Taking dagga for pain is just wishful thinking‚ say US researchers

15 August 2017 - 07:07 By Claire Keeton
Marijuana plants. File photo
Marijuana plants. File photo
Image: Paula Bronstein

People using dagga to treat chronic pain are relying more on anecdotal accounts than scientific evidence‚ a new study suggests.

US researchers reviewed 27 chronic pain trials to find out whether treating adults with cannabis preparations benefitted or harmed them and found “low strength evidence” that they alleviate nerve pain.

They found “insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the use of medical marijuana for other types of pain” after doing the review‚ published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Up to half of South Africans live in pain every day‚ said Professor Romy Parker‚ the director of the Chronic Pain Management Unit at UCT’s Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine.

The president of Pain SA‚ Parker said: “Pain is a big problem in South Africa. Up to 74% of women with HIV are living with pain. We have a six month waiting list at our unit at Groote Schuur Hospital.”

In the US‚ medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and 80% of people who source it need pain management. More than a third of them list post-traumatic stress disorders as the main reason for seeking cannabis‚ even though there is little scientific proof that it works for this condition.

Ralph Higgo‚ who runs the medical marijuana website in South Africa‚ said however: “The cannabis plant offers great medical benefits to a lot of South Africans. Different strains offer different benefits and (these are) person dependent.”

Many people used cannabis treatments with positive results‚ he said. “But a lot of our supporters don’t want other people to know they are using it because of the taboo around it‚” said Higgo.

Dr Milton Raff‚ who runs the Pain Management Clinic at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town‚ said many of its patients came from GPs or specialists who were unable to manage their pain. Reasons for the pain varied greatly but included cancer and nerve pain.

The American researchers found that cannabis use in the general population “could increase risk for harms‚ including motor vehicle accidents‚ psychotic symptoms‚ and short-term cognitive impairment”.

The laws banning dagga in South Africa are being challenged in the Pretoria High Court.