Marijuana as Pain Therapy—Providers Need to Answer Patient Questions

A leading medical marijuana researcher advises clinicians to learn more about the plant and its constituents in order to provide informed counseling to patients with pain who are increasingly interested in it as a therapeutic alternative. Speaking last week at the American Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting, Mark Ware, MD, from McGill University Health Center, noted the need for more rigorous clinical study of marijuana to evaluate its safety and efficacy for pain conditions. Ware highlighted several challenges impeding the conduct of such research.

One of these challenges is the continuing legal inconsistency attending medical marijuana. Additionally, it is unclear who will pay for the necessary phase 3 clinical trials needed to better understand the substance’s efficacy for various pain conditions. Another obstacle to valid research is lack of standardized product, as cannabis originating from different regions can contain different compounds. Nonetheless, with the legalization of medical marijuana in more than 20 states so far, Ware advises clinicians to become better informed to answer patient inquiries by reviewing the scientific literature, understanding local legal issues and potential liability, and weighing the risks and benefits against other analgesic alternatives.

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