1st Medical Studies on Pot in 20 Years Find It Does Relieve Pain

By Smriti Rao | February 18, 2010 3:45 pm

medEven as California sinks under a massive budget crisis, the $8.7 million the state used to research the use of marijuana for medical purposes now seems money well spent. The state-funded Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego has confirmed that pot is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological injuries or illnesses, according to a report issued Wednesday [The New York Times].

In four clinical trials, participants suffering from multiple sclerosis, AIDS or diabetes, along with healthy volunteers injected with a chili pepper substance to induce pain, were randomly assigned to receive cigarettes filled with marijuana [The New York Times]. The researchers reported that not everybody who smoked marijuana felt better–but a substantial percentage of those who were in pain said they felt better, and the figure was comparable to the percentage of people who experienced relief after taking other pain medications. “I think that clearly cannabis has benefits,” said Dr. Donald I. Abrams, a San Francisco oncologist who led that study. “This substance has been a medicine for 2,700 years; it only hasn’t been a medicine for 70” [Los Angeles Times].

The federal government currently views marijuana as an illegal substance with no medical value–but this unusual set of studies sanctioned by California could cause lawmakers to question that categorization. Said State Senator Mark Leno: “This is the first step in approaching the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), which has invested absolutely nothing in providing scientific data to resolve the debate” [San Francisco Chronicle]. The state’s voters approved medical marijuana in 1996 (13 other states have since passed similar laws), and California has fairly open rules for who is eligible for medical marijuana. Anyone who can get a doctor to write a recommendation, based on just about any medical condition, can buy marijuana in California [Wall Street Journal].

Doctors who conducted the study, however, noted that people who smoke pot must be mindful of what they are inhaling. They pointed out that inhaling any smoke brings potential cardiovascular risks, and also mentioned that their patients reported some mild side effects, including dizziness.

The results of the study come at a time when further funding for the program seems unlikely because of California’s budget crisis. But a California ballot measure that would attempt to legalize the drug’s use by adults 21 and older is likely to come to a vote later this year [Wall Street Journal].

Related Content:
80beats: A Toke a Day Might Keep Alzheimer’s Away
DISCOVER: Pot Helps an Imbalanced Mind
Discoblog: Forget About Pot’s Surprising Memory Boost

Image: Flickr/ Neeta Lind

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: marijuana
  • Robert E

    It would be nice if we could find and isolate the chemical in marijuana responsible for the pain relief. That, of course, would require more studies — most of which are caught in the Catch-22 of getting funding for a currently illegal substance.

  • Mitchell

    Hey Robert,
    why would you rather we give our money to giant multinational pharmaceutical corporations than a neighborhood gardener?

  • Franklin

    I really don’t see why anyone should bother isolating it, other than america’s moral objection to non-alcohol intoxication. Marinol, which is synthetic THC, is hard to regulate dose with due to slow onset. When taken orally cannabis takes 2-3 hours to take effect; when smoked or vaporized the onset is almost immediate, allowing the user to easily regulate their dose. The hazards of use have been shown to be negligible repeatedly.

  • Robin

    I’d think the potential for harming the lungs with inhaling smoke are about par with the potential for organ damage from other pain killers.

  • Jared

    Dizziness? It’s called being high. The fact the marijuana isn’t legal is astounding to me. Does anyone realize the amount of money there is in this industry? I wonder how much money it costs to make a synthetic drug in a lab that is used to treat pain that usually turns out to be a lot more dangerous and expensive. For a country 12 TRILLION dollars in debt we are far more comfortable spending money on pharmaceutical drugs then producing a plant that is relatively inexpensive to make and manage. Stupidity if you ask me.

  • Franklin

    Robin: it’s been shown that smoking cannabis heavily does damage lung tissue, but oddly enough does not show an increased risk of cancer. And smoke can be avoided by vaporising (cannabis is heated above the point at which the active compounds evaporate but below the combustion point of the plant material). I admit bias; I am a medical cannabis patient living in CA. I’ve suffered from migraines for years, which all other treatments have failed to help or had too many unpleasant side effects.

  • wvdk

    I get motion sickness easily, flying can make me very nauseous. I find a couple of of puffs before the flight works wonders. It’s daunting finding a place to do this in an airport, however. I think we would have a lot less air sickness (and air rage) on planes if people could have a puff in the departure lounge. btw, also works great on hangovers.

  • green

    wvdk try a tincture .two grms kief. to t0 one once of everclear . let set two weeks ..use eye dropper bottle. 4 or five drops giv a nice flight….

  • Katharine

    Drugs are weird.

    My opinion on marijuana is that it should be treated much the same as legal recreational drugs: tightly regulated. EVERY drug should be tightly regulated.

    No, I don’t particularly like even the legal recreational drugs, since I don’t like the idea of altering my perception (although alcohol, in moderate amounts, can taste okay), but illegalizing them’s just going to fill up prison cells with people who don’t need to be in there.

  • Katharine

    Although I like the idea of criminalizing the sale of certain drugs. Just not the possession of them.

  • Chris

    Honestly, I have scoliosis and when I smoke pot my back pain increases dramatically because I end up focusing on it more. Just because it works for some does not mean it works for all. I am not really for or against marijuana though, just adding some extra information.

  • http://Team-tcp.com Doug

    Is anyone else surprised that this is the first medical study of pot in 20 YEARS! You’d think we as a people and our government as an agent for those people would want to know everything about a substance that it declares illegal. At least we’ve actually studied heroin and cocaine….

  • Tommy

    I have MS since i was 17 yrs old Ive smoked pot ever since because it helps with all sorts of pain and my thinking , i can pronaounce words better more mobility absolutley no electric current feelings running down my spine through my legs, less or no pressure behind my eyes and as weird as it sounds i take a couple bong hits and i am less fatigued. I live in New york so im considered a crimminal for smoking. Though i consider my chronic as my medicine because it is.( Grand dad purple from Cali)

  • Jennifer

    Thank you Discover Magazine for always portraying the medical marijuana issue in a positive light. And thank you California for making some progress on researching the medical benefits of marijuana.

  • Quantos

    It strikes me as unfortunate that the state of California elected to declare marijuana a medicine before the scientific consensus is in and fully behind it. Individual studies and scientists have supported some possible medicinal properties, but it hardly seems like a broad consensus.

    In a climate right now with whacko alt medicine shills trying to hawk bogus cures and what not, I would imagine that scientific minded people would want to make sure that there is a watertight case behind its medicinal value. What’s more the California “medical” dispensaries seem little more than thinly veiled recreational dispensaries, especially considering how very poor the quality/dosage control is.

    It seems like California is going about this business backwards with their “declare it a medication first; the science will come later” approach.

  • Mike

    This is fantastic news to hear. I’ve been using cannabis to help with a reoccuring migraine issue with a fair amount of success.

    It’s not just marijuana that’s looking promising these days, MDMA, LSD and Psilocybin seem to show some promise in theraputic environments too.

  • IlikeThePope,ThePopeSmokesDope!

    Pot was made illegal because of cotton industry fears that hemp was stronger and cheaper to raise than Cotton. Petroleum interests feel threatened by hemps abiliy to create cheaper cleaner alternatives to petro chemicals. Gee, I wonder why the health effects haven’t been studied in two decades..

    These reasons had nothing at all to do with intoxication. I have health insurance and I’m rollin on narcos and xanax bars right now. I’d rather have weed, but I don’t want to break the law. I’d be a lot safer driving to the store on herb than I am right now, but oh well! Look out.

  • jjjj

    @15…duh. Why do you think it’s so easy to get a medical card in CA? You could tell a doctor you have chronic hangnails and they’d write you a ‘scrip. That being said, all of these efforts are going to contribute to the legalization of adult recreational use. Because once it’s legal they aren’t going to ONLY sell it to medical patients. The government would lose too much tax revenue. But in order for anyone to have a federal case for legalization there needs to be some scientific conjecture that changes Capital Hills perspective on weed and the various and vast niches it will fill. It wouldn’t work to walk into congress and ask that they legalize tree just because it’s fun to smoke. The end goal isn’t to legalize it purely for medicinal use. It’ll be in the same vein as cigarettes and alcohol. A taxable commodity available for the recreational use of the citizens of California and hopefully one day America.

    @4, that may be true, but if the government is willing to keep tobacco on shelves, why is this plant being crucified? When there is not one single documented death directly related to marijuana use and there are MILLIONS of deaths that are attributable to cigarettes and tobacco…it makes no sense that the governments stance on this peaceful plant is so harsh and misguided. Additionally, prescription pain killers are notoriously addictive. Weed is not.

  • Gretchen

    So, what about we develop a bacteria that pumps out whatever the chemical is that relieves pain, etc. Science is just about to the point where if we find out what that chemical is, we can make bacteria make it, just like synthetic insulin.
    Just a thought.

  • http://bettyjude.weebly.com/ Betty

    It’s strange how our society prohibits drugs like weed and is totally ok with other drugs like alcohol or tobacco, which cause tens of thousands of deaths annually.

  • Larry

    If we could have bacteria produce carrots would you want that instead of the real thing. Cannabis is a plant and you can’t get more natural than that.

  • cancer survivor

    i am a cancer survivor and i couldnt eat when going through chemo. i smoked marijuana and i could eat. do you know that a large percentage of cancer patients do not die from cancer? they die from malnutrition. there is no doubt that marijuana helped me beat my cancer. there are thousands more just like me. the gov’t has no business (right) getting between a doctor and a patient. the post of the person that said textile, petroleum, pharmecutical and lumber industries dont want it legalised is exactly right. it has nothing to do with getting you high. i could go into all the industrial uses for it but it would take up too much time. suffice it to say that the lobbyists for these industries would spend billions to keep it illegal..so i guess we all suffer. that is so whats wrong with this country.

  • Phil E. Drifter

    It’s not a war on (some) drugs it’s a war on minorities to replace outlawed slave labor with prison labor. Read tinyurl.com/1mn

    “Well, there it was, you didn’t have to look another foot as you went from state to state right on the floor of the state legislature. And so what was the genesis for the early state marijuana laws in the Rocky Mountain and southwestern areas of this country? It wasn’t hostility to the drug, it was hostility to the newly arrived Mexican community that used it.”

  • word

    Without cannabis prohibition in the United States the coalition of drug cartels, alcohol manufacturers and corrupt politicians stand to lose much of their prosperity. I’m ashamed to live under the rule of a fascist oligarchy whose survival relies on the self-destruction of it’s own people.

  • Sinjin Smythe

    For all of the fantastic benefits that Marijuana/Hemp offers (medical, industrial, clothing, plastics, etc) it is remarkable that modern people still stand against the legality of the substance.

    I’m sure if big oil or big pharma weren’t so threatened by the substance much of the corporate sponsored Reefer Madness scare tactics that are jammed down the public’s throat would disappear and the masses would become rapidly more open to the idea of legalization.

    Then maybe we could release from prison those whose only crime was to have been convicted by unjust marijuana laws.

    Then again most people are stupid, so we probably won’t see legalization soon.

    Now go have a few beers and hit the road, I have a bag of OREO cookies I must attack, then I think I’ll zone out to some music.

  • Will

    @20.. That number is actually higher than tens of thousands annually. its around 510,000 combined deaths annually. in justtttt the united states.

  • honey

    I use medical cannabis, for Crohns, I eat it and Vaporize when I need quick pain relief… it doesn’t just stop pain, it also helps the stomach lining and digestion… Cannabis really is a Miracle Plant, and it’s really a shame there are still people loosing their freedom for the cultivation of this Amazing Herb… I used to be a rec holding, dispensary frequenting patient, until the day ,3 months ago, when the Dispensary I go to was raided, by the DEA, While I was inside…. I had NEVER had a gun pointed at me before that day. And I will never forget the utter fear, and sheer terror I felt. I now buy cannabis from the Street, because, at least I know a street dealer would never pull a gun on me, Unlike the DEA. (government)

  • http://www.dennisys.com/ DenniSys

    @23 Sort of. The power of increasing literacy is a little off topic, but corporations are the ‘people’ who are talking to the government. It is not the real people at all. It is the ‘people’ with power, the ‘people’ who live forever that the government favors. The corporations do not speak for us, nor care about us. They ‘campaign’ for their own special interests, and they are militant about those interests. That is why ordinary people get arrested around the world for being defiant in their faces. And, yes they ‘love’ cheap labor. Hemp, on the other hand, could be a trillion dollar a year market for the U.S. But we already know the governments attitudes towards farmers.

  • http://aol.com Samson Cackleburn

    YES! A quasi discussion about marijuana legalization, with people who don’t seem to have a disposition against it! Please vote! It seems like there is an overlapping sector of American people who are vehemently against marijuana for any number of reasons (ignorance, fear, the overwhelming need to tell other people what they can and can’t do to their own bodies) and who are also regular voters. Of all the people I know that smoke pot, the ones that vote regularly are in the minority. It is hard to stand up and speak out for what you believe in when you can go to jail for it. (thank god for voting booth anonymity!) Vote! Engage people (living breathing people, face to face) in as unbiased a discussion as you can about the ACTUAL effects of the drug! Open peoples eyes without accusing them. The battle to legalize could benefit more from calm rationalization than merely pointing fingers out of frustration. To use a little down home red state wisdom, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Vote!

  • Dave

    Drugs and alchohol really can’t be controlled by the government or law. It’s all in society. If society didn’t accept marijuana then not as many people would smoke it. Personally, even though I like to keep as many toxins as possible out of my body, and my mind as straight as possible, marijuana is by far not the worse. Actually I’d rather see more people smoke pot than drink alchohol. But as is with anything, it’s all about moderation!!! Some people need it for medical purposes, that’s fine, some people like to smoke once in a while, that’s fine. The problem is when it is abused, and that results in somebody else getting killed. So, I think it should be legalized, it’s more of a question of how will society view it, and treat it.

    Also, a few puffs may help people that are in seriouse pain, or nervouse, or angry calm down, but I’ve seen too many people high to say that you think better when your high. It’s different for everyone, but, generally people don’t think or react better. You do luagh a lot more, or luagh at them a lot more. I have more fun anyways when I go to parties and watch people get smashed. I also don’t need to drink to act drunk. Not only that, but I remember it the next day :]

    Again, It’s all about moderation! I love that phrase, works for everything.

    Remember, man who stand on toilet, high on pot! Lolz.

  • Stoned Atheist

    Science wins, get bent fascists and dogmatic types.

  • Nate

    My real question to both lawmakers and those who feel it necessary to legislate morality: What business is it of yours what I do to my body, on my time, in my home? Far more toxic s**t is under my sink. I’m a veteran and a student. I’m a private citizen, and I pay my taxes. Build my roads, not my sense of right and wrong. I don’t care what the Bible says, I don’t care what politicians say, I don’t really care much for what anyone wants to say, as I’m an adult and it isn’t your choice to make.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • Enrique


    I don’t agree at all that marijuana and other recreational drugs should be tightly regulated. People should be educated about the harms of drugs like cocaine and heroin, but people should not have their access to drugs restricted. We should also, and this is very important, clearly emphasize in the drug education that marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy, peyote, DMT, Salvia Divinorum, and other hallucinogens/psychedelics are safer than alcohol, cigarettes, and most pharmaceuticals, which are safer than inhalents, cocaine, ans strong opiates. Of course don’t put it in a chart like that because then some people might think the top ones are “the most extreme ones, dude!”

    We have the wrong atmosphere in the U.S. against drug use. Using police to arrest drug users and declaring a War on Drugs is declaring a war on our own people. I will also admit that I have bias: I’m a stoner. But I’m also a skeptic and scientist (at heart; I plan to be one) and I have researched extensively on the internet — it’s a huge resource of information that you can’t get from watching T.V. or on the radio. The media is something like 90-95% owned by AOL-TimeWarner. Does tha worry you? Cuz that worries me. Smoke weed.

  • Eric

    Hmm, how the hell did it cost them $8.7 mil to realize marijuana has medicinal properties…

  • Riel

    all that money just to prove what our earliest ancestors knew all along, almost oxymoronic if you ask me! Knowing knowledge today is superior to yesterdays, we still had to spend precious resource (and prosecute, ultimately to incarcerate, millions of harmless individuals) just to reinforce a gnostic, not to mention universally accepted truth (at least, prior to the early 20th century anyway), that’s very well been known way before our modern times. Silly for a genius of a specie!

  • http://www.esqplace.com/blogs/entry/Hermes-was-some-of-the-most-profitable-properties-on-your-luxury-mass-market-with-the-recent-economic-crisis-2011-06-09 Alane Serini

    I can’t believe I was lucky enough to find this article. I love this kind of content because it gives a lot of great information.


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