Don't Hog That Joint

Yet another study has concluded that medical marijuana is useful for managing pain.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Illustration by Eric Hanson

Researchers in Canada tested the use of nabilone, a pain drug based on marijuana's active ingredient, on fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia, which is characterized by chronic, widespread pain, tenderness to light touch, and fatigue, strikes about 2 percent of the adult population. Nine times as many women as men have this disorder, which is not life threatening but very frustrating to live with.

The Canadian researchers split 40 fibromyalgia patients into two groups and gave one group a daily dose of nabilone, while the others took a placebo. After one month, the nabilone group reported feeling less pain and had a sense that their quality of life had improved. The placebo group reported no changes.

Nabilone treatment didn't affect the patients' number of tender points. And it didn't cure pain-when patients stopped taking nabilone, their pain from fibromyaligia returned to its former intensity.

The drug was well tolerated, but some side effects were reported: drowsiness, dry mouth, vertigo, and movement problems. These were "generally mild," write the researchers.

The study appears in the February edition of The Journal of Pain. As with all these initial studies, more studies are needed to track the longterm effects, notes the head researcher, University of Manitoba's Dr. Ryan Quinlan Skrabek.

An argument for the use of medical marijuana is that it has fewer side effects than traditional drugs and may in some cases be more effective and also cheaper. Instead of the "nausea, vomiting, sweating, and constipation" you might expect from a pain drug like tramadol, with medical marijuana you get "spaced out, giggly, and extremely hungry."

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