Findings in a new federally funded research review indicate that cannabis alleviates neuropathic pain in some patients.
Cannabis may be effective at reducing neuropathic pain, according to a new study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Researchers from VA Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health and Science University reviewed the findings of 27 previously published studies that examined the benefits of cannabinoids for treating chronic pain in adults. The review was published in a recent online edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.
Neuropathic pain is the result of a condition that causes damage to nerves. Among the most common causes of neuropathy are diabetes mellitus, traumatic injuries, autoimmune diseases, infections, and tumors.
The team of eleven researchers determined that there’s “low strength” evidence that cannabis helps nerve pain. Dr. Sachin Patel of the Vanderbilt Psychiatry Hospital in Nashville, who wrote a commentary accompanying the review, said the findings on neuropathy “fit generally well with what we know.”
“There may be some evidence that [cannabis] is beginning to be helpful,” said Dr. David Shulkin, secretary of the VA, in a written statement.
The researchers did note that most studies are small and have not examined long-term effects. The VA simultaneously funded a study on cannabis’s efficacy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and determined that there is inadequate data to make a conclusion.
“The current studies highlight the real and urgent need for high-quality clinical trials in both of these areas,” Patel told Reuters.
Earlier this year, an extensive research review from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there is conclusive or substantial scientific evidence that cannabis is effective at treating chronic pain.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and nearly all have included severe or chronic pain as a qualifying condition. Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA doctors are not permitted to recommend cannabis to veterans because of federal law, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance.
Earlier this year in a press conference, Shulkin acknowledged cannabis could be beneficial for veterans.
“But until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to prescribe medical marijuana for patients that may be helpful,” said Shulkin. VA physicians must follow federal law, so cannabis cannot be made available to veterans until it’s rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, responded to the latest study, noting that the findings are consistent with “anecdotal reports of patients, many of whom are seeking a safer alternative to the use of deadly opioids. And it is inconsistent with the federal government’s classification of the marijuana plant as a schedule I controlled substance with ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.’”
Access the entire research review, “The Effects of Cannabis Among Adults With Chronic Pain and an Overview of General Harms: A Systematic Review,” by visiting Annals of Internal Medicine.
Read more about the research on cannabis’s therapeutic potential for pain management by visiting our education page. Through our news feed, you can keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies.