Monday 21 August 2017

Mind & Body this week: cannabis and pain relief

Experiments are continuing to find out if cannabis extracts in prescribed pharmaceutical form can help in pain relief for sufferers of certain conditions including cancer.

Patients are watching the developments closely. New findings now show that the cannabis extract, dronabinol has been found to reduce pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.

The study involved 24 patients with multiple sclerosis and central pain (a symptom of MS) attending a hospital clinic in Denmark.

Pain is an important symptom accompanying multiple sclerosis; acute or chronic pain occurs in 30-80% of patients.

The reported prevalence of central pain in multiple sclerosis patients is around 33%. In recent years the efficacy of cannabinoids in the treatment of multiple sclerosis symptoms, including pain and spasticity, has been discussed.

Three patients were given either dronabinol capsules or identical looking placebo capsules for three weeks. Pain intensity in the last week of treatment was assessed and patients completed a quality of life questionnaire.

Pain intensity was lower and pain relief was higher during dronabinol treatment than during placebo treatment. Patients also reported better quality of life with dronabinol compared with the placebo.

Adverse symptoms, including dizziness, were more frequent with dronabinol than with the placebo during the first week of treatment, but these decreased during treatment.

Dronabinol has a modest but clear and clinically relevant analgesic effect on central pain in patients with multiple sclerosis and should be available for patients whose central pain is not sufficiently treated with alternative drugs, conclude the authors.

Here, the South Eastern Health Board has received the go-ahead to import and supply cannabis extract for pain relief to cancer patients at Waterford Regional Hospital.

The extract of cannabis used on the patients is very different from the illicit drug.

Waterford Regional Hospital is the second healthcare facility in the State to be granted a licence to import cannabis extract for pain relief. A hospital in Cork has also been given the green light.

The trials are being done in conjunction with GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK drugs company which has been involved in similar tests with multiple sclerosis sufferers for the past three years.

Eilish O'Regan

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