UK Study Offers Strong Evidence of Cannabis Pain Relief

Cannabis Pain Relief

Does cannabis offer genuine pain relief? The answer is hotly debated among both proponents and critics of medical cannabis. Unfortunately, conflicting research studies only add fuel to the fire. A recent study out of the UK is the latest such study. It offers compelling evidence in support of cannabis pain relief.

Despite conflicting research data, Utah Marijuana says that chronic pain is the most common reason Utah residents apply for their medical cannabis card. They say their Utah clinics work with a lot of chronic pain patients through medical card assistance, medication management, and mental health services. They are not alone. Chronic pain is the number one catalyst for medical marijuana use across the country.

Chronic Pain Patients in the UK

Chronic pain patients in the UK cannot access medical cannabis as easily as we can here in the U.S. Still, there is plenty of interest in learning whether cannabis is effective as a pain reliever. To that end, an organization known as York Health Economic Consulting recently completed an efficacy study involving cannabis-based medicines from the UK’s Caledon Pharmaceuticals plc.

The study was conducted as a clinical trial involving some 5,000 participants. Based on standard pain scoring, the medication in question reduced patient pain by a reported 49.6%. Most patients reported pain relief within the first month of the three-month trial. Better yet, their relief was sustained throughout the entire period.

Researchers noted an added bonus: patients also reported a measurable improvement in sleep quality. Using standard scoring again, sleep scores increased by 1.6 points. The icing on the cake was a commensurate reduction in opioid consumption among the cannabis cohort.

Questions About the Placebo Effect

Improved pain scores and reduced opioid consumption are strong indicators that cannabis does relieve pain. Yet as remarkable as the study results might seem, another study published in 2022 found something completely different: cannabis performs no better than placebo in relieving pain.

That study was a meta-analysis of previous literature and research data found in the MEDLINE and Embase medical databases. The data included “studies published until September 2021.” Researchers paid special attention to “cannabinoid studies with a double-blind, placebo-controlled design.”

Researchers concluded that patients reporting pain relief via medical cannabis were likely to experience that relief due to having a positive perception of cannabis. In other words, they went into this study believing that cannabis would help them. That is exactly what they reported.

The Mechanism of Relief

The most interesting thing about both studies is that patients reported pain relief after using cannabis. Pain score data proves that much. With that established, the next question becomes one of mechanism. What is it about cannabis that helps chronic pain patients feel better?

Researchers have been trying to understand for years how the human endocannabinoid system works. A lot of what goes on in that system is tied to brain receptors. But the endocannabinoid system utilizes receptors located throughout the body. Could it be that cannabis reacts with some of those receptors in a way similar to how brain receptors would be stimulated by the placebo effect? That is the question which is now being investigated.

It seems that mechanism is less important than the fact that people report significant pain relief after using cannabis. The UK study is just the latest to prove that point. If future studies show similar results, would it really matter if marijuana’s main pain-relieving mechanism is the placebo effect? That is a question I cannot answer. All I know is that millions of people use cannabis for pain relief.

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