We are in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic.
As the laws on prescribing narcotics become stricter, the millions of people who suffer from chronic and debilitating pain are left to fend for themselves. Denied access to pain-relieving medication, those with excruciating conditions are suffering, searching for alternative forms of relief.
It is in this light that I asked neuromuscular specialist, Dr. Greg Carter, chief medical officer of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute and clinical professor at Washington State University’s College of Medicine about his research on cannabis as it relates to neuropathic pain in CMT.
By Greg Carter, MD
Humans have used cannabis (marijuana) as a safe and useful pain reliever for thousands of years. With appropriate patient screening and physician oversight, it can be used to treat chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain, which causes people with CMT much grief and suffering.
Originally delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) THC was felt to be the main active ingredient in cannabis. However, over the past several decades, other compounds unique to cannabis (“cannabinoids”) were isolated and characterized. Cannabis is now estimated to contain over 100 such compounds, many of which are not psychoactive but have potential medicinal benefits. This includes compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN).
We now know there is an internal cannabinoid system in our bodies that is intricately involved in the control of movement, pain, memory, mood, motor tone, and appetite, among others. Activation of this internal “endocannabinoid system” is what produces the runners high, among countless other physiological effects.
Overall evidence indicates that cannabinoids are safe and effective if used properly and may relieve pain without serious adverse effects. You do not need to be “high” to get pain relief. Strains that have higher CBD content and lower THC strains are the best. Patients should not smoke cannabis but rather use concentrated tinctures, putting several drops under the tongue. Vaporizers can also be used, which allows for inhalation of active hot mist, without the smoke. For dosing, patients should “start low and go slow.” They can take two or three inhalations, stop, and wait 10 minutes to see what the effects are. Ingestion takes about an hour to get effects so it’s harder to dose but lasts longer. Cannabis is absorbed through the skin and may be used in a liniment for localized pain. Patients should not drive or do anything that requires full cognitive and motor function while medicated with cannabis.
Patients with CMT need to be aware of the laws in their particular state or country. Even in states that allow for medicinal use, there may be laws that require that all standard means of treating pain be tried and failed before cannabis can be offered. Arguably, any decision to offer medicinal cannabis as a treatment option will depend on the severity of the underlying pain condition and the extent to which other approaches have been tried. Patients also need to be aware that the use of cannabis for any reason remains illegal under federal law in the United States.
Here are a few of his sources, including one of his research papers:
Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2011 Nov
Cannabinoids for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain; a systematic review of randomized trials.
Effective therapeutic options for patients living with chronic pain are limited. The pain relieving effect of cannabinoids remains unclear. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain was conducted according to the PRISMA statement update on the QUORUM guidelines for reporting systematic reviews that evaluate health care interventions. Cannabinoids studied included smoked cannabis, oromucosal extracts of cannabis based medicine, nabilone, dronabinol and a novel THC analogue. Chronic non-cancer pain conditions included neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and mixed chronic pain. Overall the quality of trials was excellent. Fifteen of the eighteen trials that met the inclusion criteria demonstrated a significant analgesic effect of cannabinoid as compared with placebo and several reported significant improvements in sleep. There were no serious adverse effects. Adverse effects most commonly reported were generally well tolerated, mild to moderate in severity and led to withdrawal from the studies in only a few cases. Overall there is evidence that cannabinoids are safe and modestly effective in neuropathic pain with preliminary evidence of efficacy in fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. The context of the need for additional treatments for chronic pain is reviewed. Further large studies of longer duration examining specific cannabinoids in homogeneous populations are required.
J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2015 Jun;10(2):293-301.
Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Chronic Non-Cancer Pain: An Updated Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.
Departments of Anesthesiology, Pain Medicine and Perioperative Care, Psychiatry and Pharmacology Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, email@example.com.
An updated systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain was conducted according to PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews reporting on health care outcomes. Eleven trials published since our last review met inclusion criteria. The quality of the trials was excellent. Seven of the trials demonstrated a significant analgesic effect. Several trials also demonstrated improvement in secondary outcomes (e.g., sleep, muscle stiffness and spasticity). Adverse effects most frequently reported such as fatigue and dizziness were mild to moderate in severity and generally well tolerated. This review adds further support that currently available cannabinoids are safe, modestly effective analgesics that provide a reasonable therapeutic option in the management of chronic non-cancer pain.
Pain Manag. 2015;5(1):13-21. doi: 10.2217/pmt.14.49.
Re-branding cannabis: the next generation of chronic pain medicine?
St Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Spokane, WA 99202, USA.
The field of pain medicine is at a crossroads given the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths from prescription opioids. Cannabis and its active ingredients, cannabinoids, are a much safer therapeutic option. Despite being slowed by legal restrictions and stigma, research continues to show that when used appropriately, cannabis is safe and effective for many forms of chronic pain and other conditions, and has no overdose levels. Current literature indicates many chronic pain patients could be treated with cannabis alone or with lower doses of opioids. To make progress, cannabis needs to be re-branded as a legitimate medicine and rescheduled to a more pharmacologically justifiable class of compounds. This paper discusses the data supporting re-branding and rescheduling of cannabis.