The world of medical cannabis is heading full-steam ahead towards the same high-THC strains and products that form the backbone of the recreational marijuana market, and this may mean that some pain sufferers aren’t getting the right medicine they need. 

A study, entitled “Mapping cannabis potency in medical and recreational programs in the United States,” asserts that the tendency to push for higher potency THC across the board could have an adverse effect on patients dealing specifically with neuropathic pain. The study’s authors stress that research has shown that neuropathy is best treated with low-THC cannabis at a concentration of around 5-10%. 


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Researchers carried out the study by comparing a total of 8,505 cannabis products across 653 dispensaries on the West Coast and East Coast (we should have studied science in college). They found that the average THC concentration advertised for medicinal programs (19.2% ±6.2) was similar to that of recreational programs (21.5% ±6.0).

You don’t need a Ph.D. to come to the conclusion that “both recreational and medicinal programs in various and diverse regions of the country are contributing to and reflecting the national trend towards increasing potency of cannabis.” 

The study states that the average THC concentration found in the samples from all states was 2-3 times what they say is “the THC content known to be efficacious in the treatment of pain (i.e. >5–10%),” and that “these stated concentrations seem unsuitable for medicinal purposes, particularly for patients with chronic neuropathic pain.”

The study does not relate to how high-THC products could affect the treatment of other forms of pain.  

Chronic pain is the most common reason people use medical marijuana. One highly-cited study from 2008 found that smoking cannabis can provide significant relief from neuropathic pain when patients took doses of cannabis with 3.5% or 7% THC. Another study, from 2019 found that “cannabis flower with moderate to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol is an effective mid-level analgesic.”

A study from 2007 found that smoked cannabis “was demonstrated to have a delayed biphasic effect on pain,” and tested smokers using cannabis that ranged from 2% THC to the “high dose” weed, which had 8% THC.

Reading these studies also indicates that your average laboratory researcher in the US may think that 8% THC is “high potency.” Someone, please tell them the year is 2020. 

At the core of the researchers’ concern in the report published this week appears to be their assertion that high-THC products are more likely to result in “cannabis intoxication” (ok, we’re listening) and could result in dependence and abuse for users whose intention is only to achieve relief from pain. 

“Such undesirable adverse effects may lead to a perception of treatment failure in patients who have already failed traditional pain management therapies, while dependence may potentiate the long-term use of high potency cannabis,” the study found. 

That said, they do admit that the inability to confirm the accuracy of reported THC and CBD is undoubtedly a limitation of this study. 

In conclusion, the researchers assert that medicinal marijuana producers lean towards the same high-THC products that are popular for recreational use and “which are not adequate for medical use and could contribute to risky misconceptions towards medicinal cannabis.”

They also call on states to consider working with healthcare professionals to develop a better legal framework for medical cannabis across the United States.

And what have the International High Life labs confirmed? (not really a lab, more of the dining area of a Jimmy John’s) They have confirmed that there are many types of pain that people treat with cannabis – both high and low-THC strains.

And while peer-tested scientific research is certainly insightful and should be what guides your treatment, there’s something to be said for anecdotal evidence and for just listening to what patients say, and letting them give testimony to how effective their medicine is.