A recently published retrospective study suggests medical cannabis reduces neuropathic pain without serious side effects.
Algea Care, Europe’s leading telemedicine platform for medical cannabis, conducted the study in cooperation with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.
Published in the journal Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, CLN sat down for a chat with the CEO of Algea Care, Dr. Julian Wichmann, who was also instrumental in the study’s design.
“While the study looked at it retrospectively,” says Dr. Wichmann, “Does [medical cannabis] work and the answer is, yes, it works.”
Details of the Medical Cannabis Reduces Neuropathic Pain Study
How did this study discover that medical cannabis can reduce neuropathic pain? One way was having patients report their “pain score.” At the start of the treatment, 96% said a pain score of 6 out of 10, with 10 being the most pain.
However, within six weeks of beginning medical cannabis, the reported reduction in pain score was significant. The average pain score went from 7.5 to 3.75.
Follow-up consultations with their doctor found that 90% of the patients reported reduced neuropathic pain. Over six months, 99% would eventually report improvement in their general condition.
No patient reported severe adverse effects. Patients reported dry mouth (5.4%), tiredness (4.8%), and increased appetite (2.7%).
“I think the observation data in the study that we published is crucial,” says Dr. Wichmann. “Because it shows cannabis is extremely safe and comes without any severe side effects.” Adding that the side effect of tiredness is something patients with neuropathic pain welcome.
Dr. Wichmann says sleep disorders are typical in patients suffering from pain.
So when you see these patients as a doctor, you don’t only treat them for pain; you have to treat them for a sleeping disorder, and you know traditional medicine often means at least two separate medications. Something against the pain or maybe multiple medications, but also something to help them sleep. What we saw here was that the single medication, cannabis, works well to help with both neuropathic pain but also sleeping disorders.
What About Stigma?
Like in Canada or the U.S., German doctors are hesitant about prescribing medical cannabis, whether for neuropathic pain or sleep.
“The reality of it is that probably only two percent of doctors have ever treated a patient with cannabis.”
Dr. Wichmann says stigma is what prevents many doctors from acting. However, he expects studies like this (and future ones) will turn the tide. As well as broader legalization efforts.
Still, having pharmacies dispense medical cannabis is a novel concept.
“I think there’s a stigma, but we see a lot of improvement there and therefore also see a lot of referrals of cannabis treatment,” says Dr. Wichmann.
The European Union and international obligations have curtailed Germany’s legalization efforts. Instead of broad commercial legalization, like Canada’s, the Germans will take a more low-key approach, emphasizing community gardens and non-profit cannabis clubs.
Canada had developed a similar medical cannabis system, often called “compassion clubs.” But this wasn’t a state-approved program. Since legalization, authorities have been attempting to eradicate these grassroots efforts in favour of large corporate cannabis conglomerates.
Dr. Wichmann answered negatively when asked about illicit markets in Germany and whether medical patients have to find relief there.
German (and European) health care compared to North American health care couldn’t be further apart. “We’re in an interesting situation,” says Dr. Wichmann, “where out-of-pocket cannabis from the pharmacy is already cheaper than the illicit market.”
While medical cannabis stigma exists in Germany and Europe, it’s nothing like in parts of North America, where neuropathic pain is treated with conventional medicines.
“I think that’s typical for the German health care system understanding if there’s any reason for you to take cannabis to treat even, you know, mild to moderate sleeping disorder, medical will be safe.”
What About Psychosis?
Health authorities in North America would rather discuss cannabis-induced psychosis than medical cannabis benefits like reducing neuropathic pain.
But as Dr. Wichmann points out,
There’s data showing that the number one risk for developing cannabis-induced psychosis is you have a history of psychosis, maybe even your family history, and dosage, of course, makes a big impact.. if you control for these and that’s what you can do in a medical environment, not only is it an extremely safe medication, we’re seeing that it has fewer side effects than traditional medication.
So as long as your medical cannabis:
Comes from a pharmacy, so there’s a guarantee of quality control.
You’re communicating with your doctor (“Even if it’s just a video called every four to six weeks,” says Dr. Wichmann)
It is medicinal. You’re not self-diagnosing your condition but seeing a medical doctor who can control for things like susceptibility to psychosis or cardiovascular issues that cannabis may complicate.
Of course, the study suggesting medical cannabis reduces neuropathic pain is only the beginning. As cannabis is normalized, Dr. Wichmann expects future research opportunities.
“Millions would benefit from cannabis to treat their symptoms,” he says. And thanks to changing German laws, it’ll be easier for doctors to prescribe it medicinally.