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New Marijuana Pill May Be More Effective in Treating Pain than Smoking It


Medical Marijuana patients may have a new method of ingesting the drug – in the form of a pill. New research suggests that taking the pill may be more effective at reducing pain than smoking it, with fewer side effects.

The study compared the pain tolerance of patients who either smoked marijuana or took the drug dronabinol, a pill containing the active ingredient of marijuana, with patients that took a placebo. Researchers discovered that the pain-reducing effects of dronabinal lasted almost twice as long versus simply smoking the drug; Participants who smoked marijuana felt a lessened sensitivity to pain lasting about 2.5 hours whereas those who took the pill-form reported that the effects last approximately 4.5 hours. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the painkilling effects of cannabis pills, such as dronabinal, take around one hour to take effect versus just 15 minutes when smoked. (Rettner)

Research on the health benefits of marijuana has generated an increase in overall support for legalization in recent years, with 18 states legalizing the drug for medical use. A 2010 study showed that marijuana eased pain due to nerve injuries (Rettner). The drug has also been found to be effective in treating childhood epilepsy and can be more effective at reducing the frequency of seizures in children than the commonly prescribed pharmaceutical pills (Lah). A March 12th study reported that cannabis can even be effective in combatting certain types of cancer and the growth of cancerous cells.  Marijuana has also been prescribed for glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and a variety of other physical and mental conditions (Global Newswire). The development of pills like dronabinal is just another step toward increasing the legitimacy of medical marijuana and isolating the active, beneficial ingredients.

Ziva Cooper, an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry, was one of the researchers on the study. Cooper notes that inhaling any type of smoke can cause health risks, such as reducing lung function or increasing the risk of cancer. The discoveries in the study show that cannabis pills “can produce analgesic effects without the health risks that come along with smoking,” Cooper said. The study asked participants to hold their hands in a bath of ice-cold water to test their pain tolerance to the cold temperature. Those who took marijuana, in a pill or smoking it, could endure the pain for longer than members of the control group, who took placebos. (Rettner)

While the study is encouraging for the medical use of cannabis, more information is required to substantiate its findings. The study only looked at a group of 30 people, which is relatively small, all of whom were regular (daily) marijuana users and in good health. This does not account for patients who don’t regularly use the drug or patients suffering from chronic pain. However, previous data demonstrates that the ice-bath method is a valid preliminary test for chronic pain.

Dr. John Roberts, an oncologist at the Yale School of Medicine, has conducted research on the active components of marijuana to treat pain, though he was not involved in the study. Roberts says the new study delivers “additional evidence to suggest both marijuana and dronabinol can be somewhat effective in relieving pain.” Roberts submits that there may be unique benefits to both methods of ingesting cannabis – smoking and pill-form, based on the preferences of the user.  He also cautions that allowing patients to use a potentially addictive drug like marijuana evokes a much larger question concerning public policy. (Rettner)

The new research was published on Monday (April 22) in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, and despite its noted limitations, will likely only add to the fervor to the marijuana legalization and medical movement. As the effort has gathered momentum, it has even found its way into politics, and subsequently the White House. President Obama has not been very vocal on the issue of late, though Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under current Federal law, a classification that includes drugs like LSD, PCP, and heroin (Wing). As the health benefits become increasingly substantiated, and public opinion on marijuana sways, Obama can’t continue to ignore the topic.


Works Cited

Globe Newswire. “Federal Government Reports Marijuana Effective in Combatting Certain Cancers Reports ADSI.” NBC News. NBCNews.com, 12 March 2013. Web. 25 April 2013. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/51148243/ns/business-press_releases/t/federal-government-reports-marijuana-effective-combatting-certain-cancers-reports-adsi/>.

Lah, Kyung. “Medical marijuana helps stem 6-year-old’s seizures.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 10 December 2012. Web. 25 April 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/10/health/medical-marijuana-child>.

Rettner, Rachel. “Marijuana pill may be better for relieving pain.” Vitals. NBCNews.com, 23 April 2013. Web. 25 April 2013. <http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/22/17864159-marijuana-pill-may-be-better-for-relieving-pain>.

Wing, Nick. “25 People Who Are More ‘Evolved’ Than Obama On Marijuana.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. 20 April 2013. Web. 25 April 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/20/obama-marijuana_n_3114268.html>.


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A staff writer here at T4A, Roscoe enjoys investigating and writing on a variety of topics concerning addiction and mental health. His articles cover everything from the latest news stories to his own experiences with addiction and/or mental illness. He is a recovering alcoholic from New York, NY who is grateful not only to be sober, but also to have a life back. His interests include reading, writing, running, and anything involving the outdoors. Now that he is sober, he hopes to graduate college in the next few years with a degree in Business. He strives daily maintain a positive attitude and to work on himself; to make up for all of his past wrongdoings, and to give back by helping those who are struggling. Roscoe cherishes the opportunity to share his thoughts and ideas through the T4A blog, and welcomes any sort of feedback from readers!

Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Conditions and Disorders, Latest News, Research, Treatment · Tags: analgesia, cancer, cannabis, chronic pain, Controlled Substances Act, dronabinol, Marinol, Medical Marijuana, President Obama

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