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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  1. So, the placebo gave some people the same result of the MJ.. so what? What is there to lose by this? Money to pharma, that’s what. If someone believes it works and it does for them, so be it. If it doesn’t actually work on pain the same as pharma, those seeking the pharma effects will still seek pharma. What I’ve known for decades is that it distracts the mind from the pain. It’s not a pain killer per say, but it does help redirect your mind from the pain so you can focus on other parts of your life, and if that gives comfort and relief to people in chronic pain, so be it and it should be applauded as another helper. Pharma is afraid of natural medicine and organic eating, and we all need to realize it’s power and benefit for our overall health.

    1. I no longer some pot. I have been smoking it since the late 60s. I have made some observation smoking it. Working nights in heavy construction in the desert driving dump truck. I observed it dilates your pupils letting in more light at night allowing you to see better at night.
      Another significant side effect of pot was 12 years ago while under going treatment with cancer drugs that made me extremely nauseous. I was told try pot. I tried pot after one treatment and it was amazing. Just one hit to fill my lungs with the smoke and instantly the nausea was gone, it was amazing. That stuff you hear about it being so good with pain is in my experience and observation nonsense, it does not do anything for pain. It is more like alcohol in that respect, you don’t care your in pain but still in pain.

      1. Steve Simth or Smith, whatever your handle is, you’re clearly a BOT. or writing from the basement of a CCP government chat room.

        1. Have smoked on and off for 40 years..mainly due to a accident at age 17 where I broke nearly every bone on my right side from ankle to shoulder. 28 fractures total. Eight surgeries since to make “additional repairs”. Some were intensive. They usually prescribe Morphine or Lora-tab 10s. I have found partaking of a little good MJ, usually one or two puffs, after around 10 minutes, you realize the pain is still there, but you had stopped paying attention to it. No longer focusing on it. You could simply ignore it. And the benefit? Not taking strong pain medicines, that either knock you out or bind up your bowels like concrete. It is legal for medical use in many states in the US. My Doctor said if it was possible, he would prescribe it for patients with sever pain or arthritis….recovering currently from another surgery, wheelchair bound. Still have all the pain meds prescribed. Organic is the way to works..

  2. Some 40 years ago I was gold minnig and believe at the end of of day your body. ached. I was smoking pot and the end of the day I still hurt but I didn’t care. 30 years ago id was working nights doing heavy highway construction in the desert. I discoveries I know its wrong but It wears my truck and it was the desert-no traffic to speak of. I first observation working and smoking nights was that my eyes did dilate and let more light in there for I saw better in the night. 12 years ago I was not smoking pot any more, just got tired of it. I have to take some cancer drugs for a year that made me throw up all the time. It was suggested I smoke pot it would help with jet side efect. I was amazed, the first drag I took off of the joint the nausea totally was gone like a light switch. I didn’t even need to “suffer” the side effects of pot unless I wanted to keep smoking the joint. I never believed Pot did any thing for pain and I still don’t.
    But hey Im not trying to push any thing here just saying its effective for cancer drug nausea and night vision, Im just a old experience pot user reminiscing my past experiences with pot.

  3. This is laughable at how wrong it is. My Pelvic nerve damage knows better. My IBS knows better. Ever have a bad stomach and terrible Back end issues. Smoke one hit of MJ and bam. Problem gone.

    Sometimes these studies are so clearly flawed its laughable. This one clearly is skewed for big pharma. So laughable. Study finds you have lost my respect.

  4. The pain relief benefit was always a step to get closer to recreational cannabis, the end goal being complete legalization of marijuana. What can’t be done all at once can often be done over time…..that applies to most anything………money drives both big pharma and the legalization of marijuana…….where either is helpful enough to overcome it’s negatives is secondary to big bucks…….

  5. Wonder who could possibly be behind these weekly articles saying cannabis isn’t actually as good as the very expensive and very profitable medicines made by pharmaceutical companies…? Who could it be?

  6. Agree with above comments. I know it works for me and I know many many others it works for.I would even venture to say that the author of this article does not have a personal clue. Gen z is my guess.

    1. Marijuana works about the same as opiods. While it doesn’t decrease the pain level it makes you feel better mentally. There is no placebo effect unless they are testing on people who have no idea about marijuana. A sugar pill can in no way produce the same high.

  7. Placebos had the same affect when compared to other meds, too. If you have pain, you know what works and you also know what you *don’t want to take*: Big Pharma’s poison.

  8. Was this a study that involved smoked cannabis? The article never says what form of cannabis was used. If it was smoked cannabis, how do you make a placebo? Wouldn’t the placebo smell and taste differently than the real product?

    1. Yeah, 100mg of activated THC is what I need, and it is miraculous! I’m a father of 4, happily married for 18 years, church every Sunday and Wednesday. Teach Sunday School. Don’t tell me cannabis is harmful! I publish scientific literature regularly… A serious degenerative disc patient here, and I testify that cannabis is a gift from God.

  9. The real science that is never being done is focusing on the placebo effect and how we can utilize it, harness it, focus it. We obviously have the power within us to do some amazing things without the need for external cures. From pain therapy, cures for baldness, cancer treatment, etc. Hell, even if its a drug boost the placebo effect.

    1. I smoked for 55 yrs and it make me more sensitive to pain and the government requirements for CBD are so low they don’t do a thing.

  10. I didn’t see anywhere in the article talking about Hemp and CBD. Unless they address the true issue, this is a BS article.

  11. In the year 2737 BC, history first recorded Chinese Culture using cannabis for pain Relief.
    CBDs need a small to moderate amount of THC joined together.
    From a Chemistry standpoint: the THC acts as an Antagonist to the CBDs and that compound is where the benefits/magic happens.
    CBD use has to be ongoing because it is cumulative and after a couple of weeks of daily use the body heals and changes.
    It does not take much THC but I found the dispensaries are making a 50% to 50% ratio that is protected as mandatory stock. Honestly, it is probably the only medical Grade product they have.
    I do concede however, THC also can be used for Chronic Insomnia and neurological pain..

  12. These studies are using CBD alone, but the author purposefully only says marijuana in the article, to purposely mislead the reader. This is nothing more journalistic malpractice, if you could even call the writer a journalist.

  13. It’s not a physical thing anyway. It takes your pain and “puts it over there” so you can engage in life. I, however, do not suffer from severe pain. But, IMO, it wouldn’t be my first choice for severe pain

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

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

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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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