Aug. 6, 2008 -- Smoking pot may help relieve pain
in patients with HIV-related neuropathy, a form of nerve
damage that leads to burning and tingling sensations, which can be hard to
treat with traditional medications.
"Neuropathy is a chronic and significant problem in HIV patients as
there are few existing treatments that offer adequate pain management,"
researcher Ronald J. Ellis, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurosciences at
the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, says in a news
Ellis and colleagues compared medical marijuana to a placebo (fake
drug) in 28 patients with HIV-related neuropathic pain that was not adequately
controlled by pain medications, including opioids.
The team randomly assigned each participant to smoke either medical
marijuana (cannabis) or a cigarette that resembled marijuana but did not
contain the drug's active chemical, THC. The National Institute on Drug Abuse
supplied both products.
The participants smoked the material four times a day for five straight
days, then abstained for two weeks, and then followed the same experiment
again. Each person also continued to take prescribed painkillers during the
Smoking the pot provided much greater pain relief than smoking the placebo.
Forty-six percent of participants had clinically meaningful pain relief with
pot compared to 18% with placebo. Pain relief varied from "strong" to
"mild to moderate."
The researchers say that medical marijuana significantly reduces HIV-related
neuropathic pain when added to the patient's already-prescribed pain management
regimen and may be an "effective option for pain relief" in those whose
pain is not controlled with current medications.
The findings, which appear online in the journal
Neuropsychopharmacology, add to a growing body of evidence that shows
that medical marijuana can be a potent painkiller for patients with neuropathy.
However, the substance can have a negative impact on certain mental skills.
Ellis' team also warns that long-term smoking of cannabis can cause lung
problems. Alternative delivery methods are approved in Great Britain and Canada
and are being considered by the U.S., according to background information in
the journal article.
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