Marijuana has long carried a negative stigma, but thanks to recent studies confirming its ability to treat many afflictions, including chronic neuropathic pain, it is becoming more socially acceptable. In September the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy held their highly acclaimed 2016 FPN International Research Symposium, attended by some of the world’s leading research scientists and neurologists in the forefront of neuropathic pain research. Because of promising studies confirming medical marijuana’s ability to relieve neuropathic pain, the Foundation devoted eight separate presentations to medical marijuana and its implications in treating neuropathic pain, as well as to regulatory, industry, and medical perspectives. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy also includes information on medical marijuana on the FPN blog
Medical Marijuana Findings vs. Federal Law
In February 2007 the peer-reviewed medical journal, Neurology published Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy a placebo-controlled study conducted by Donald Abrams, MD an integrative medicine specialist for cancer patients at the University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues. They found that marijuana is effective at reducing neuropathic pain, or pain caused by damaged nerves, in HIV patients.
in April 2014 Neurology also published Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders conducted by researchers at the American Academy of Neurology. Their review found that medical marijuana in the form of pills or oral sprays seemed to reduce stiffness and muscle spasms in MS. The medications also eased certain symptoms of MS, such as pain related to spasms, and painful burning and numbness, as well as overactive bladder.
In March 2016 researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Medical School said their results suggest that for some people, medical marijuana may be an alternative to more common prescription painkillers at a time when national health leaders are asking the medical community to cut back on prescribing drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.
However, despite existing medical evidence and even though 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 Drug. According to the DEA, “Schedule 1 drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. Even though marijuana has proven to have many therapeutic effects, such as treating chronic nerve pain, all rooted in solid science.
In April 2016 Scientific American published an excellent article outlining the importance of easing restrictions on medical marijuana research. This makes sense especially when drugs such as Heroine and LSD are included along with Marijuana as Class 1 Drugs, yet Cocaine and Morphine are classified as Schedule 2 Drugs. In August 2016 the DEA reviewed reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 or 3 to make it easier for researchers to study medical marijuana. However, the measure failed to pass, even though the government did agree to soften rules for marijuana research to make it easier to grow the plant for scientific study.
Medical Marijuana vs. Opioids
Opioids such as codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone are not effective at treating neuropathic pain, and despite their well known serious side effects, including the possibility of physical dependence and death by overdose, it is legal to prescribe them. Medical marijuana has no serious side effects, and has proven not to be as addictive or cause death due to an overdose. This is not to say that marijuana is not with out potential concerns, but when compared to opioids those concerns are minimal.
Much like with tobacco, it would be very difficult to smoke your self to death smoking marijuana. But, as no one would dispute there are tobacco related deaths due to cancer, we do not dispute there may be marijuana related deaths. Where there has not been a direct link drawn between marijuana and cancer, as there has been between tobacco and cancer, there is certainly a link to marijuana and car accidents similar to that to drunk driving.
Nothing is 100% safe, but when you weigh the Benefits against the Risks, and if you suffer from chronic neuropathic pain, you may find a worthwhile benefit from using medical marijuana, as long as you use it responsibly. We are not suggesting you break any state or federal laws, but if you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, we are suggesting you may want to discuss with your doctor whether medical marijuana should be consider as part of your treatment plan.
In order for you to make a more informed decision we have invited Rosemary Mazanet, MD PhD – Chair, Scientific Advisory Board of Columbia Care to explain in a series of articles the use of medical cannabis today by neuropathic pain patients, how it works, and the types of marijuana products available. Dr. Mazanet’s medical background has given her an in-depth understanding of the potential of medical marijuana in treating chronic pain. She is a board certified oncologist; an alumna of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and is a trustee at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
We hope you find these upcoming articles informative and encourage you to contact us, and/or Dr Mazanet, with any questions you may have by clicking here or by commenting below.
Read Dr Mazanet’s first article by clicking here Cannabis Use for Neuropathic Pain – Part 1