Jason J. McDougall, PhD, an Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Anaesthesia, was one of the experts who spoke at a session called “Medical Marijuana and the rheumatologist”, reports Rheumatology Update. The session took place during the ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in San Diego and was the first ever to be held on the topic.
“There is a social stigma attached to cannabis that is not wholly justified… These are serious drugs and we need to take them seriously as a way of managing pain effectively.”
Dr. McDougall also explained the difference between plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids and those that occur naturally in the body – endocannabinoids.
Since marijuana remains illegal in most parts of the world, much of the research has been done with synthetic cannabinoids and endocannabinoids instead. Yet a stigma still follows, it seems.
“These endocannabinoids are serious contenders to try and alleviate pain and inflammation in rheumatic diseases, we need to stop sniggering about it and talk about it, and embrace them with the necessary caution of course.”
Dr. McDougall has conducted research on the use of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids in treating osteoarthritis. In an earlier talk on “The Basic Science of Chronic Pain,” he noted that 36% of authorized marijuana patients in Canada were smoking marijuana to treat arthritis.
Based on the data compiled by Health Canada and the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC), this represented the largest portion of patients using cannabis for any specific condition.
Other speakers at the San Diego conference offered support, but were less enthusiastic about the idea of using plant-derived medicine.
Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, an Associate Professor of Medicine at McGill University Health Center, said that a lack of clinical studies prevents rheumatologists from knowing the true benefits of marijuana as a medicine.
She added that despite nearly all patients using marijuana in its natural form, the plant contains many chemicals that vary in concentration from strain to strain. This, she believes, makes it a poor choice compared to standardized products.
Still, Professor Fitzcharles seemed to recognize the benefits of cannabinoids as well, concluding that researchers need to “forge ahead” with research.