Do Marijuana Compounds Really Reduce Pain? SU Researcher Conducts First-ever Review of Studies

Sep 21, 2018

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Most Central New Yorkers might consider it common knowledge that compounds derived from marijuana, called cannabinoids, are effective at reducing or relieving pain.  But a first-of-its kind systematic review by Syracuse University of existing research on that notion might change the perception of how the drugs work. 


Martin DeVita is a doctoral candidate in SU’s clinical psychology department.

“Our results suggest that cannabinoids affect that emotional component or dimension of pain by reducing the unpleasantness associated with pain and not necessarily the sensory dimension or that intensity compenent.  That gives us a lot more specificity in terms of understanding the question do cannabinoids produce pain relief.”

DeVita is the lead author of the paper in JAMA Psychiatry.  He says his research extracted data from laboratory studies that tested experimental pain among healthy individuals. DeVita says that eliminates conditions like depression or anxiety that can affect pain and introduce error into studies. 

Doctoral Candidate Martin DeVita is the lead author of a paper on the effects of cannabinoid drugs on pain.
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 “They look at every study that’s ever been in a lab, take all that data and pull it together using the math and then we create this Meta study, this larger study, and that gives us an overall picture.”

At the same time, DeVita acknowledges these answers now beg more questions that he’ll dive into.  He says all available evidence has come from studies on psychoactive cannabinoids like THC, and not the non-psychoactive ones which are becoming more popular.

“Although we’re beginning to understand these things and gaining insights and clarifying this mixed literature, we still have a lot of work to do but it’s not as simple as cannabinoids or cannabinoid drugs relieve pain all across the board. There’s different processes and a lot of complexities that still need to be figured out.”

Meanwhile, DeVita says the increased approval of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes means its use will far outpace the research being done, and could generate additional, if not scientific evidence.