Spray Cannabis (Marijuana) Extract Relieves Cancer Pain

Marijuana in a spray? Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have developed a spray cannabis (marijuana) extract that can reduce cancer pain, especially in patients who have not gotten relief from morphine or other medications.

This certainly is not the first study to report that marijuana is effective in reducing pain or in effectively treating other health concerns, but it is one of the first to report use of a cannabis spray. A cannabis spray called Sativex has been legal in Canada since 2005 and is also legal via a special import license in the United Kingdom and Spain. In a University of California Davis study, for example, researchers found that smoking marijuana effectively reduced neuropathic (nerve pain) pain. As with opioids, cannabis reduces the main component of nociception (sense of pain) and the emotional aspect of pain equally and does not rely on a tranquilizing impact.

Another study from the same institution found that cannabis was effective in relieving neuropathic pain associated with HIV. More recently marijuana has been reported to help patients who have multiple sclerosis and in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Among the most common uses of marijuana for medical purposes is for relief of nausea associated with cancer treatment.

In the University of Edinburgh study, the investigators tested the cannabis extract oral spray in 177 patients who had cancer. Over the two-week treatment period, the patients reported a 30 percent reduction in pain. The researchers say that the spray works by activating molecules called cannabinoid receptors. When the receptors are triggered by cannabis, they stop the nerves from transmitting signals from the site of pain to the brain.

Unlike smoking marijuana, this oral spray has been developed so that it does not have an impact on a patient’s mental state. Professor Marie Fallon, St. Columba’s Hospice Chair of Palliative Medicine, remarked in the University’s news release that “these early results are very promising. Prescription of these drugs can be very useful in combating debilitating pain, but it is important to understand the difference between their medical and recreational use.”

Indeed, the study’s authors warn that their findings do not advocate the recreational smoking of marijuana. Rather, their study results do support the possible use of cannabis oral spray for cancer patients who have not benefited from morphine or other medications. They hope that a cannabis spray will be used along with traditional painkillers in the future.

Ellis RJ et al. Neuropsychopharmacology 2008 Feb; 34(3): 672-80.
University of Edinburgh, Dec. 14, 2009 news release
Wilsey B et al. The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Aug 2008 Jun; 9(6): 506-21

  1. […] Pharmaceuticals has already produced a cannabinoid drug called Sativex, an oromucosal spray for relieving cancer pain and treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. Investigators now announce […]


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