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Pot found to ease HIV-associated pain

Feb. 12, 2007
Courtesy University of California-San Francisco 
and World Science staff

Smok­ing ma­ri­jua­na re­duced in­tense foot pain as­so­ci­at­ed with HIV in­fec­tion by 34 per­cent in a ran­dom­ized tri­al, re­search­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of California-San Fran­cis­co re­port.

Courtesy Wisconsin DNR


The smok­ers’ pain re­duc­tion was found to be twice as much as that of a com­par­i­son group, who smoked ma­ri­jua­na with the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent re­moved.

The clin­i­cal tri­al was the first in many years in the Unit­ed States, and helps fill in a ma­jor gap in know­l­edge re­sult­ing from the pau­ci­ty of such re­search, said the uni­ver­si­ty’s Igor Grant. 

“There has been in­suf­fi­cient light shed on the pos­si­ble ther­a­peu­tic val­ue of can­na­bis,” or ma­ri­jua­na, said Grant, a psy­chi­a­trist who di­rects the uni­ver­si­ty’s Cen­ter for Me­dic­i­nal Can­na­bis Re­search. 

The study was the first com­plet­ed of sev­er­al clin­i­cal tri­als of can­na­bis be­ing con­ducted un­der the cen­ter’s aus­pic­es, and the lat­est vol­ley in a dec­ades-long de­bate over ma­ri­jua­na’s mer­its or dan­gers. 

One re­cent paper pro­posed that the drug can be ei­ther healthy or bad, de­pend­ing on the dose. 

The foot stu­dy, pub­lished in the Feb­ru­ary 13 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Neu­rol­o­gy, looked at 50 peo­ple with HIV-as­so­ci­at­ed sen­so­ry neu­rop­a­thy, a pain­ful and of­ten de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tion. Oc­cur­ring usu­al­ly in the feet and char­ac­ter­ized at times by tingling, numb­ness, pins-and-nee­dles sen­sa­tions, burn­ing, and sharp in­tense pain, se­vere cases can make walk­ing or stand­ing dif­fi­cult.

“There is a meas­ur­a­ble med­i­cal ben­e­fit to smok­ing can­na­bis for these pa­tients,” said Don­ald I. Abrams, the lead au­thor. Pa­tients smoked the study cigarettes three times a day for five days un­der su­per­vi­sion. The ma­ri­jua­na re­sponse “was com­pa­ra­ble to strong pain re­liev­ers we have stud­ied, such as mor­phine,” said co-au­thor Kar­in L. Pe­tersen.


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Smoking marijuana reduced intense foot pain associated with HIV infection by 34 percent in a randomized trial, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco report. The smokers’ pain reduction was found to be twice as much as a comparison group of patients who smoked marijuana with the active ingredient removed. The clinical trial was the first in many years in the United States, and helps fill in a major gap in knowledge resulting from the paucity of such research, said the university’s Igor Grant. “There has been insufficient light shed on the possible therapeutic value of cannabis,” or marijuana, said Grant, a psychiatrist who directs the university’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. This study is the first completed of several clinical trials of cannabis being conducted under the center’s auspices, and the latest volley in a decades-long debate over marijuana’s merits or dangers. One recent study found that the drug can be either healthy or bad, depending on the dose. The new study, published in the February 13 issue of the research journal Neurology, looked at 50 people with HIV-associated sensory neuropathy, a painful and often debilitating condition. Occurring usually in the feet and characterized at times by tingling, numbness, pins and needles sensations, burning, and sharp intense pain, severe cases can make walking or standing difficult. “There is a measurable medical benefit to smoking cannabis for these patients,” said the university’s Donald I. Abrams, lead author of the new study. Patients smoked the study cigarettes three times a day for five days under supervision. The marijuana response “was comparable to strong pain relievers we have studied, such as morphine,” said co-author Karin L. Petersen.