A review funded by the US government analyzed research on cannabis and chronic pain. Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
- A US-backed review found some cannabis products can lead to improvements in patients with chronic pain.
- Treatments that led to pain improvements also had increased risk for dizziness and sedation.
- The lead researcher stressed better studies on cannabis are needed.
In the last decade, CBD — a cannabis component that does not get you “high” — has exploded in popularity as a treatment for pain and recovery.
However, there is very little research to back this up.
In fact, a new, large-scale review of the latest cannabis research found there is some evidence weed can ease chronic pain — but researchers found treatments high in THC, which does trigger a high, to be most effective.
The review, published today and funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, included 25 studies that each measured the impact of different compounds within the cannabis plant. Treatments made in a lab that had a high level of THC relative to CBD had “moderate improvements” in chronic pain patients. Products extracted from the cannabis plant that had around the same ratio of THC and CBD produced “small improvements” for these patients.
Marian S. McDonagh, a professor at the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital and the review’s lead researcher, told Insider she signed on to do this review after Congress requested the study.
She said she was motivated to find some clear answers that would help people decide the right strains for them — but her team was stunned by the limitations of each study, and how little quality data existed on cannabis.
“What surprised us was the lack of evidence on cannabis plant-based products,” she said — especially when it comes to “whole plant cannabis,” as opposed to synthetic cannabis. “There’s just really very little evidence and nothing you could really try to make any decision based on.”
The more effective cannabis products were associated with higher risk for psychosis and dependence
The two types of products that led to pain improvements — lab-derived treatments with high THC, and products with about the same CBD and THC — were associated with a moderate to large increased risk of side effects. The side effects included dizziness, sedation, and nausea.
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