Impairment

Pre-clinical Evidence for Analgesic Effects of Cannabis Doesn’t Match Human Trial Results

Current evidence of cannabinoid-based analgesia obtained in preclinical and human experimental settings

In Summary:

Pre-clinical animal models of pain provide a wealth of data supporting the pain-relief capabilities of cannabis; however, reproducing this data in human clinical trials has proved difficult. Data from the animal pre-clinical trials point to cannabinoids reducing stress responses and pain-evoked stress, desensitizing pain receptors, and increased pain sensitivity in animals that lack cannabinoid receptors. However, human trials present conflicting results: several studies have shown dose-dependent relationships, and in the current review this was experienced by many participants, wherein lower and medium doses provided pain relief, but higher doses triggered increased sensitivity to pain. Controlled studies may show a lack of impressive pain relief effects, personal reports of pain relief associated with cannabis use are nearly universal in retrospective reports. This suggests that there may be an important effect on well-being or mood, rather merely sensory pain. Furthermore, the relieving effects of cannabis appear to impact men and women differently.

Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:

Additionally, much of pain relief is subjective, in both sensation, description, and inside the study environment. The description of pain varies from person to person, and researchers may be asking the wrong questions to the right people or the right questions to the wrong people. In fact, a growing perspective is that this mismatch may be more common and more pronounced than previously recognized. The makeup of pain is also quite complicated. For instance, a limb might hurt, but if there is swelling or tenderness nearby, those may amplify the discomfort. How can we take the full picture into account in the form of helpful data points? What of the emotional or psychological impacts of pain? Is it even possible that such things can be fully understood, let alone measured reliably? Assuming that emotional phenomenon or stress/suffering can be conveyed to research scientists, how can we ever hope to compare one person’s experience to another’s? For example, one would imagine that frustration associated with the pain experienced by a venerable world war veteran, who has previously endured tremendous and complex pains and associated psychological trauma may be quite different from someone who has never experienced a particular pain before.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDPre-clinical Evidence for Analgesic Effects of Cannabis Doesn’t Match Human Trial Results
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Many Chronic Pain-Related Cannabis Studies Lack “High-Quality” Evidence

Cannabis-based medicines for chronic neuropathic pain in adults (Review)

In Summary:

In a recent Cochrane meta-analysis of studies investigating the use of medical cannabis for chronic neuropathic pain management, the authors determined that no results were what they could consider “high quality.” All data which related to degrees of pain relief, adverse events, and “Patient Global Impression of Change” were largely of very low or low quality, with some outcomes being of moderate quality. The meta-analysis concluded that no existing evidence backs up the use of cannabis for chronic neuropathic pain; however, the quality of evidence examined highlights the need for more controlled studies.  

Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:

Depending on the system of organization one prefers, pain can be divided up into different subtypes. For one system, it’s three subtypes: neuropathic, nociceptive, and “other.” For another system, pain can be organized by timing (sharp, acute, chronic, breakthrough), location (bone, soft tissue, nerve, referred, phantom), or by the relative system (emotional, cancer, body.) This review discusses the subtype category of “neuropathic pain” as a means of grouping pain to study. The measures used to assess the pain are as subjective as the categories themselves. Clearly, compounding the two subjective divisions is unlikely to produce “high quality” data, but it is a misleading interpretation to take away that there is no good quality information to glean from the observations this review organizes, and also a misinterpretation to jump to an idea that cannabis is not helpful. Rather, given the statistical tools we currently use, and the subjective systems of understanding pain are not well-matched to translating the effects of cannabis on pain into this type of data.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDMany Chronic Pain-Related Cannabis Studies Lack “High-Quality” Evidence
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Spinal Cord Injury and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Patients Use Cannabis to Manage Symptoms

Cannabis Use in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury or Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury in Colorado

In Summary:

Spinal cord injury patients report that medical cannabis helped them alleviate many symptoms of their injury including spasticity, pain, sleep disruptions, stress, and anxiety. Traumatic brain injury patients list their reason for use as reducing stress/anxiety and improving sleep. Both groups of patients reported recreational use prior to and following injury for a variety of reasons.

Dr. Caplan and the #MDTake:

Healing from traumatic injuries is never solely a matter of local tissue changes. The injured tissues, and the experience of being injured create ripple effects which can disrupt multiple other organ systems, and the entire experience of normalcy. A chemical stress response is one of the most common (and often adaptive) responses to an injury, but the burden of stress, adapting to a new illness, and associated loss of normalcy and sleep can be disastrous to the process of healing. As anxiety and sleeplessness snowball into daily problems themselves, a kernel of injury sometimes amplifies to become a life-altering change.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDSpinal Cord Injury and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Patients Use Cannabis to Manage Symptoms
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Adolescent Cannabis Use Linked to Sleep Disturbances

Sleep Disturbances, Psychosocial Difficulties and Health Risk Behavior

Summary info:

A Dutch study investigated sleep disturbances in adolescents. Sleep disruption was linked to cannabis use, psychosocial difficulties, health risk behavior, and increased suicidality. Additionally, gender disparity in results suggests that girls may be more susceptible to sleep disturbances than boys , a result consistent with past recognition of some gender discrepancies in cannabis activity. These results highlight the importance of discouraging haphazard cannabis use, during adolescence, and the need for further gender-focused research surrounding sleep habits and cannabis use.

Dr Caplan, CED Foundation, and the #MDTake:

There are a few important issues that converge in this review. Generally, the question of adolescents’ use, (as an alternative way of describing the question of effects on a developing brain.) Also, this paper raises valuable questions about how cannabis may be interacting with sleep hygiene, for better or for worse. Psychosocial impact and risky behaviors are very complex topics to engage, even with a fairly large population sample of (n=16,781.) There are lots of intercorrelated topics assessed, analyzed, and discussed in the review, and it is all-too-easy to want to find causal patterns that are not apparent, again for better or worse, unless one chooses to construe the results or interpretation with causation in mind. Realistically, it is very likely to find overlap in a population of adolescents who have psychosocial difficulties, engage in risky behaviors, have increased risk of suicidality, and consume cannabis. To point to one of the components, arbitrarily, as the primary cause of the others is to unnecessarily and unjustly oversimplify a complex set of circumstances. The essential tenet, different genders seem to react differently with cannabis, is an excellent take-away, and also that we have much more still to learn.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDAdolescent Cannabis Use Linked to Sleep Disturbances
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Hope for Cannabis as a Future Treatment for Tourette’s Syndrome

Single center experience with medical cannabis in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome

A small study on adult Tourette’s patients demonstrated a reduction in tics after treatment with medical cannabis. Treatment with cannabis resulted in a global impression of efficacy score of 3.85 out of 5, signifying an improvement of symptoms. However, many patients reported undesirable effects that resulted in their withdrawal from the trial. Cannabis holds potential for Tourette’s syndrome treatment, however, more work is required to better understand what is causing the positive effects and to flush out reproducible benefits while minimizing the undesirables.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDHope for Cannabis as a Future Treatment for Tourette’s Syndrome
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Does Cannabis affect blood pressure, heart rate, brain blood flow?

Article title: Acute Cardiovascular Effects of Marijuana Use

The Review:

The authors of this systematic review combed through multiple previously published studies, looking at the short-term cardiovascular effects of THC on the body. The cardiovascular effects they covered included: changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood flow to the brain (cerebrovascular circulation).

This review showed that for blood pressure, the results were undecided, as some studied showed a drop in blood pressure, while others did not. For heart rate, the studies showed an increase after consuming marijuana, but quantity and duration were not mentioned. As for blood flow to the brain, only one study showed a potential decrease while the others found no change. The THC percentage of the products used (mainly inhaled ones) ranged from 1.2% to 17.5%.

Dr Caplan and the #MDTake:

This limited review aims to evaluate the effects of THC on blood pressure, heart rate and blood flow to the brain, but it has important limitations. In terms of how the changes were recorded in the studies and the relevant amounts (of what is changing) were not mentioned. For instance, while the study did show that THC may increase heart rate in the short term, it is not clear what the relevance is, what risk this may poses to consumers if any. Past literature has shown that heart muscle can respond to specific cannabinoids, both in the lab and in animals trails. Several case studies have reported individuals with grave reactions, although these concerns have yet to be replicated in a controlled manner, nor correlated with any specific circumstances or components of cannabis. Toward a goal of maximizing safety, caution is likely warranted for those consuming cannabis with known cardiac risk factors (including heart dysfunction, blood pressure concerns, rhythm abnormalities, and others) particularly with regard to the consumption of high THC products.

Clinical Impressions:

Clinically, there is a distinct trend of people who have found heart rate effects with their cannabis use, mostly increased heart rates at the beginning of use (both when first beginning to consume cannabis as well as early on during an episode of consumption.) There seems to be a tolerance to the heart rate effects because many report that this effect wanes over time. There are a clear group of patients for whom cannabis lowers blood pressure, but also groups for who it either has no effect or increases blood pressure. The long-term trend again seems that tolerance plays a role in bringing all extremes to the middle ground. Regarding blood flow, there seems to be a clear increase in local blood flow with topicals and, at least among CED Clinic patients, no observable relationship between cannabis use and blood flow, from a macroscopic perspective.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDDoes Cannabis affect blood pressure, heart rate, brain blood flow?
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Video: Controversial Questions in Cannabis Today

As cannabis finds its place back into modern human culture quickly, there is much still to be learned. As the science grows and adapts to modern need and expectations, the “can we” may be out-pacing the “should we.” On the other hand, there are circumstances where modern culture really “should be” and is handicapped by years of misinformed stigma.

Here, a few controversial questions about cannabis:

Should teachers be allowed to use cannabis around children? 

Should spiritual leaders be allowed to use cannabis, as they have for millennia?

Should taxi drivers be allowed to use cannabis on the job?

Should pilots be allowed to use cannabis?

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Benjamin Caplan, MDVideo: Controversial Questions in Cannabis Today
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Medical Marijuana Offers Benefits Comparable to Prescription Medication, Without the Side Effects

Title: Preferences for Medical Marijuana over Prescription Medications Among Persons Living with Chronic Conditions: Alternative, Complementary, and Tapering Uses

In a survey of 30 patients using medical cannabis for a range of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, hepatitis C, PTSD, among others, patients reported an array of benefits they have reaped from cannabis use. Patients successfully used cannabis in several ways: as an alternative to prescription medication, complementarily with prescription medicine, and to gradually replace use of prescription medication.

Benefits described by participants included the effects of cannabis lasting longer than that of opioids, lower risk of addiction, fewer side-effects. Patients also saw their sleep, anxiety, appetite, and adverse reactions improve with the use of medical cannabis. Larger, more controlled studies may suggest cannabis more affirmatively as an alternative or complementary therapy with prescription medications.

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Benjamin Caplan, MDMedical Marijuana Offers Benefits Comparable to Prescription Medication, Without the Side Effects
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