Chronic pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the pancreas, is a medical concern that impacts millions of people each year. Traditionally, the pain associated with pancreatitis has been treated with powerful painkillers – many of which may have unpleasant and potentially fatal risks. Recent research, however, points to a possible solution that provides adequate relief without the risk. This solution is medical marijuana, which represents an adjunctive therapy option that may hold the keys to improved patient outcomes.
The pancreas is a gland in the human abdomen, and is located behind the stomach. It serves to provide enzymes for effective food digestion and to regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition; when the pancreas becomes inflamed, it may result in a buildup of enzymes that may lead to damage to the organ itself.
Pancreatitis is characterized by symptoms like:
Pancreatitis, either acute or chronic forms, can arise from a wide variety of causes, including gallbladder disease, alcohol use, cigarette use, viruses, blockage of pancreatic ducts, and high levels of calcium in the bloodstream.
If left untreated, the pancreas can become compromised, leading to more serious medical concerns and even death.
Conducted by researchers in the gastroenterology and hepatology department of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, the link between medical cannabis and pancreatitis was explored. In the study, which was published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, patients currently using opioid-based pain medications were assessed. The patients in the study were grouped according to their enrollment or non-enrollment in state-sponsored medical cannabis programs.
Researchers used objective measurements, such as hospital admission rates and morphine equivalent dose (MED) information to gauge the variations in pain levels experienced by the study’s patient cohort. Patients enrolled in medical cannabis programs experienced a substantial decrease in MED – using less opioids to treat pancreatitis pain – than their counterparts who were not using cannabis. The cannabis-using patients also experienced fewer hospital admissions and emergency room visits than their opioid-only counterparts. While the study was limited by the size of the patient groups, the research did suggest that medical cannabis may be an effective adjunctive therapy for treating pain associated with chronic pancreatitis. Further investigation is warranted by the study, and researchers are eager to continue exploration of this factor in helping patients afflicted with painful pancreatitis conditions.
Of the many active chemical compounds found in cannabis, there is one of special interest to medical researchers. This is a compound called cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is not psychoactive; in other words, it does not contribute to the “high” sensation that cannabis users often seek. In limited clinical studies, CBD has been shown to reduce pain levels and inflammation and has been used for numerous medical conditions to treat symptoms.
For patients with pancreatitis, CBD may offer substantial anti-inflammatory effects. It may also lower the pain frequency and intensity experienced by pancreatitis sufferers. Emerging evidence also suggests that medical cannabis may be beneficial for patients struggling with pancreatic cancer and other pancreas disorders. As mentioned earlier, pain is often treated with pain-relieving medications, many of which have a high risk for potential abuse and significant overdose rates. CBD, then, represents a potentially safer alternative, allowing patients to lead normal lives free of the pain and discomfort they experience as a result of acute or chronic pancreatitis.