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A drug that contains the active ingredient of marijuana may be more effective for pain relief than the smoked form of the drug, a new study suggests. Researchers at Columbia University in New York also found the pill, dronabinol, created less of a high than smoked marijuana.

Dronabinol, which contains THC, appeared to provide longer-lasting pain relief, HealthDay reports. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea and appetite loss associated with cancer and AIDS.

The study included 30 marijuana smokers who did not have pain. The researchers compared two strengths of smoked marijuana against two strengths of dronabinol and a placebo. For each of five sessions, the participants took dronabinol and then 45 minutes later smoked marijuana.

During each session, participants placed their hands in a water bath that was just above freezing temperature. Researchers measured how long it took for them to feel pain, and how long they could tolerate the pain. The participants rated how intensely they felt the pain, and how high they felt, the article notes.

While smoked marijuana and dronabinol were found to be about equally effective at controlling pain, participants who smoked the strongest dose of marijuana or took the highest dose of dronabinol felt pain about 12 to 13 seconds later, compared with when they took a placebo.

Pain relief peaked about 15 minutes after participants smoked marijuana, and wore off rather quickly. The pills took longer to work, but provided pain relief for three to four hours. Participants also said they felt much higher after they smoked marijuana, compared with when they took dronabinol.

“If you think about it, if you’re someone who’s dealing with chronic pain, you’re going to have to be smoking several times a day, and for a lot of people that would not be feasible,” study author Ziva Cooper told HealthDay.

The study appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.


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