Cannabis Is Not A Pain Killer, Just Makes Pain More Bearable

Pain sufferers who use cannabis as a pain killer are helped by the drug. However, cannabis is not actually a pain killer; the drug just makes pain more bearable.

In a recent study published in the journal Pain, researchers from Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) gave volunteers oral tablets of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

Using MRI brain imaging, the researchers discovered that the THC in cannabis reduced activity in key areas of the brain that registered pain. In other words, cannabis does not eliminate pain but rather works on the brain to make pain more bearable.

As lead researcher Dr. Michael Lee explains:

“We have revealed new information about the neural basis of cannabis-induced pain relief. Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly. Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.”

Several other previous studies have discovered a link between cannabis and an improvement in pain symptoms. For example, as reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in 2010, researchers from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and McGill University discovered that patients with chronic pain who smoked cannabis reported lower levels of pain, improved mood, and better quality sleep.

The findings of this most recent study, however, indicate that pain relief associated with cannabis is actually a result of making pain seem more bearable rather than truly relieving the pain.

In other recent pain relief news, chronic pain suffers may soon find relief from medications typically used for the treatment of high blood pressure.