Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature


in Cannabis,Drug Policy Library


December 2010 – Source: NORML

Despite the ongoing political debate regarding the legality of medicinal marijuana, clinical investigations of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids are now more prevalent than at any time in history. For example, in February 2010 investigators at the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research publicly announced the findings of a series of randomized, placebo clinical trials on the medical utility of inhaled cannabis. The studies, which utilized the so called ‘gold standard’ FDA clinical trail design, concluded that marijuana ought to be a ʺfirst line treatment” for patients with neuropathy and other serious illnesses.

Among the studies conducted by the Center, four assessed smoked marijuana  ability to alleviate neuropathic pain, a notoriously difficult to treat type of nervepain associated with cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury, and many other debilitating conditions. Each of the trials found that cannabis consistently reduced pain levels to a degree that was as good or better than currently available medications.

Around the globe similarly controlled trials are also taking place. A 2010 review by researchers in Germany reports that since 2005 there have been 37 controlled studies assessing the safety and efficacy of marijuana and its naturally occurring compounds, involved a total of 2,563 subjects. By contrast, most FDA approved drugs go through far fewer trials involving far fewer subjects.

While much of the renewed interest in cannabinoid therapeutics is a result of the discovery of the endocannabinoid regulatory system (which we describe in detail later in this booklet), some of this increased attention is also due to the growing body of testimonials from medicinal cannabis patients and their physicians. Nevertheless, despite this influx of anecdotal reports, much of the modern investigation of medicinal cannabis remains limited to preclinical (animal) studies of individual cannabinoids (e.g. THC or cannabidiol) and/or synthetic cannabinoid agonists (e.g., dronabinol or WIN 55,212) rather than clinical trial investigations involving whole plant material. Predictably, because of the US government this modern cannabinoid research is taking place outside the United States.

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