May 27, 2024


Health know-how

Why Cannabis Pain Relief Studies Conflict So Drastically

Marijuana Reform: Fears and Facts (Update) | Baker Institute

Does cannabis effectively relieve chronic pain? That depends on who you ask. Millions of medical cannabis patients would swear that it does. So would plenty of scientists and medical doctors. But others claim it doesn’t work. They say that any pain relief associated with cannabis is merely the result of the placebo effect. So what’s going on?

There are studies to justify almost any position on cannabis as a pain reliever. Ardent supporters can present studies proving that it works. Ardent critics can produce their own studies showing it doesn’t. Strangely enough, the opposing data isn’t even close in many cases. Study results are so drastically different that it is hard to imagine a more controversial research topic.

Understanding why this is starts with an understanding the dynamics of pain. This is where people lose a proper perspective, regardless of their particular beliefs about pot’s ability to relieve pain.

A Symptom and a Condition

The medical experts at, the online arm of a clinical organization that helps patients get medical cannabis cards in Utah, say that pain can be either a symptom of an underlying condition or a condition in and of itself. There are also specific and nonspecific kinds of pain. Specific has a known cause; nonspecific does not.

Dealing only with specific pain as a symptom of an underlying condition, there are no standards. Arthritis pain is very different from migraine headache pain. The pain is experienced differently because its root causes are different. Remember that in such cases, pain is simply a signal to the brain that something else is wrong. The signal manifests itself in different ways depending on the cause and how its underlying symptoms are experienced.

People Feel Pain Differently

Next up is the reality that people feel pain differently. Two people with the exact same medical condition can describe their pain in quite different terms. To some migraine sufferers, pain is an intense throbbing sensation. Other migraine patients describe it as a dull kind of pain that is nonetheless severe enough to be temporarily debilitating.

People also have different pain thresholds. Some people merely pass out at the slightest experience of pain while others do not flinch despite breaking a bone or suffering a severe laceration. Pain threshold is very much a perception matter. But the fact that pain is perceived differently among various patients eliminates any possibility of coming up with measurable clinical standards.

Reactions to Cannabis Differ

All the previous information was explained to bring us to this point: if patients experience pain in different ways and have varying pain thresholds, it only makes sense that they would react to cannabis differently. This is the very reason cannabis pain relief studies vary so drastically. Data differences are observed based on:

  • Pain type an underlying condition
  • Study participant age and sex
  • Pain severity and duration
  • Cannabis product and delivery method
  • Cannabis and dosage

It would be nice if science could come up with a black-and-white way to measure pain. If they could, it seems reasonable that an equally black-and-white measure of cannabis pain relief would also be possible. But so far, no one has figured it out. It is unlikely anyone ever will.

For the record, there is as much variation with narcotic pain relievers. We know they work through a combination of patient reports and our knowledge of how they impact the brain. Well, we also know how cannabis impacts the brain. So if we combine it with patient reports, should that not be sufficient to tell us whether it works as a pain reliever?