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.

CBD Is Now Regulated and That May Be a Good Thing

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The legal status of cannabidiol (CBD) is changing. Once classified exclusively as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, CBD is now legal under federal law. And this means regulation.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from Schedule I. Hemp is a strain of marijuana with very low levels of THC, but high amounts of CBD.  This has opened the door to a legal market for CBD products, including food and supplements. But there’s a catch. The FDA has strict regulations about CBD being used in dietary supplements or promoted as medical treatments.

“It’s unlawful under the FD&C Act (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a December 2018 statement.

“Among other things, the FDA requires a cannabis product (hemp-derived or otherwise) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit, or with any other disease claim, to be approved by the FDA for its intended use before it may be introduced into interstate commerce. This is the same standard to which we hold any product marketed as a drug for human or animal use.”

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 The FDA has a FAQ page about cannabis that answers some basic questions:

"Can products that contain THC or cannabidiol (CBD) be sold as dietary supplements? A. No."

"Is it legal, in interstate commerce, to sell a food to which THC or CBD has been added? A. No."

The FDA has reason to be concerned. Product quality for CBD products is iffy at best. An investigation by the NBC affiliate in Miami (see “Patients Are Being Duped”) found that 20 of 35 CBD products tested had less than half the amount of CBD advertised on the label. Some samples had no CBD at all.

Other recent analyses have found THC, pesticides, synthetic cannabinoids and toxic solvents in CBD products.

Moreover, a lack of regulatory oversight has led to an abundance of false, misleading or unsubstantiated claims. A recent review of CBD in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that “CBD has been touted for many ailments for which it has not been studied, and in those diseases with evaluable human data, it generally has weak or very weak evidence.”

There is a lot of research on CBD going back years. The FDA’s approval of the CBD-based drug Epidiolex for rare childhood seizure disorders and a 2018 review that found potential for treating multiple sclerosis symptoms are important indicators of CBD’s medical value. At the same time, researchers have found no benefit in treating spinal cord injury, Crohn’s disease and osteoarthritis.

Yet CBD is now being widely promoted as a wellness product, and added to everything from coffee and pastries to bath oils and mascara. So it is not surprising that the FDA is concerned that people may be duped or put at risk.

The FDA is not alone in this. The New York City Department of Health has banned CBD products from being sold in bars and restaurants. Maine, New York, and Ohio are also banning CBD edibles.

For medically complicated people with chronic illness, regulation could be beneficial. At present these patients face significant risks with CBD products. Tainted CBD may cause unexpected allergic reactions or drug interactions. And contaminated CBD could trigger a positive result on a urine drug test, a common part of pain management amid the opioid crisis. Regulatory oversight could help reduce these risks. 

The legal and regulatory landscape surrounding CBD is shifting quickly. The FDA and state government agencies are watching closely and starting to intervene. This may flush out bad actors in the CBD marketplace and improve product quality and reliability. A stable marketplace with reliable products may be a net gain for the people who stand to benefit the most from CBD.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Cannabis Somewhat Effective in Treating MS

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Medical cannabis is mildly effective in relieving pain and other symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

Spanish researchers analyzed 17 clinical trials involving over 3,100 patients – one of the largest reviews to date on the efficacy of cannabinoids in treating MS. Overall, they found that cannabis was safe, but had limited effectiveness in relieving pain, muscle spasticity and bladder dysfunction.

“Small but statistically significant differences were found in favor of cannabinoids for all 3 symptoms,” Marissa Slaven, MD, and Oren Levine, MD, of Ontario’s McMaster University said in a JAMA commentary. “The authors conclude that cannabinoids provide a mild reduction in subjective outcome assessment of uncertain clinical significance and that they are safe.”


MS is a chronic and incurable disease which attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing numbness in the limbs, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue and pain.

Medications and disease modifying drugs currently used to treat MS can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year – so a low-cost alternative treatment would be welcomed by many patients.

Four different medical cannabinoids were used in the 17 trials that were evaluated. They contained different levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana that makes people high. A lot of uncertainty remains about whether CBD or THC are more effective in relieving MS symptoms – something the JAMA study failed to resolve.

“It is critical that researchers gain a deeper understanding of both of the major (THC and CBD) and minor components of this therapy to unlock its full potential,” said Slaven.

“Given the relative safety of these agents, lack of strong evidence of other effective treatment options, and increasing access in some jurisdictions, it may seem appealing to include cannabinoids in the armamentarium of therapies for MS. But carefully conducted, high-quality studies with thought given to the biologic activity of different cannabis components are still required to inform on the benefits of cannabinoids for patients with MS.  

"The bottom line is there is certainly something happening with cannabinoids in regard to symptoms," Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of healthcare delivery and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, told HealthDay. "In spite of very strong interest in cannabinoid therapy, we really have relatively little in terms of good research to guide us in terms of what does and what doesn't work, what works for which types of individuals, and so forth."

A small study was recently launched in Australia that might answer some of those questions. Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals of San Diego is using a synthetic version of CBD – called EHP-101 -- to treat about 100 people who suffer from MS or scleroderma, another autoimmune disease. The placebo controlled Phase I trial is meant to determine whether EHP-101 is safe and has any side effects. Results are expected next year.

Most Cannabidiol Oils Sold Online Mislabeled

By Pat Anson, Editor

With opioid medication increasingly harder to obtain and other types of pain relievers often ineffective, many chronic pain sufferers have turned to cannabidiol-based medication for relief.

But a new study published in JAMA has found that nearly 70 percent of all cannabidiol (CBD) products sold online are either over or under-labeled. Researchers say a number of CBD products that are used to treat pain, anxiety, epilepsy and other medical conditions also contain high-levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in marijuana that makes people high.

“The biggest implication is that many of these patients may not be getting the proper dosage; they’re either not getting enough for it to be effective or they’re getting too much,” said lead author Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

“This is a medication that is often used for children with epilepsy, so parents could be giving their child THC without even knowing it.”

Like THC, CBD is one of the active ingredients in marijuana, but it is not generally known to produce euphoria or make people high. CBD is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government, even though it has been legalized for medicinal use in 29 states and the District of Columbia.



Bonn-Miller says the mislabeling and poor quality control of CBD products is a direct result of inadequate regulation.

“The big problem, with this being something that is not federally legal, is that the needed quality assurance oversight from the Food and Drug Administration is not available. There are currently no standards for producing, testing, or labeling these oils,” Bonn-Miller said. “There is no way to know what is actually in the bottle. It’s crazy to have less oversight and information about a product being widely used for medicinal purposes, especially in very ill children, than a Hershey bar.”

Bonn-Miller and his colleagues searched the Internet and purchased 84 CBD products from 31 different companies. They found that four out of ten products were under-labeled, meaning they contained a higher concentration of CBD than indicated. Another 26 percent of products purchased were over-labeled, meaning they contained a lower concentration of CBD than indicated.

Only 30 percent of CBD products purchased contained an actual CBD content that was within 10% of the amount listed on the product label. THC was detected in 21% of the samples.

“This is a wake up call for the CBD industry to standardize their products,” said co-author Jahan Marcu, PhD, Chief Science Officer for Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

“CBD product manufacturers need to adopt best practices and accept guidance from AHPA (American Herbal Products Association) and other groups to improve consistency and safety for consumers.”

ASA and AHPA supports the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program, a non-profit, peer reviewed, third party certification program for the medical cannabis industry. Products that carry the PFC label have met their standards and been certified.


“I am constantly contacted for suggestions for a safe company that sells CBD - and it would be helpful to steer people in the right direction,” said Ellen Lenox Smith, a medical marijuana user, advocate and PNN columnist.

“Although less or more CBD won't hurt you, it makes sense to develop a method for people to know they are getting the correct product that is being claimed. If THC is found in the product, then someone out there is not abiding by the law and is using a form of cannabis, thus breaking the law.”

The problem isn’t limited to CBD oils and extracts. In a previous study, Bonn-Miller and his colleagues analyzed cannabinoid dose and label accuracy in edible marijuana products and found similar discrepancies. He hopes this and future studies will call attention to the impact of inconsistent cannabis product labelling.

“Future research should be focused on making sure people are paying attention to this issue and encouraging regulation in this rapidly expanding industry,” Bonn-Miller said.

Is It Safe to Use Cannabis with THC?

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

I am constantly reading about people interested in medical marijuana who are seeking information on cannabis products high in CBD for their medical issues.  I’ve also noticed many stating they do not want any THC in these products.

I’ve found that I need both. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant. There are well over a hundred different cannabinoids in marijuana, and they all interact with receptors in the brain and body, causing various effects.

THC is the most widely known cannabinoid, due to its abundance and psychoactive qualities. For centuries, marijuana has been used recreationally because of THC’s ability to make people feel “high” or euphoric.

But as cannabis has become more accepted for medical use, some are concerned that they will get high or stoned if their cannabis has any THC in it. Many have turned to cannabis products that primarily contain CBD. 

Personally, I have learned to look for products that contain both THC and CBD, as they are more effective in easing my pain and helping me sleep.



Personally, I have learned to look for products that contain both THC and CBD, as they are more effective in easing my pain and helping me sleep.

Many patients became interested in CBD after learning that epileptic seizures could be reduced or even stopped by utilizing cannabis products high in CBD content.  This was discovered when the parents of Charlotte Figi, a 5-year old girl suffering from severe seizures, learned of a cannabis strain that was loaded with CBD. This was what they wanted to try with their daughter, because it was completely non-psychoactive, unlike THC. The results were amazing, not only reducing Charlotte’s seizures, but also opening up the possibility of helping patients with other conditions such as spasms, anxiety and chronic pain.

Like me, many patients with chronic conditions have found that they need to use medical cannabis extracted from either a high CBD variety or one with more THC. If you find a high-CBD strain, it does not mean it will be THC-free. Many strains advertised as “high-CBD” still contain some psychoactive cannabinoids. This should not scare you.

I am 67 years old and have been using cannabis since 2007 for two incurable painful conditions.   Like many patients, I had no desire to experience the psychoactive effects of THC, so at one point in my treatment I tried a high CBD strain containing only trace amounts of THC. The pain relief just didn’t happen, so I switched back to cannabis products that combined CBD and THC.

Recently, after reading that CBD can help with cancer, lupus, nicotine addiction, Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis and other chronic conditions, I decided to grow plants high in CBD to add to the oil I take orally at night. I now make an oil with a combination of strains that include this higher CBD strain, along with higher THC plants.

I want you to know that I do not get “high” or stoned, as some assume. What I get is pain relief.

But remember, as with any medication, you can take too much and get a negative reaction, so be careful to take the dose that is right for you. Don’t be concerned if you are like me and need THC to get relief from your pain. Each body requires something different and we all need to find the correct match for safe relief.

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Researchers Unveil 3-D Image of ‘Marijuana Receptor’

By Pat Anson, Editor

An international team of researchers has released the first three-dimensional image of a human cannabinoid receptor – a discovery expected to advance research into the medical and recreational use of marijuana.

The research findings, published in the journal Cell, focused on how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- the chemical in marijuana that makes people “high” -- binds to a cannabinoid receptor known as CB1, which is embedded in the surface of many nerve cells.

Cannabinoid receptors are part of a large class of receptors known as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR), which account for about 40 percent of all prescription pharmaceuticals on the market.

"As marijuana continues to become more common in society, it is critical that we understand how it works in the human body," said Zhi-Jie Liu, a professor and deputy director of the iHuman Institute at Shanghai Tech University, who is also affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"We need to understand how marijuana works in our bodies; it can have both therapeutic potential and recreational use, but cannabinoids can also be very dangerous."

At the beginning of the study, researchers struggled to collect enough data to produce a crystal form of the CB1 receptor, which was needed to create the high-resolution image.

When they finally succeeded in crystalizing the receptor, they found a complex structure of pockets and channels to various regions of the receptor.

The discovery could help explain why synthetic marijuana and medicines designed to mimic cannabis have had unexpected and sometimes harmful side effects.

For example, a cannabis-based drug developed to treat obesity was found to cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies, so the medication was pulled off the market.

And synthetic marijuana, such as Spice and K2, can have severe side effects such as seizures, hallucinations, anxiety attacks and even death.  

Yekaterina Kadyshevskaya, Stevens Laboratory, USC

Yekaterina Kadyshevskaya, Stevens Laboratory, USC

"With marijuana becoming more popular with legislation in the United States, we need to understand how molecules like THC and the synthetic cannabinoids interact with the receptor, especially since we're starting to see people show up in emergency rooms when they use synthetic cannabinoids," said study co-author Raymond Stevens, a professor at the iHuman Institute and a professor of Biological Science and Chemistry at the University of Southern California.

The findings could also guide the development of cannabis-based drugs to treat pain, inflammation, obesity, fibrosis and other medical conditions.

"Researchers are fascinated by how you can make changes in THC or synthetic cannabinoids and have such different effects," says Stevens. "Now that we finally have the structure of CB1, we can start to understand how these changes to the drug structure can affect the receptor."

Finding the Right Strain of Medical Marijuana

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

As a medical marijuana patient and caregiver since 2007, I would like to share some thoughts and observations about a recent survey by Care by Design, a medical cannabis company based in California.

They surveyed 621 patients who had been using medical marijuana for over 30 days, asking them about:

1. The conditions for which they are taking cannabidiol (CBD) rich cannabis

2.  The ratio of CBD-to-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) they are using

3. The impact of CBD-rich cannabis therapy on their pain, discomfort, energy, mood, and overall well being

I would like to address three areas about the survey findings, based on my personal use of medical cannabis and the patients we assist as caregivers.

“Patients with psychiatric or mood disorders and patients with diseases of or injuries to the CNS (central nervous system) system favor CBD-dominant cannabis therapies,” the survey found. “Patients with pain and inflammation favor CBD-rich cannabis therapies with more equal levels of CBD and THC.”

I have to agree with this personally and also through observation of the people we have helped find their correct medical marijuana strain. I now sleep better at night using a night oil made with a high CBD ratio. I found that when I used another strain that has a higher THC ratio, I experienced some strange head sensations that I did not enjoy. But when I use the higher CBD mix, I do not experience those odd sensations and can safely get out of bed without concerns.  

One patient, who has numerous medical issues including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has found she does well mixing a day sativa plant with the highest CBD plant we have (24% CBD/1% THC) called ACDC. She uses this mixture both day and night and finds it addresses her levels of pain more effectively. Just using the high CBD strain does not address her pain.

Another patient, a scientist, was just thrilled switching to the new high CBD plants we grow. He has found that his mood is calmer and his PTSD is under control. He is a thriving, productive worker again with no negative side effects

I correspond with many people online and one person who uses legally pure CBD found that it did address her pain. Many will not be that successful with just pure CBD and most need some THC to address pain.

The Care by Design report also states that “THC matters. A higher ratio of CBD to THC does not result in better therapeutic outcomes. Patients using the 4:1 CBD-to-THC were the most likely to report a reduction in pain or discomfort, and improvements in mood and energy.

“Patients using the 2:1 CBD-to-THC ratio reported the greatest improvement in overall wellbeing. This finding is consistent with scientific research indicating that CBD and THC interact synergistically to enhance one another’s therapeutic effect.”

I have to totally agree with the above statement. Most will not be lucky and find success without some THC in their medicine.

People tend to have a negative attitude towards THC because it makes them high and think medical marijuana strains work better without THC or lower ratios of it. But we have not had one patient that just uses the highest CBD plant alone. They appreciate the fewer “head issues” that come from reduced THC, but quickly find that their medical problems are not being addressed successfully until they use a mixture with more THC.

Finally, they survey report states that, “CBD-rich cannabis’ does not appear to have a significant impact on energy levels (as compared to pain, discomfort or mood).”

I am living proof of that, as are all the patients we have worked with using medical marijuana. When I need a boost on a tough pain afternoon, I find vaporizing or using tincture from the high CBD plant does not provide an increase in energy. However, when I use the 2:1 ratio that includes more THC, I not only get pain relief but also increased energy and interest in being involved with life again.

As the study found and we have found, you still have to experiment with dosage and ratios to find the correct type of medication strain to successfully alleviate your issues.

Using medical marijuana will never be like it is going to the pharmacy. One pill does not fit all and one strain does not fit all. No single ratio is right for all people, even when dealing with the same conditions.

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana or to contact the Smith's, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but is still technically illegal under federal law. Even in states where it is legal, doctors may frown upon marijuana and drop patients from their practice for using it.