A new study suggests a pharmaceutical version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be an effective treatment for non-cardiac chest pain.
About 23% of the adult population, or 70 million Americans, experience non-cardiac chest pain at some point in their lives.
While chest pain is often related to the heart, many aren’t aware that the digestive system can be a major trigger as well. For example, acid reflux is one of the most common causes of non-cardiac chest pain.
But could taking THC help? It’s possible, according to new research from Temple University.
In a pilot study involving 13 patients, treatment with MARINOL — a pill made from pure, synthetic THC — seemed to increase pain tolerance and reduce the frequency and intensity of chest pain episodes. The pill was given twice daily over the course of four weeks.
“This novel study has promising findings in future treatment for these patients,” said study co-author Dr. Ron Schey, Associate Professor of Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine.
The study did not compare Marinol with existing treatments for chest pain, meaning that more research is still necessary. On the other hand, the way it works already seems clear.
According to Dr. Schey, THC likely works by activating cannabinoid receptors in the esophagus that decrease sensitivity to pain. The study’s findings were presented October 20 in Philadelphia at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.
Interestingly, pain management is one of the most common uses of medical marijuana. Other studies show that cannabis may alter the way the brain perceives pain signals sent from different parts of the body.
A 2013 study that compared pain relief from THC pills versus vaporized cannabis found that pills took longer to work but had a longer-lasting effect.
Even still, sufferers of non-cardiac chest pain may have to stick with their current regimen for now. Though Marinol can be prescribed for managing nausea and weight loss in cancer and HIV/AIDS, it has not been approved by the FDA for treating pain.