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Marijuana Pill More Effective In Treating Pain Than Cigarette: A Study

Apr 23, 2013 02:33 PM EDT

Marijuana may treat pain best in the form of a pill, according to a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

The reason, according to the researchers, is that not only does it leave a patient feeling less high, but may also offer longer-lasting relief than when smoked.

Conducted at the Substance Use Research Center of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the study compared two strengths of smoked marijuana to two strengths of the drug dronabinol, which contains the same active chemical found in the plant - tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Thirty healthy, marijuana-smoking men and women were then put through five blind experimental sessions in which participants took a capsule and then 45 minutes later smoked a marijuana cigarette.

In all, three different kinds of capsules were used, including a placebo or pills containing either 10 or 20 miligrams of dronabinol.

Similarly, the participants’ cigarettes either contained no THC, a low dose of THC or a high dose of the drug.

With the testing days spaced at least two days apart and no participant receiving a double dose on the same day, researchers asked those involved to place their hands in water just above freezing and measured how long it took before he or she felt pain as well as how long they were able to keep their hands under the water before they felt like they couldn't take it anymore.

In the end, researchers found that it took people an average of about 12 to 13 seconds longer to report feeling pain after exposure to the highest strength pill or cigarette when compared to the placebo.

This was true for how long people were able to keep their hands under the water and how intensely they described the pain as being.

In fact, the only real difference the researchers found was in cognitive impairment, or feeling “high,” and that while pain relief came quicker to those who smoked the marijuana, relief peaked after just 15 minutes, whereas those who took the pills experienced pain relief for as long as three to four hours.

“If you think about it, if you’re someone who’s dealing with chronic pain, you’re going to have to be smoking several times a day, and for a lot of people that would not be feasible,” U.S. News and World Report quotes study author Ziva Cooper as saying.

Furthermore, while smoking an average dose of two marijuana cigarettes a day can cost over $500 a month, dronabinol is often covered by insurance, leaving patients with only a $15 to $30 monthly co-pay.

Dr. Gary Reisfield is an assistant professor of addiction medicine and chief of pain management at the University of Florida College of Medicine. The study, he said, according to the same source, was both “well-conceived and meticulously designed.”

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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