Marijuana for Pain Relief

The first U.S. clinical trials in more than two decades on the medical benefits of marijuana confirm the herb is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological injuries or illnesses, according to a recent report issued by Igor Grant, a psychiatrist who directs the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego.

Grant conducted five studies funded by the state of California involving volunteers who were randomly given real marijuana or placebos to determine if the marijuana provided relief not typically provided by traditional medicines.

Cannabinoids, marijuana's pain relieving elements have been found in previous research to be very similar to pain relievers that our bodies naturally produce. Research, however, is still being conducted to find out exactly how cannabinoids work. According to Grant's research, there is good evidence that cannabinoids should be used either as an adjunct or a first-line treatment.

Here are some conditions that scientists studying marijuana's potential medical uses have found it may help treat. It's important to note, however, that research is still being conducted in these areas.

When is Marijuana Useful?

Pain. Studies, including Grant's, have found that cannabinoids have analgesic effects. Furthermore, cannabinoids also appear to enhance the effects of opiate pain medications to provide pain relief at lower dosages.

Considerations: Quality control is not fully in place for the marijuana that you can legally obtain in certain states through cooperatives and storefront dispensaries.

Multiple sclerosis. Grant's recent research shows cannabinoids to be effective in the treatment of the tremors, muscle spasms, and pain of multiple sclerosis.

Considerations: Experts agree that more research needs to be done to learn exactly how marijuana works and its side effects.

Nausea. One of marijuana's medical uses best supported by research is the treatment of nausea. It has been shown to improve mild to moderate nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy and also help reduce nausea and weight loss in people with AIDS.

Considerations: Older people may not tolerate the mind-altering effects of marijuana as well as younger people. The prescription form, dronabinol, also may produce psychological side effects that make it inappropriate for some older people.

Glaucoma. Glaucoma is marked by increased pressure in the eyeball, which can lead to vision loss. In the early 1970s, scientists discovered that smoking marijuana reduced pressure in the eyes. Exactly how the cannabinoids in marijuana produce this effect isn't known.

Considerations: Your doctor can prescribe other medications to treat glaucoma, but these can lose their effectiveness over time. Researchers are working to develop medications containing cannabinoids that can be put directly on the eyes to avoid the mind-altering side effects and other health consequences  of smoking the plant (see Risks below).

Some Other Elements to Consider

According to the Mayo Clinic, along with the legal implications in some states, smoking marijuana poses several health risks, including:

  • Impairment of thinking, problem-solving skills and memory
  • Reduced balance and coordination
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Heightened risk of chronic cough and respiratory infections
  • Potential for hallucinations and withdrawal symptoms
  • Marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke and has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract. Marijuana smoke is commonly inhaled deeper and held longer than is tobacco smoke, increasing the lungs' exposure to carcinogens.

Note: When making your decision about whether marijuana is the right choice for relieving your pain, all of these risks should be taken into account. Talk to your doctor about all your options before making a decision.


Grant, Igor. "Report to the Legislature and Governor of the State of California presenting findings pursuant to SB847 which created the CMCR and provided state funding." Center for Medicinal Cannibis Research." Feb. 2010. Web.16 Mar. 2010.

Harding, A. "Medical marijuana may help fibromyalgia pain." CNN Health. 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.  

"Marijuana Provides Pain Relief, New Study Says." The Huffington Post. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Marijuana as Medicine. Consider the Pros and Cons." CNN. 25 Aug. 2006. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.