By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
December 2, 2022
A landmark new study with surprising results on the lack of correlation between marijuana and pain relief could impact the debate over medicinal cannabis in North Carolina and elsewhere.
The research, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), involved a meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials with a total of 1,500 participants who had taken either a placebo or marijuana for the treatment of clinical pain. Participants did not know what they were receiving.
The JAMA research compared the change in pain intensity before and after treatment.
“Our study … suggests cannabis is no better at relieving pain than a placebo,” Filip Gedin, a study co-author and a postdoctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institutet, wrote in a summary of the research findings at TheConversation.com.
A bill to legalize medicinal marijuana in North Carolina could come up during the next session. In June, a similar bill passed the state Senate 36-7 but never received a floor vote in the House, where Speaker Tim Moore opposed it. Gov. Roy Cooper has said he supports the legalization of medical marijuana. The 2022 bill would have allowed the state to issue licenses to individuals and businesses in order to grow, cultivate, produce and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The desire to reduce pain is “one of the most common reasons people report using medical cannabis,” the JAMA researcher wrote.
“The studies we included looked at a variety of different pain conditions (such as neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to the nerves, and multiple sclerosis) and types of cannabis products – including THC, CBD and synthetic cannabis (such as nabilone),” Gedin wrote. “These treatments were administered in a variety of ways, including via pill, spray, oil and smoked.”
Most of the studies in the meta-analysis were conducted in the United States, United Kingdom or Canada.
“Our meta-analysis showed that pain was rated as being significantly less intense after treatment with a placebo, with a moderate to large effect depending on each person,” Gedin wrote. “Our team also observed no significant difference between cannabis and a placebo for reducing pain.”
The JAMA research “corroborates the results” of an earlier 2021 meta-analysis, he added.
It is possible that placebos were so effective because media coverage of medicinal marijuana is one-sided, Gedin wrote. In other words, participants in the study believed medicinal marijuana could relieve pain because they had heard or read media reports saying it was effective.
The JAMA researchers examined 136 media reports and found that the “overwhelming majority of news items reported that cannabis had a positive effect for treating pain,” Gedin wrote.
“This means that media coverage towards cannabis tends to be positive, regardless of what a study’s outcomes actually were,” he wrote. “… If a person thinks they will experience relief from their pain by using a certain product or treatment, this can change the way they end up perceiving incoming pain signals — making them think their pain is less severe.”
“… We cannot say with 100% certainty that media coverage is responsible for the high placebo response observed in our review,” Gedin wrote. “But given placebos were shown to be just as good as cannabis for managing pain, our results show just how important it is to think about the placebo effect and how it can be influenced by external factors — such as media coverage. For treatments, such as cannabinoids, that receive a lot of media attention, we need to be extra rigorous in our clinical trials.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that there is a tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence about marijuana’s effectiveness in helping with pain. These testimonials, however, don’t square with the new studies coming out now regularly, he said.
“I don’t want people to be in pain. Does anybody believe that someone like me, whose role is helping the infirmed and the dying wants to see people writhe in pain?” asked Rev. Creech.
“I want people to understand they are being duped if they believe marijuana is a harmless drug. It isn’t! When these studies are published, I think people, especially lawmakers ought to be aware of them,” he added. “The evidence is clear – smoked marijuana is not medicine – some may swear on a stack of Bibles its medicine, but the science seriously guts the validity of that conclusion. More than anything else, this is how the marijuana industry gets the public to drop their guard and legalize it recreationally. We cannot afford another legal recreational drug in this country.”