Brain imaging insight into
cannabis as a pain killer.
The researchers found that an oral tablet of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tended to make the experience of pain more bearable, rather than actually reduce the intensity of the pain.
MRI brain imaging showed reduced activity in key areas of the brain that substantiated the pain relief the study participants experienced.
'We have revealed new information about the neural basis of cannabis-induced pain relief,' says Dr Michael Lee of Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB).
He adds: '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. My view is the findings are of interest scientifically but it remains to see how they impact the debate about use of cannabis-based medicines. Understanding cannabis' effects on clinical outcomes, or the quality of life of those suffering chronic pain, would need research in patients over long time periods.
The researchers report their findings in the journal Pain. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.
Long-term pain, often without clear cause, is a complex healthcare problem. Different approaches are often needed to help patient manage pain, and can include medications, physiotherapy and other forms of physical therapy, and psychological support. For a few patients, cannabis or cannabis-based medications remain effective when other drugs have failed to control pain, while others report very little effect of the drug on their pain but experience side-effects.
'We know little about cannabis and what aspects of pain it affects, or which people might see benefits over the side-effects or potential harms in the long term. We carried out this study to try and get at what is happening when someone experiences pain relief using cannabis,' says Dr Lee.
The Oxford research team carried out a series of MRI scans with each of the 12 volunteers at the FMRIB centre in Oxford.
The Rest of the Research: University of Oxford