Is medical marijuana a myth in some cases? Using cannabis no better than placebo for treating pain, study shows

SOLNA, Sweden — Marijuana appears to have the same pain-relieving effect as a placebo — or fake pill. However, researchers say media outlets continue to cover these medical trials about cannabis-based therapies positively, regardless of the outcomes.

The findings come from a review of 20 clinical studies which examined the pain-relieving benefits of using marijuana involving more than 1,500 participants. Although previous studies have claimed that cannabis may help patients manage chronic pain, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that those taking placebos experienced the same level of pain relief as those consuming active cannabinoid substances.

“We see that cannabis studies are often described in positive terms in the media regardless of their results,” says the study’s first author Filip Gedin, a postdoc researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, in a university release. “This is problematic and can influence expectations when it comes to the effects of cannabis therapy on pain. The greater the benefit a treatment is assumed to have, the more potential harms can be tolerated.”

Study authors note that all of these trials compared cannabis use with a placebo for the treatment of clinical pain. Scientists measured the change in pain intensity before and after treatment in each trial.

Specifically, researchers found that participants said their pain dropped significantly after taking a placebo. However, there was no difference in pain reduction between those using cannabis and those consuming the fake medication.

“There is a distinct and clinically relevant placebo response in studies of cannabis for pain,” Dr. Gedin reports.

The media keeps covering these marijuana trials positively — even if they fail

Study authors also looked at the connection between the pain-relieving effects discovered in these trials and the amount of media coverage they receive. Overall, the team discovered that medical trials involving marijuana generally receive more coverage and more positive reporting — regardless of how successful they really are.

The team used Altmetric to measure media presence — a system which evaluates mentions in the news, in blogs, or on social media. Researchers included 136 separate news items in their study, categorizing them as either positive, negative, or neutral. They determined each news report’s slant by examining how the results of the studies were presented based on the effectiveness of cannabis as a pain reliever.

Results show that cannabis studies received much greater media attention in comparison to other published reports. This coverage was significant even if the study found a minimal benefit from using marijuana to treat pain.

Study authors note that their review combined trials with varying designs and different levels of quality results. With that in mind, they say their findings should be interpreted with caution.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

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Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. I think this article is missing something. It never mentions the psychoactive element of marijuana which is the where the pain relief comes from. The placebo would not have the psychoactive element so, there would be no pain relief.

  2. Predictable responses from the pot-head/marijuanna-should-be-legal-no-matter-what crowd. Unfortunately, this will not change the momentum for legal marijuana which is the stepping stone to legalized recreational MJ. Its amazing that a society can demonize tobacco and applaud legalization of marijuana all in the same decade.

    1. Tobacco causes cancer and its only medical uses are topical… how can you compare this to the miraculous properties of cannabis? You try going through chemo… or fighting insomnia for decades… and you tell me you wouldn’t try it? You’d prolly try every drug the doctor would prescibe you though huh? Are also triple vaxxed for COVID? 🤦‍♂️Please educate yourself a little better and stop watching Reefer Madness and stop spreading the madness.

  3. I’m not surprised that the medical value pot is nothing more a placebo effect. Pot heads already love the stuff despite being stoned most of the time – they are convinced that they ‘know it works, dude…’.

    They are just high.

    Put this stuff back in the ground and move on – the people who use it are worthless, and the people who delude themselves that it has medical value are dangerous, and teh people who market it as medicine are villains.

    1. Pretty broad brush you’re using there, Jimbo. I’m a physician and I’ve used it for about 40 years. You would probably be shocked to discover how many doctors, lawyers, ministers and other accomplished people are regular users.

    2. So, anything that makes people feel better or good is automatically bad? Your views on what makes a “medicine” a “medicine” are reefer madness groundless talking points that are meant to elicit a emotional response, and that’s all… just like CNN does all the time… which it did, but it didn’t trigger any deep thought, just this… 🤦‍♂️

    3. I’ve known people with chronic pain who were able to kick opioids when they started using cannabis. How presumptuous of you to write them off as ‘worthless’. You must be a marketing shill for big pharma.

  4. BS it works for me. It also helps with relieving inflammation for arthritis . Since I cannot take advil due to being on blood thinners. I can take opiates for pain (prescription) but prefer marijuana .

    It is true opiates may do better but the side effects were too much for me. I just need a small amount of MJ to to ease my pain for sleep. I don’t believe this study ,it must have been paid for from some pharmaceutical company. I do care about my heath & I do not smoke but us a dry herb vape pen

  5. Nothing wrong with a placebo effect. Placebos work even when the person taking it knows it’s a placebo. The brain is strange.

  6. Of course the study is totally misguided. Marijuana relieves eye pressure for glaucoma suffers, eases nausea in chemo patients, improves mood and heightens appetites for depressives.

    Don’t deny its uses.

    1. All part of big push to demonize Opioid-based pain killers, used by 10’s of millions with not-treatable pain issues. LOTS more profit from CBD Hemp-based “pain relievers” that are very non-effective as compared to drugs like Hydrocodone. IF/WHEN the politicians in cahoots with the big drug companies outlaw Opioid, and try to substitute CBD – there will be MILLIONS of folks in a world of pain – may well be YOU – or someone you love.

  7. I don’t know much about studies, but I’m an ex-cop and I NEVER smoked pot. Fast forward years later and some terrible injuries. I was 2 weeks without any availability for prescription painkillers. My wife is a surgical nurse, watched me suffering in pain, went to a pot store, bought THC oil, put it on a toothpick stuck it under my tongue and 30 minutes later deadened nerve pain enough to make it tolerable until surgery could be done. Nausea? 2 pulls on a joint and poof ! I never did an illegal thing, but this attack on pot is TOTAL BULL CRAP! Easy to stop, NONE of the debilitating and awful side effects like the opioids they FREELY handed me later. Saved my bacon. I don’t advocate drug use or abuse, but when it works, it works. Merry Christmas!

  8. It does not alleviate pain, but it certainly does take your mind off the pain. That’s why I use it daily.

  9. Unfortunately, this all comes down to money! Pretty much every thing involves maximizing profits. The medical community desperately want cannabis to go away so they report on a Swedish study that finds cannabis is ineffective against pain (a study from Sweden?????). Up until a few months ago, my wife (RN with 35 years at a prestigious hospital) was using Oxycontin to partially control her back/leg pain. After much research and experimentation we found a cannabis strain that worked for her. Now she takes her cannabis an hour before sleep and the pain goes away and she sleeps comfortably the entire night. The next day she is completely pain free. Sadly, many doctors would prefer to treat patients with opiates (and the dangers involved). Their profits are very large and within medical rules and procedures. Find an effective cannabis and you are pain free with a totally safe medication and little profits for the Docs. Sounds like a winner to me!

  10. This Meta study combines lots of different studies on CBD and THC into one big grab bag of “cannabinoids.” As if they are all the same! Meta studies are believed to give such an analysis greater statistical power, but this “cannabinoids and the media” analysis really is a flawed mess. Junk in, junk out.

    Every stoner knows if you have chronic pain, you want Indica, not Sativa. And not CBD.
    If you really want to get rid of pain, explore “Bubble Hash”, with its high levels of terpenes and flavonoids and lower THC, and no pot hangover, or so I have heard.

    Who has money for research? Pharmaceutical companies.

  11. This article and the “study” on which it is based is a total lie. Here in WA state, where cannabis is legal, we know for a fact that cannabis outperforms opioids for pain relief. There have been no clinical trials of cannabis medicine because Big Pharma-authored UN drug treaties prohibit cannabis research worldwide. “Journalists” who author such falsehoods as this article should be ashamed.

  12. The movie REFFER MADNESS claimed WEED was a gateway-drug
    First Democrats legalized WEED
    Then psychedelics
    Now all hard drug are legal in every Democrat city

  13. They have been withholding a lot of information about Marijuana and its negative side-effects. It’s not nearly as harmless as they have been claiming. Psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia, hallucinations, and many other side effects and health issue’s. This is hurting American’s and America.

      1. I have a connective tissue disorder, and was put on an alarming amount of “medications” to treat this. I was also put on a massive dose of Zoloft to “treat depression.” Zoloft made me very, very high and complacent, but I never slept. Once, I stayed up for four days on a half hour of sleep. I became morbidly obese, which everyone loved because “thicc is the only sexy” and “only thicc girls are smart.” I got so sick I regularly had a resting heart rate of over 120, regularly. I was constantly sick. I drank alcohol, but everyone said that was okay, even the med providers. “Gurlz gotta have a little wine, tee hee!” they’d comment.
        I think I had a mild heart attack in August. At the ER, I was told everything was fine. My watch was supposedly wrong, repeatedly wrong. It only reported I was in poor health because of “fatphobia.” I was told that under no circumstances should I diet, exercise, or stop drinking. Mind you, I was on a cancer-causing apnea monitor at the time. Almost all the hospital staff were obese, and they were deeply, personally hurt by the fact that I hated what had happened to my body. They were angry I wanted to be able to climb stairs again. They thought it was “fatphobia,” and who used stairs anymore!? (I have stairs in my house, Einstein.)
        I noped on their treatments and tried cannabis products as they are legal in my state. I was not expecting anything at all. For the first time in my life, I finally slept. Regularly. The swelling went down. I lost 60 pounds in a matter of months. I am now able to exercise. When I started, I was in such poor health the treadmill would shut off if I held the bar measuring your heart rate. I’m sure the machine was lying, though.
        If you ban all cannabis products, I avow to engage in a life of outright crime. Being obese and a hardcore prescription medicine addict is no way to live. I’d rather commit suicide. These “studies” are a coordinated attack on disabled people who want to pursue health. It is no coincidence this study came out after it was discovered pot users have lower body weights than the average population. This has been the side effect for me—better sleep, decreased swelling, mood regulation, and weight loss. Currently, drug companies are rushing to create weight loss drugs. These have horrible side-effects and are expensive. They must ban marijuana to sell their new garbage.

  14. Helps with pain, insomnia, and much more. Has less calories than a 12 pack. It needs to be made legal across the board — no need to reschedule, no need to do anything, but change the archaic law! Allow adults the same rights as alcohol, regulate the same way and punish misuse the same way.

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