Although results from many bench-scientific and preclinical animal trials support the use of medical cannabis for pain management, there is not yet an equal body of evidence in human clinical trials. However, this is, in part, due to the fact that, despite millennia of accounts supporting the use of cannabis to treat a large number of medical concerns, in the shorter history of cannabis research, the number of controlled, double-blind, placebo studies are limited, and to some points of view, may not even be possible. Additionally, in an era where increasingly more patients request cannabis therapy from their clinicians, health professionals are catastrophically undereducated on the topic. Furthermore, given the status of the modern opioid crisis, there is a growing need for alternative pain management strategies: states with medical marijuana laws experience significantly fewer opioid-related deaths than states lacking them. Additional research could reduce these deaths further and provide viable alternatives for patients seeking pain management when other therapies have failed.
Below are interesting clippings from this article, points that are either described eloquently or bring a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion:
Benjamin Caplan, MDInforming Doctors and Patients on Cannabis Use for Pain
In a recent review of systematic reviews and controlled studies, researchers were unable to find sufficient evidence to support the clinical use of medical cannabis or the pharmaceutical formulations for gastrointestinal, cancer, or rheumatic pain, or weight loss in cancer of AIDS. Many data from previous studies were either statistically insignificant or were of low quality. However, the authors did find that existing literature sufficiently supported the treatment of neuropathic pain with cannabis. Additional controlled studies may shed more light on the use of cannabis for general pain management. Interestingly, while the authors do raise two important limitations of the studies that they highlight in the article (inadequate size of some studies and generally limited supply of traditional scientific studies from which to draw conclusions) they do not address some of the more fundamental concerns with the reporting.
Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:
The limitations of studies in cannabis are numerous and an important consideration for researchers as they study cannabis, and equally essentially to consider for those of us reading the study product. To my personal count, there are at least 40 different types of biases that can skew data in a way that delivers information other than a precise description of actual events. This study, as many like it, presumptuously assumes that, if data doesn’t show a trend that so-mocked “anecdotal” data shows, then surely the anecdote must be incorrect. What if the reviews are simply not yet accurately recording what human iteration has discovered repeatedly for millennia?
The conclusion the review draws follows:
“Conclusion: The public perception of the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of cannabis-based medicines in pain management and palliative medicine con- flicts with the findings of systematic reviews and prospective observational studies conducted according to the standards of evidence-based medicine.“
Is the right question for science to question the validity of the stories that individuals are telling, against an imperfect science of information collection, as well as the limited scope of statistical validity for understanding data? Or is the right task for science to question its own methods of assumptions in discovery and understanding?
On the one hand, we have millions of people calling the color of the ocean “blue.” On the other hand, we have data that tells us that water, in fact, has no color. Similarly, the anecdotes from cannabis consumers are telling a story that is starkly different from the currently available data.
For those interested in combing through a close inspection of the many ways that data can be misrepresented and misunderstood, check out https://first10em.com/bias/
Cannabinoid receptor 2: Potential role in immunomodulation and neuroinflammation Review
Previous research and characterization of cannabinoid receptors (CBs) have consistently demonstrated the therapeutic potential for many medical conditions. CB1, the receptor responsible for the intoxicating (and other psychoactive) effects of cannabis, has demonstrated the ability to modulate concentrations of certain other neurotransmitters, giving it the capability of acting as an antidepressant. Additionally, mice lacking CB1 receptors exhibited increased neurodegeneration, increased susceptibility for autoimmune encephalomyelitis, and inferior recovery to some traumatic nerve injuries. The CB2 receptor is generally attributed to support for modulating the immune system and calming some of the body’s natural, core inflammatory signaling systems. Activation of the receptor has been found to associate with neuroinflammatory conditions in the brain, and in appropriate circumstances, can result in the programming of cell death among some immune cells. This effect points toward a role in communication, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, evidence points to CB2 holding significant potential in HIV therapy. Binding partners of CB2 inhibit the HIV-1 infection and help to diminish HIV replication. Historically, these staggering findings have escaped traditional modern medical understanding. Further investigation into the therapeutic potential of cannabis, with respect to the treatment of inflammation, depression, autoimmune diseases, and HIV is at a minimum, clearly warranted for a more comprehensive understanding of effective medical therapy.
Dr Caplan and the #MDTake:
The main points here no longer seem to be investigational trends, but just pillars of Cannabis Medicine that are embarrassingly new, and poorly recognized by the modern medical establishment. While the bulk of consumers, including patients, may not engage with the science on a molecular basis, by iterative or intuitive science, individuals are diligently discovering what forms of cannabis serve their personal interests more effectively. This is, through a scientific lens, a trial-and-error adventure through products, which have various ratios of cannabinoid-receptor activation or inhibition, that ultimately achieves a similar result, which is a clinical relief for a particular ailment. Does the fact that the process does not begin with a clear understanding of the involved receptors and receptor modulators really matter? If one of the primary objectives of Medicine is to treat and/or ease suffering, and the products are built upon a bedrock of chemical safety (misuse, inappropriate, or misinformed production of products notwithstanding), it should not matter that people discover it by happy accident, or through more direct achievement.
Reduction in Cannabis Use and Functional Status in Physical Health, Mental Health, and Cognition
In a survey of 111 cannabis use disorder (CUD) patients with abstinent, low use, or heavy use of cannabis, similar benefits were experienced by patients who reduced their use to zero or low use. Both groups exhibited significantly better outcomes than the heavy use group with respect to overall health, appetite, and depression. According to the study, CUD patients “who used cannabis at a low level did not differ from the abstinent individuals in any of the functional outcome measures.” With a relatively small subject population, it is challenging to know if this is applicable to broader audiences, but regardless, It is likely to open up some new treatment option for CUD patients.
Here is a nice summary of information for US medical cannabis patients with respect to traveling while on a cannabis regimen (what to think about, including plane/trains/automobiles, helpful tips, which states have reciprocity, and/or access to medical cannabis options, etc)
Article title: Atrioventricular Nodal Reentrant Tachycardia Triggered by Marijuana Use: A case report and review of the literature
The effect of cannabis on the heart is not yet well-understood. This report highlights a case of one 40-year-old patient who had, an hour after smoking cannabis, a specific type of cardiac rhythm abnormality (arrhythmia) called atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT). There is a physical component of this abnormality, an errant track where aberrant rhythms re-enter the heart and can cause rapid heartbeats (tachycardia.) In the discussion, the authors suggest that cannabis use, at higher doses, may stimulate the parasympathetic system, which happens to be involved in electrical current tracks in our heart. The authors further hypothesize that in susceptible people, as in this case, cannabis may affect this electrical pathway in the heart, and may disrupt a stable rhythm.
Dr Caplan and the #MDTake:
Abnormal heart rhythm disorders can be life-concerning conditions, however, there have only been 17 or so reported cases (see Table 1) of life-threatening cases in the medical literature. As it is exceedingly rare, it can be difficult to determine if cannabis is implicated or not.
Including rare, serious heart conditions, relatively benign circumstances, and conditions related to structural heart disease, arrhythmias are a relatively uncommon condition. Nevertheless, CED Clinic has seen many patients who have atrial fibrillation, a smaller but significant number of patients who have stable low or elevated heart rates, and a rare few with irregularly irregular abnormalities. Some patients have embraced cannabis while anticoagulated (helpful to reduce the risks of potentially dangerous clots), and some who are engaging with cannabis have been treated surgically. The approach to cannabis that most seem to prefer is a slow, gradually increasing dosage routine, where one can become accustomed to low doses, prior to advancing to something which may be more therapeutic, while minimizing the potential cardiac impact. Fortunately, to date, we have observed no grave repercussions that seemed caused, correlated or attributable to cannabis.
Functionalized 6-(Piperidin-1-yl)-8,9-Diphenyl Purines as Peripherally Restricted Inverse Agonists of the CB1 Receptor
A recent study has developed a synthetic compound that can act as an inverse agonist (a reverse activator) of cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1.) Considering how prevalent these receptors are in the body, this may serve as a useful treatment for a great many concerns that involve this receptor, and/or for altering the effects of other cannabinoid therapies. The developed compounds are orally bioavailable and peripherally selective for CB1, meaning they can be taken by mouth and can still have action in the periphery of the body, as opposed to simply at the brain’s receptors. The selectivity and therapeutic benefits of these novel compounds present a promising development for the potential treatment of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, liver diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders, to name but a few.
Dr Caplan’s Input:
We have CB1 receptors from head-to-toe, through every organ, and just about everywhere in the body. This article highlights a few interesting points. While we have compounds which can activate a target cannabinoid receptor, the action in this review is actually stimulating an opposite impact (activating the opposite action, or an “inverse agonist” effect.) Also, the concept of targeting central (at the brain) vs peripheral (everywhere else) has not been well-addressed yet in Cannabis Medicine. If we can separate the two targets easily, the options for applications of cannabinoid therapies multiplies, as does the opportunity to eliminate undesirable effects.
Discovery of novel benzofuran-based compounds with neuroprotective and immunomodulatory properties for Alzheimer’s disease treatment
A recent study has revealed that novel therapeutic methods that modulate the endocannabinoid system may help to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have isolated two compounds that provide neuroprotective benefits regulated by the endocannabinoid system. This treatment is specifically thought to slow the progression of the disease as it provides anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects that would prevent the aggressive degradation of the cholinergic system. Further research will hopefully continue to expand on findings such as these, toward the development of much-needed medications.
Crossing the Line: Care of a Pediatric Patient with Intractable Seizures and Severe Neuropathic Pain in Absence of Access to Medical Marijuana
A recent case report discussing a six-year-old patient suffering from a seizure disorder has exposed the difficulty is receiving treatment across state lines. The patient was prescribed medical marijuana that alleviated the severity and duration of her seizures but was weaned off of that medication when traveling to Nebraska for a therapeutic surgery, due to the legal status in the state. This case study exposes the difficulty of treating patients across the country due to the legal variability of cannabis across states.
Author’s summary reflections:
“The current state-specific approach to medical marijuana notably burdens patients, families, and health care systems with a fragmented approach to symptom management based on local context. The stigmatization or legal implications of medical marijuana in certain settings may lead well-meaning providers to avoid asking about use or to struggle with appropriate response. Provider response to parents reporting medical marijuana use in Schedule I settings notably varies from direct inquiry, feigned ignorance, or informed ignoring. Ideally, providers would compassionately and competently inquire about pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical interventions (to include medical marijuana use) as part of comprehensive palliative care symptom assessments.”
Constitutive Activity of the Cannabinoid CB1 Receptor Regulates the Function of Co-expressed Mu Opioid Receptors
Cannabinoid receptors have been found to regulate the function of co-expressed mu-opioid receptors. Researchers have found data that indicates the constitutive activity within the cannabinoid system reduced the capacity of expressed mu-opioid receptor functions. This research brings to light the possible benefits of modulating opioid consumption with cannabis-based medicines.
Dr Caplan Discussion Points:
One of the interesting discussion points in this paper is a close look at the effects of the CB1 receptor and its capacity to reduce the function of some mu-opioid receptors, through a mechanism different than naloxone. This suggests some appropriate optimism for cannabinoid-based tools in the battle against the worldwide opioid epidemic.