Smoking marijuana effectively relieves chronic HIV-associated nerve pain, including aching, painful numbness, and burning, according to a study.
For the study, 50 people with HIV-associated sensory neuropathy, the most common HIV nerve disorder, were admitted to a California hospital and randomly assigned to smoke either marijuana or identical placebo cigarettes three times a day for five days.
The study found people who smoked marijuana reduced their daily nerve pain by 34 percent compared to 17 percent in the placebo group.
"Smoking marijuana was well tolerated and effectively relieved chronic nerve pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy," said study author Donald Abrams, MD, with San Francisco General Hospital in San Francisco, California. "Our findings show the amount of relief from smoking marijuana is comparable to relief provided by oral drugs currently used for chronic nerve pain."
Abrams says while some HIV patients with chronic nerve pain are able to take anticonvulsant drugs, such as lamotrigine and gabapentin, to ease pain, some patients don't respond well to these drugs. He says that's why there's heightened interest in evaluating marijuana as a treatment for chronic nerve pain.
The study also found the first marijuana cigarette reduced chronic pain by an average of 72 percent versus 15 percent with placebo. And more than half of the people who smoked marijuana reported more than a 30-percent reduction in pain compared to 24 percent in the placebo group.
Participants in the study reported no serious side effects.
Researchers say similar results were reported in two recent placebo-controlled studies of marijuana-related therapies for nerve pain associated with multiple sclerosis.