Research Roundup: study shows cannabis does not increase pain sensitivity

Patients who use opioids to manage chronic pain can be subject to hyperalgesia, or greater sensitivity to pain, but cannabis use doesn’t carry the same risk


Photo by thegoodphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus.


A recently published study out of UBC Okanagan suggests that regular cannabis use does not increase pain sensitivity. The study, published by doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre, looked at differences in pain tolerance between frequent cannabis users and non-users.

For the study, St. Pierre recruited volunteers who used cannabis more than three times a week and people who didn’t use it at all. Participants submitted to a cold-pressor task test. For this, they submerged a hand and forearm in icy water for a sustained amount of time.

St. Pierre and her colleagues had speculated that the people who report frequent cannabis use would demonstrate greater experimental pain sensitivity. Instead, they found no differences.

“There is a different effect from opioid users; sustained use of opioids can make people more reactive to pain,” St. Pierre said in a post on the UBC Okanagan website. “We wanted to determine if there was a similar trend for people who use cannabis frequently. Cannabis and opioids share some of the same pain-relief pathways and have both been associated with increases in pain sensitivity following acute use.”

Hyperalgesia: increased pain sensitivity

Patients who use opioids to manage chronic pain, however, can be subject to hyperalgesia, or greater sensitivity to pain. As a result, they might increase their dosage of the opioid to mitigate the pain—thus increasing their risk of addiction and overdose.

St. Pierre and her colleagues determined that cannabis use doesn’t carry the same risk for hyperalgesia that opioid use does.

“Our results suggest frequent cannabis use did not seem to be associated with elevated sensitivity to experimental pain in a manner that can occur in opioid therapy,” she said. “This is an important distinction that care providers and patients should consider when selecting options for pain management. These findings are particularly relevant in light of recent reports of opioid overprescribing and high rates of pain in the population, as it suggests that cannabis may not carry the same risk of hyperalgesia as opioids.”

“This study should come as good news to patients who are already using cannabis to treat pain,” said co-author Zach Walsh. Walsh leads the UBC Therapeutic Recreational and Problematic Substance Use Lab, which hosted the study.

“Increases in pain sensitivity with opioids can really complicate an already tough situation; given increasing uptake of cannabis-based pain medications it’s a relief that we didn’t identify a similar pattern with cannabinoids,” Walsh said.

Cancer patients respond well to cannabis extracts

Researchers in Thailand say that cancer patients given cannabis extracts showed improvement.

According to a Bangkok Post article, the country’s Department of Medical Services administered the extract to 42 terminal cancer patients. After a month, patients reported improvements in their pain, appetite loss, and insomnia.

Nanthakan Suwanpidokkul, a specialist with Thailand’s Government Pharmaceuticals Organization, said most of these patients responded positively to the treatment without any severe side effects.

They normally suffered from dry lips and throats, confusion, headaches and palpitations, as well as nausea and vomiting, she said.

The National Cancer Institute, meanwhile, reported that 14 terminal cancer patients in palliative care received a one-to-one THC:CBD extract. These patients reported significant pain relief and increased appetite. They also gained weight and slept better.

Do your rolling papers contain heavy metals?

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rorolling-papers-sensitivityPhoto by Thought Catalogue/Unsplash

If you’re using commercially available rolling papers, cones, or wraps, you might be inhaling more than just cannabis smoke.

The California-based SC Laboratories purchased 118 such products from Amazon and several smoke shops in the Santa Cruz area. Researchers then tested 101 of the products for heavy metals and 112 of them for pesticide contamination.

They found that 90 percent of the rolling-paper products contained at least one heavy metal. (Lead was the metal most commonly found.) Of these, 8 percent contained at least one heavy metal in concentrations above the allowable limits in California for inhalable cannabis products.

Furthermore, 16 percent of the samples contained pesticides, with 5 percent coming in over the allowable action limits.

Consumers should be aware

In his analysis report, SC Labs president Josh Wurzer writes that the presence of metals in rolling papers is not a cause for alarm in and of itself.

“The common materials used to manufacture these products are known to accumulate metals contaminants, and many natural fiber based materials have detectable levels of metals,” Wurzer writes. “However, what was demonstrated is that there is a wide range of the concentrations of metals contamination in these products from relatively low level to grossly contaminated.”

Wurzer concludes that “consumers should at least be made aware that rolling papers aren’t currently regulated in the same manner as the cannabis that they place in the papers and to act with caution.

“Additionally, producers of pre-roll products should be on notice that their paper inputs are a potential liability when it comes to batch testing,” he writes. “Rolling paper product manufacturers may want to reconsider their product quality specifications to be able to meet the regulatory compliance standards.”

Thanks for the tip

Have you read a recent study that sheds new light on the topic of cannabis? Are you a researcher working on a paper about opioids and pain sensitivity? If so, send me a link and I might feature it in a future edition of CannCentral’s Research Roundup. Thanks!


  • CBD Canada September 18, 2020 04:28 PM

    Hi there! Thank you for a very informative and interesting article. My friends at believe that cannabis use can only reduce sensitivity to pain, but not increase it. Cannabis should be used for chronic or intermittent pain. This is a great alternative to synthetic drugs. However, before using cannabis, I advise you to consult a doctor.

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