The ongoing efforts by researchers to investigate and identify the most effective treatments for chronic pain have led to the discovery of a sub-category of chronic pain, known as intractable pain (IP). This pain differs from chronic pain in that it is unrelenting, 24 hour pain that completely debilitates the patient.
Medical conditions which cause IP include but aren’t limited to fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and interstitial cystitis. IP conditions are identifiable when they are non-responsive to the standard treatments for acute and chronic pain conditions. This is why pain researchers are now branching out and focusing specifically on IP pain and how it can be treated.
The potential use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been investigated in relation to IP. THC is one of the chemicals found in the cannabis plant. It’s now common knowledge that medical cannabis can be highly effective in the treatment of chronic pain, but more recent discoveries show new promise for IP patients.
Two small, placebo-controlled studies indicated that doses of 5-10mg of THC were significantly more effective than a placebo in relieving the symptoms of IP. These doses were administered orally and led to negligible side effects. Martyn et al. reported that nabilone, a synthetic version of THC, relieved muscle spasms and nocturia better than a placebo in a study of a single case.
Unfortunately, these studies were too small in terms of scale to have yielded truly conclusive results. This is a common drawback to medical cannabis research. The illegality of cannabis has significantly hampered large-scale research efforts and limited the scope of the findings published. The legal status of cannabis across the United States and United Kingdom is on course to change, but until it does research efforts are limited.
However, as a preliminary study this demonstrates that whole cannabis extracts can alleviate intractable neurologically based symptoms, including pain, spasms and spasticity in some patients and certainly confirms the need for more study into this potential treatment.