Unlike many studies that have come before focusing on marijuana’s ability to treat chronic pain, this study aimed to see what happened when “experimental” pain was introduced. The researchers at Syracuse University “conducted a systematic review of 18 placebo-controlled studies.” It involved around 450 participants using various cannabis products, including cannabis itself, and also included two synthetic weed-based drugs: dronabinol and nabilone.
In what may seem like a contradictory conclusion, the researchers found that rather than dialing down the intensity of the pain, cannabis products made it “feel less unpleasant and more tolerable.” That might feel like splitting hairs, but there is a real differentiation to be made. The pain itself may still be present and at the same level, but your experience of it changes. Instead of clenching and perhaps moaning, you’re at more of a peace with what’s happening in your body.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that whole-plant marijuana worked better than the synthetic drugs. They also found that those who did not receive the placebos felt high, but again, that’s to be expected with full plant cannabis.
“If you think of pain as a noxious sound coming from a radio, the volume is the intensity of that pain,” author Martin De Vita told MedPage Today. “After using cannabinoid drugs, it may not decrease the volume of the noxious noise, but it may tune it to a station that’s a little less unpleasant. It won’t be the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard—it will still be pain—but it will be a little less unpleasant.”
He went on to point out that more research is needed across the board.
“This is a first step in doing that,” he said, “starting from the fundamentals of how cannabinoids affect basic pain processes, and now we need to determine some of these follow-up questions.”
Those follow-up questions could lead to breakthroughs that come very close to eliminating pain, or at least our perception of it. Wherever they lead, they’re necessary to give doctors and patients the ammunition they need to fight the soreness, aches, pains and outright cringe-worthy suffering. Cannabis does much to improve quality of life, and especially if it’s a loosening of the grip pain has over the body, it’s relief and that’s important.