The Latest in Medical Cannabis Research: Winter 2018

THC Boosts Traditional Neuropathic Pain Medication

Many are turning to cannabis as an alternative to prescription medications—or as a strategy for finding relief when all else fails.

There are different types of pain, and each type comes with its own treatment strategy and its own challenges. Neuropathic pain is a common type of chronic pain that can greatly impair one’s quality of life. It’s caused by the constriction of nerve fibers (e.g., sciatica), causing persistent pain signals to bombard the brain. Some of the current first-line treatment strategies involve medications, such as gabapentin, that can have harmful side effects.

While cannabis is emerging as a scientifically-validated strategy for pain relief, THC on its own, and THC-rich cannabis, is not always well-tolerated by everyone. Side effects such as sedation, motor impairment, anxiety, and paranoia prevent the widespread use of THC-rich cannabis as a primary treatment strategy. Identifying treatment strategies that work together to enhance pain relief may open up new and effective opportunities for integrating cannabis-based therapies in neuropathic pain relief.

Australian scientists assessed the pain-relieving potential of combining the common neuropathic pain medication, gabapentin, with THC in a mouse model of neuropathic pain. To test this, scientists constricted a bundle of nerve cells in mice, mimicking sciatica-like nerve pain in humans. As expected, this procedure caused long-lasting hypersensitivity to pain-inducing stimuli. They then tested the pain-relieving effects of gabapentin and THC alone, or in combination. Interestingly, the combination of the two reduced pain more than would have been predicted by simply their additive effects, suggesting that the two interact synergistically to greatly reduce neuropathic pain.

The combination of gabapentin and THC also expanded the therapeutic window in which the drugs could be effectively used with limited side

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