As marijuana reform is sweeping the country, a number of chronic pain patients turning to medical marijuana to get relief is increasing. There’s an abundance of anecdotal evidence regarding the efficiency of the plant in treating chronic pain, however, with a lack of scientific studies, physicians are still hesitant in recommending it to their patients. They need to learn more about the plant in order to be able to counsel their patients appropriately about its benefits.
According to The New York Times, about 15 trials of medical marijuana have been conducted worldwide recently with results showing the plant’s effectiveness in reducing pain from fibromyalgia, diabetes and neuropathy. However, concerning how widespread medical marijuana is in the U.S. now, it is safe to assume that it’s still a heavily under researched drug and it is utterly irresponsible to expect of physicians to advice their patients based on rumors and urban legends about the plant.
Medical Marijuana Research Is Anecdotal
Mark Ware, M.D., executive director, Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and director of clinical research, Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit, McGill University Health Center recently spoke about his research at the American Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting. He started researching marijuana in 1999 when he moved to Canada following a court decision to legalize the plant for medicinal purposes there. He spent his time evaluating patient’s claims about medical benefits of cannabis and has conducted a long-term research on the safety of the plant. “Much of what we know about medical marijuana is anecdotal, so the challenge is to recognize that patients who say they get pain relief by self medicating with marijuana may be right, and move forward in conducting more scientific studies to better understand its analgesic benefits and overall safety,” said Ware.
Obstacles In Research
However, there are many obstacles that researchers are faced with, and one of them is the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. “With legalization of medical marijuana in more than 20 states, widespread access will yield more reports that need to be evaluated,” said Ware. “And, while it’s clear that large, Phase 3 clinical trials are needed to better understand medical marijuana’s potential clinical efficacy, who will pay for them and is it necessary to conduct trials for every pain condition that could be treated with marijuana?”
There’s also the safety issue regarding the methods of consumption of medical marijuana: “There are safety concerns about the molecule itself, and studies of recreational marijuana users show the drug can affect the brain and lungs. Questions also arise about smoking as a safe route of administration vs. oral dosing,” Ware stated.
According to Ware, the list of obstacles does not stop there. Because marijuana products are not standardized, meaning plants grown in one state could be different from plants grown somewhere else, and have different variety of compounds. On the other side, the FDA says that plants grown and used for medicinal purposes share the same quality as the plants sold on the street. It remains unknown what research, if any, supports these claims.