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When Taking Medical Marijuana, Pill's Benefits May Outweigh Smoke

Update Date: Apr 23, 2013 11:05 AM EDT

A pill of marijuana may be more effective than a puff in combating pain. Though both methods are equally effective at blocking out pain, a recent study found that taking a pill blocked out pain longer and reduced feeling high, which could lower the risk of abuse.

According to Health Day, the study was conducted among 30 healthy men and women who did not suffer from chronic pain and who smoked marijuana regularly. Over the course of five days, the participants took a pill called dronabinol, which contains the chemical tetrahydrocannibinoil, the active ingredient in marijuana, or smoked a joint during five sessions. The pill was either a placebo or contained 10 or 20 milligrams or dronabinol. The cigarette either had no THC, a low dose or a high dose. The participants never received two dosages of marijuana at the same time, and they never knew which dosage they received.

After ingesting THC, the participants needed to place their hands in a bowl of water that was at nearly freezing temperatures. The test, which asks participants to remove their hands when the pain becomes too great, is a common one to determine pain threshold. For people who had taken the pill and who had smoked, both were able to keep their hands in the water for the same period of time.

However, the pill held several advantages that marijuana did not, MyHealthNewsDaily reports. Dronabinol was able to reduce pain for longer periods of time, fighting pain for 4.5 hours while the cigarettes were able to clamp down pain for 2.5 hours. The pill lessened the feeling of highness, which could eliminate the threat of abuse. Some studies have found that smoking marijuana can increase the risk for lung cancer. On the other hand, smoking marijuana began relieving the pain within 15 minutes, while the pill took an hour to begin its effects.

More research will likely need to be performed in order to assess the effects of the pill. Because all of the participants were healthy, it remains to be seen whether the pill would be as effective for people who suffer from chronic pain. In addition, the sample size was rather small.

Medical marijuana is legal in 18 states. Dronabinol has been FDA-approved to combat nausea and loss of appetite in patients with AIDS and cancer since 1985.

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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