medication industries around the world. It is likely already beginning to do so," said co-author Jacob Vigil, PhD, a UNM psychology professor.

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In the first study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, users reported an average symptom reduction of nearly 4 points on a 1-10 scale after the consumption of cannabis in various forms, including vaporizers, joints, oils and topicals.

Twenty-seven different health conditions were evaluated, from inflammation and tremors to muscle and nerve pain. Over 94 percent of cannabis users reported some type of symptom relief, with patients suffering from anxiety and depression having the greatest improvement.

“Clinically and statistically significant reductions in patient-reported symptom severity levels existed in every single symptom category, suggesting that cannabis may be an effective substitute for several classes of medications with potentially dangerous and uncomfortable side effects and risky polypharmaceutical interactions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants,” said Vigil.

“Our results indicate that patients report greater symptom relief for treating agitation/irritability, anxiety, depression, excessive appetite, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, gastrointestinal pain, stress, and tremors than they do for treating back pain. Patients reported less symptom relief for treating impulsivity, headache, and nerve pain as compared to relief for treating back pain.

source: frontiers in pharmacology

source: frontiers in pharmacology

The second study, recently published in the journal Medicines, focused on the use of cannabis flower (also known as “buds”) in treating insomnia. Over 400 patients self-reported their symptoms using the Releaf app. Researchers found the use of pipes and vaporizers to ingest cannabis was associated with greater symptom relief and fewer negative side effects than the use of joints. Cannabidiol (CBD) was also associated with greater symptom relief than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana that causes euphoria.

A major weakness of both studies is that there was no control group or use of a placebo. Participants were also more likely to have previously used cannabis and may have been biased when reporting on their own symptoms. But UNM researchers say their findings are more representative of what cannabis users will actually experience.

“Observational studies are more appropriate than experimental research designs for measuring how patients choose to consume cannabis and the effects of those choices,” said Vigil. “By collecting massive amounts of patient-entered information on actual cannabis used under real-life circumstances we are able to measure why patients consume cannabis, the types of products that patients use, and the immediate and longer-term effects of such use.”

In addition to its therapeutic benefits, cannabis use was associated with frequent, although not serious side effects. Patients reported more positive feelings (relaxed, peaceful, comfy) than they did negative ones (paranoid, confused, headache).  

"If the short-term risk-benefit profile of cannabis found in our studies reflects its longer-term therapeutic potential, substitution of cannabis for traditional pharmaceuticals could reduce the risk of dangerous drug interactions and the costs associated with taking multiple medications by allowing patients to treat a constellation of comorbidities with a single treatment modality,” said co-author Sarah See Stith, PhD, a UNM economics professor.