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Can a Marijuana Pill Cure Your Pain?

THC in pill form reduces pain for a longer time than smoking the drug, a new study finds.

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By Bryan Le

04/23/13

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Marijuana is legal for medical use in 18 states, and past studies have suggested that smoking the drug can be an effective pain reliever. But new research finds that THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) may be more effective at reducing pain in pill form. In a small test group of 30 people, scientists found that those who either smoked marijuana or took a dronabinol (a pill containing THC) could hold their hands in an ice bath and endure the pain for longer than those who took a placebo. But there are a few pros and cons to each method: the pill starts working about an after after swallowed and keeps the pain at bay for about 4.5 hours, whereas smoking the drug causes pain relief to kick in sooner (around 15 minutes), but only fights pain for about 2.5 hours. However, "smoking anything presents certain health risks," said study researcher Ziva Cooper, an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University. Substances in the smoke can harm the lungs or raise the risk of cancer, which could make the pill a safer option. Study participants also reported that they found the effects of dronabinol less pleasurable than smoking, which could mean that the pill has less potential for abuse. The study was limited to regular marijuana smokers, so more research is needed into how the THC pill might work on those who rarely use the drug. Dr. John Roberts, an oncologist at the Yale School of Medicine, says the study provides "additional evidence to suggest that both marijuana and dronabinol can be somewhat effective in reliving pain."

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