2015-03-13 20:19:43

Breakthrough research suggests that using medical marijuana along with opiate medications may be more beneficial for controlling pain than taking opiates alone. The finding comes from a 2011 study conducted by Donald Abrams and his team at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are narcotic pain relievers that are used to alleviate severe pain, and include codeine, oxycodone, and morphine. They are only available with a doctor's prescription, and are often used for pain due to cancer, pain caused by chronic medical conditions, and pain from severe injuries and after major surgery. Opiates work by blocking certain receptors in the brain that are responsible for producing feelings of pain.

Opiates Structure Formula

Problems of Opiates for Pain Management

While opiates are highly effective at relieving pain, there are some problems associated with their use. The drugs have a suppressant effect on the nervous system, which can cause serious side effects like respiratory difficulties, and even death if the drugs are misused. Over time, the body naturally develops a resistance to the effects of opiates, so more must be taken in order to relieve pain.
Unfortunately for some people, it eventually becomes impossible to safely increase dosages. As a result, they must still live with some degree of pain, despite taking opiates.

What's in Cannabis?

The scientists and doctors who conducted the study at UCSF postulated that medical marijuana could potentially benefit individuals who had reached the point where opiates alone were no longer fully controlling their pain. Their hypothesis arose from the current knowledge about the active chemicals in cannabis, which include:

THC Structure Formula
  1. Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol - also called Delta-9 THC, this chemical is what gives marijuana its intoxicating effect upon the body. It has been proven in studies to reduce pain, to help control nausea, and to increase appetite.

  2. Cannabidiol - also called CBD, this chemical does not intoxicate the body. It has been shown to have the ability to reduce inflammation, which could make it beneficial for controlling pain due to numerous conditions.

  3. Cannabinol - Cannabinol or CBN forms when Delta-9 THC begins to chemically change due to age. Like its precursor, CBN has an intoxicating effect on the body, but it is not known to offer the same pain relief benefits. Typically, medical marijuana strains contain as little CBN as possible.

  4. Tetrahydrocannabivarin - THCV or tetrahydrocannabivarin is only found in some species of cannabis. It is shown to speed up the body's response to the other chemicals in cannabis, but it can also shorten the duration of the benefits provided by medical marijuana.

Features of the UCSF Study

The UCSF study included 21 patients, 10 of which were on morphine, and 11 of which were on oxycodone. At the start of the study, the levels of opiates in the patient's bodies were measured through blood tests. The patients used a volcano vaporizer to vape medical marijuana for four days.

Pain Scale

Study found that:

  1. Patients on both morphine and oxycodone had the same level of opiates in their bodies on Day 1 as they did on Day 5.

  2. Patients taking morphine reported an average pain score of 35 on Day 1, but by Day 5, their average score had decreased by 33 percent to 24.

  3. Patients taking oxycodone had an average pain score of 44 on Day 1, but by Day 5, their average score had decreased by 20 percent to 34.

  4. The patients in both groups experienced no side effects from the medical marijuana.

Ultimate Findings

Because the levels of opiates in the study participants' bodies did not change from Day 1 to Day 5, the scientists at UCSF concluded that vaping marijuana was responsible for the decrease in pain. The study concluded with the suggestion that using medical marijuana, in conjunction of opiates, may allow people to reduce their doses of opiates, and take them safely for longer periods of time.

Next Steps

More research is needed to continue to examine how vaping cannabis could assist with pain management alongside opiates. The scientists involved with the UCSF study have recommended that a larger trial be conducted, and that studies be conducted to examine how the results vary with different strains of marijuana, and different THC, CBD and THCV levels.

Pain management plans should always be developed in conjunction with a doctor, especially when opiate medications are involved, as they can pose serious risks for side effects. If your doctor has recommended that you use medical marijuana, ask him or her about alternative smoking methods. Today people are using dry herb vaporizers to vaporizer legal plant materials for herbal remedies. VaporPlants.com can help you find the best vaporizer to meet your aromatherapy needs. Feel free to contact us for assistance.

Pain Management and Cannabis - Dr Thomas Orvald

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  • ucsf.edu/news
  • nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
  • profiles.ucsf.edu/donald.abrams
  • drugs.com/oxycodone