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Pain Management Health Center

Marijuana to Treat Pain: A Pill May Outlast a Puff

Study shows a pill containing THC lasts longer and may be safer than smoking pot
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Several times during the sessions, researchers had each person place their hands in a water bath kept just above freezing temperatures. They measured how long it took study participants to feel pain and then how long they were able to tolerate the pain before they yanked their hand out of the water. Participants also answered questions about how intensely they felt the pain during the experiments and how high they felt.

When researchers tallied their data, they found that both the smoked drug and the pill were about equally effective at controlling pain.

After smoking the strongest cigarettes or taking the highest strength of the pill, it took people an average of about 12 to 13 seconds longer to report feeling pain from the cold water compared to when they took the placebos. Both forms of the drug also significantly increased pain tolerance, the amount of time a person was able to stand the pain before they pulled their hand out of the cold water.

Additionally, study participants reported that their pain was decreased after they smoked either strength of marijuana cigarette and after they took the highest strength of the dronabinol capsules.

The biggest differences between the puffs and the pills had to do with how long it took the drug to work and how high people felt after they used it.

Researchers found that pain relief peaked about 15 minutes after people smoked the marijuana and wore off relatively quickly. The pills took longer to work, but the pain relief lasted three to four hours.

Participants also reported feeling much higher after smoking the drug compared to when they swallowed it. The feeling of being high usually outlasted any pain relief.

"If you think about it, if you're someone who's dealing with chronic pain, you're going to have to be smoking several times a day, and for a lot of people that would not be feasible," said study author Ziva Cooper, an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University, in New York City.

Cooper also noted that swallowing a pill might be a safer way to take the drug than smoking it. There's some concern, though scant evidence, that smoking marijuana might increase the risk for lung cancer.

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