A new study from the University of Oxford suggests that cannabis doesn’t actually reduce pain, but instead if makes the pain more bearable by relaxing the body’s pain threshold.
Researchers used brain imaging in the cannabis study, which showed that the psychoactive ingredient in the drug, THC, reduces activity in the part of the brain linked with emotional aspects of pain.
The BBC reports that the researchers noted the effect on the pain experienced varied greatly in patients they studied. In order to conduct the study, researchers recruited 12 healthy men.
These participants were either given a pill containing 15 mg of THC or a placebo. They then had a cream rubbed onto one leg that induced pain. Again one was a placebo, or dummy, cream, while the other contained chilli and caused a painful, burning sensation.
Researchers then took four MRI scans of the participants’ brains to see how their brain activity changed as their perception of the pain caused by the cream was reduced. Discovery News notes that the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Lee, reported:
“The participants were asked to report the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain: how much it burned and how much it bothered them. We found that with THC, on average people didn’t report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.”
The patients involved in the study also experienced varying reactions to the THC, which could be a reaction with the amygdala. Lee added:
“We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but were would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods. Our small-scale study, in a controlled setting, involved 12 healthy men and only one of many compounds that can be derived from cannabis. That’s quite different from doing a study with patients.”
Dr. Lee suggests that, while the study’s findings are interesting and important, more research needs to be done to discover more information about cannabis and reducing pain.