While users claim the drug’s effectiveness in relieving pain, there has been limited experimental human study on the drug’s real effectiveness. However, a recent study performed by University experts offers light on Hemp’s ability to alleviate pain and the potential impact of the placebo effect on pain results.
“For scientists and the general public, the question remained whether the pain alleviation claimed by Hemp users is due to pharmacological or placebo effects,” says Martin De Vita, a researcher in the College of Arts and Sciences’ psychology department. “That is a reasonable concern, as we know that simply informing someone that a chemical has the potential to alleviate their pain might result in significant changes in their pain sensitivity. This is referred to as the anticipation effect.”
De Vita, in collaboration with Stephen Maisto, a research professor and emeritus professor of psychology, were particularly qualified to address that specific subject. Together with colleague lab member and PhD student Dezarie Moskal, the pair previously conducted the first systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies on the effects of cannabis medicines on pain.
Their investigation, which was the first to explore Hemp in an experimental pain trial, produced consistent and remarkable results. Among other findings, the data indicated that while Hemp and expectation of receiving Hemp do not appear to lower the intensity of experimental pain, they do make it feel less unpleasant.
De Vita and Maisto employed advanced technology that safely generates experimental thermal pain, allowing them to monitor the recipient’s nervous system’s reaction and response. “Then we deliver a medicine, such as pure Hemp, or a placebo and observe how their pain responses vary in reaction to the material administered,” De Vita explains.
The researchers then took it a step further by changing the information individuals were provided regarding the medicines they received. Participants were occasionally informed they received Hemp when they actually received a placebo or were told they would receive a placebo when they actually received Hemp.
“That way, we can determine whether it was the medicine itself that alleviated the pain or the expectation that they had received the drug,” De Vita explains. “We predicted that we would detect mostly placebo analgesia produced by expectation (pain relief). What we discovered, however, after measuring various distinct types of pain, is that it is actually a combination of the two. That is, we saw improvements in pain measures as a result of both the pharmacological effects of Hemp and the psychological benefits of simply anticipating receiving Hemp. It was quite astonishing and unexpected.”
“The data are fascinating but complicated in that different pain measurements responded differentially to the drug effect, to anticipation, or to both the drug and expectancy — we’re still figuring out what’s driving the differential data with different types of pain measures,” Maisto explained. “The next step will be to investigate the processes underlying these findings and to determine why giving instructions or Hemp induces specific responses to a pain input.”
The majority of people view pain as a toggle switch; you either have it or you don’t. However, as De Vita explains it, pain is a multidimensional phenomena influenced by psychological and biological variables.
For instance, while pain intensity indicates the “sensory” dimension of pain, unpleasantness reflects the “affective” or emotional dimension of pain. “If you think of pain as noxious noise emanating from a radio, the volume might indicate the agony’s severity, while the station can represent its quality,” De Vita explains.
While the results of his earlier study indicated that cannabinoids did not reduce the intensity of pain, they did “change the channel, making it a little less unpleasant.” De Vita asserts “It is not nice to be surrounded by brightness and rainbows, but something little less vexing. We reproduced that finding in this study and discovered that while Hemp and expectations did not significantly reduce the magnitude of pain, they did make it less unpleasant — they were less bothered by it.”
De Vita and Maisto created improved experimental pain assessment techniques as part of the study “to open the hood and look at some of these other molecular pain mechanisms,” De Vita said. “It is not simply pain, yes or no; there are more dimensions to pain, and it would be fascinating to learn which ones are being targeted. We discovered that while the pharmacological effects of Hemp occasionally reduced some of those, the expectancies did not. Occasionally, they both did it. Occasionally, it was only the anticipation. Thus, we went into this expecting to find primarily expectancy-induced pain alleviation, but what we discovered was far more nuanced, which is interesting.”
Another critical factor to examine is the source of the Hemp. “We used pure Hemp isolate oil in our investigation,” De Vita explains. “Because commercially available Hemp products vary in amount and purity, results may vary amongst Hemp products, depending on the additional components they may or may not contain.”