Considering Pot for Pain?

Written by Aviva Patz
Reviewed by Amy Hess Fischl, MS, RD, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE

A study from the University of California at San Diego that was published in 2015 showed that inhaling cannabis (aka smoking pot) can blunt diabetic neuropathic pain for several hours.

That’s very promising news for the 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes who have neuropathic pain and may not be getting adequate relief from the limited arsenal of pain meds currently out there. “There’s no question that this is a legitimate option for people with chronic nerve pain,” says Lester Grinspoon, MD, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus of psychiatry and author of Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine. “Patients are going to start putting pressure on their doctors to prescribe it.”

In the study, published in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Pain, the researchers recruited 16 patients with pain in their feet from diabetes-related nerve damage and randomly assigned them to inhale one of three doses of cannabis or a placebo. After a two week-break, they crossed over to a different dosage and repeated the test. All the testers who inhaled cannabis reported feeling less pain—and the participants who got the highest dose reported the least pain.

Dr. Grinspoon, who developed severe diabetes about 25 years ago, not only recommends cannabis for diabetic neuropathic pain, but he takes it himself every day. In 1995, Dr. Grinspoon wrote an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association urging doctors to get to know cannabis again—it had been widely used in the 18th century before the advent of common painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. “I wrote that there would be many patients who not only wanted cannabis but deserved it because it’s such a remarkable non-toxic drug,” Dr. Grinspoon says. “Whether you’re talking about pain from migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis or diabetes, physicians should know that cannabis is very helpful.”

Tracking Down Medical Marijuana

Obtaining marijuana for medical use is a process. Here’s what you need to know.

Staying Safe

Even in states that have green-lighted medical marijuana, your boss can still fire you for flunking a drug test. “You’ll want to know practically speaking whether your boss does drug testing and whether any patient rights and civil protections are in place in your state,” Brown says. “For example, in Nevada there are privacy standards and reciprocity rules but nothing protecting people from employment discrimination.”

If you do manage to get a prescription, Dr. Grinspoon recommends taking your daily dose before bed to prevent any possible high from interfering with your daily functioning the next day.

Lastly, marijuana’s medicinal effects don’t lessen over time, Dr. Grinspoon reports, so you shouldn’t need to up your dose. Side effects may include increased appetite, possible sleepiness, and feeling a temporary high. “As people understand more and more about how useful cannabis is, its use is going to grow,” Dr. Grinspoon adds.


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How to Treat Diabetic Neuropathy