Does Medical Marijuana help with the Symptoms of Chronic Pain and PTSD?

Does Medical Marijuana help with the Symptoms of Chronic Pain and PTSD?

Patients seeking medical marijuana claim it offers relief from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. However, there is little scientific evidence that supports marijuana’s value for treating these conditions. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a large systematic review of clinical trials and observational studies to evaluate medical marijuana. They found that the evidence was insufficient to support claims of cannabis benefits for treating chronic pain and PTSD.

Cannabis use in the United States has become more common, nearly doubling between 2001 and 2013. Approximately 1 in 10 adults reports using marijuana now. Many states list PTSD and chronic pain as indications for cannabis use. In the large study, researchers assessed the effects of plant-based cannabis or whole-plant extracts for the treatment of these conditions. The researchers’ main outcome of interest was effects of marijuana on PTSD symptoms and chronic pain relief.

Veterans Affairs Researchers Study Cannabis (Medical Marijuana)

In this large study, the Veterans Affairs researchers screened over 13,500 research abstracts and studies. Dr. O’Neil and her colleagues found no significant evidence to support the effectiveness of cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain or PTSD. In a large study, which included 47,000 veterans of the VA, they found that individuals who used cannabis showed worse PTSD symptoms than nonusers after 4 months of evaluation.

In an evaluation of interventional studies, patients were more likely to report 30% or more improvement in pain, which was more specific to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that cannabis. However, studies evaluating cancer pain and multiple sclerosis pain were insufficient, according to researchers. There was some evidence to support an association between use of cannabis and development of psychotic symptoms. They also found that the use of cannabis contributed to impaired cognitive function in the general population.

According to other research reports, there are many potential harms associated with cannabis use. These include violent behavior, dizziness, paranoia, complications from infectious diseases, cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, and anxiety. Furthermore, with no evidence to support the medical use of cannabis for treating pain and PTSD, researchers urge for more clinical studies.

O’Neil ME, Nugent, SM, Morasco BJ, et al. (2017). Benefits and Harms of Plant-Based Cannabis for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review.