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Research Suggests Cannabis is a Complicated Painkiller

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The effect of using cannabis as a painkiller is not well understood by science, though many people suffering from pain have touted its effectiveness. A new study conducted at the University of Oxford is furthering the research on cannabis, but the results only highlight the complicated character of nature’s painkiller.

Some participants in the study were given oral tablets of THC, the ingredient in cannabis associated with feeling “high,” while others were given a placebo. The participants were then exposed to either a harmless topical cream or a topical cream which caused a burning sensation. They were asked to report on their experiences of pain, but also underwent brain imaging (MRI scans) so that scientists could observe patterns in areas of the brain associated with pain.

The results varied significantly from person to person, with most of those who experienced a benefit reporting that the pain burned just as much, but bothered them less. The brain scans showed that cannabis did indeed affect each person differently, and that areas of the brain related to the emotional aspects of pain were more affected than other pain-related areas. In other words, the research suggests that for some people cannabis makes pain more bearable.

The researchers, quoted in an article on Medical News Today, confirm that much more exploration is needed. THC is only one of many compounds found in cannabis, and the controlled situation in the lab does not mirror the conditions under which most pain sufferers take the drug. Studies also need to be done on patients with chronic pain, and need to be conducted over a longer period of time. But this study, according to the researchers, may begin to point the way towards techniques which could predict who would or would not see benefits from taking cannabis for pain relief.