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THC’s Potential Impact on Chronic Neuropathic Pain

Brain graphs correlate reduced pain processing and significant pain reduction after administering the cannabinoid

A PPM Brief

The underlying neurologic changes associated with cannabis’ clinical benefit to chronic pain remain unknown, but new research shows how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, may work in the brain to effectively relieve chronic neuropathic pain.1

Fifteen male patients (female patients were excluded due to “evidence that menstruation-related hormonal fluctuations may alter pain sensitivity”) with chronic radicular neuropathic pain participated in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, in which pain assessments and functional resting-state brain scans were performed at baseline and after sublingual THC administration (average dose 15.4 mg). Researchers also examined pain-related network dynamics using graph theory measures.

Brain graphs correlate reduced pain processing and significant pain reduction after administering the cannabinoidSource: 123RF

The reduction in visual analog scale (VAS) pain ratings reported after THC administration was significant compared with pre-intervention scores (P < 0.05) and between THC and placebo (P <  0.005). In addition, the researchers reported a reduction in functional connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the sensorimotor cortex, which correlated with changes in subjective pain ratings after THC treatment.

In addition, graph theory analyses of local measures demonstrated a reduction in network connectivity in the areas of the brain involved in pain processing, specifically within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which were correlated with individual pain reduction.

“Baseline functional connectivity between these brain areas may serve as a predictor for the extent of pain relief induced by THC,” the researchers concluded.

Study authors noted that future, larger studies should aim to examine different cannabinoids, as well as include patients with other pain-related conditions to determine whether these findings are specific to neuropathic pain or if they may apply to other chronic pain states.

Last updated on: October 15, 2018
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