New Animal Study of Medical Marijuana Demonstrates Benefits and Absence of Side Effects

Access to medical marijuana has expanded across the country, and it has increasingly been added to the treatment armamentarium for chronic pain. But many experts, including our own PAINWeek faculty, have expressed reservations due to the current lack of clinical data on efficacy and safety of cannabis as pain therapy. Known negative side effects, and the development of tolerance, limit the widespread therapeutic use of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. THC's side effects are produced via its actions at cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the brain.

A new study appearing in Biological Psychiatry tests the theory that an agent with similar mechanistic actions, but that activate CB2 receptors instead, may eliminate the unwanted side effects while maintaining an equivalent level of efficacy. The research team from Indiana University report that repeated dosing with the cannabinoid CB2 agonist AM1710 suppresses chemotherapy-induced pain in mice without producing tolerance, physical withdrawal, motor dysfunction, or hypothermia. More work will be necessary before CB2 receptor agonists could be prescribed for use in humans, but for now, these data support the therapeutic potential of CB2 agonists for managing pain without the adverse effects associated with cannabis.

Read more about the findings here.

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