Researchers asked 42 recreational marijuana smokers to place one hand in extremely cold water until they could no longer tolerate the pain. They did this twice: Once after smoking marijuana and once after puffing on a placebo.
After smoking marijuana, men reported they were significantly less sensitive to pain. They were also more able tolerate pain.
While women reported they were somewhat more able to tolerate pain after smoking marijuana, it brought them no significant pain relief.
Despite the differences in pain relief, men and women had similar levels of intoxication after smoking marijuana.
The findings come at a time when more people are turning to medical marijuana for pain relief.
"This study underscores the importance of including both men and women in clinical trials aimed at understanding the potential therapeutic and negative effects of cannabis, particularly as more people use cannabinoid products for recreational or medical purposes," said study author Ziva Cooper. She is an associate professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City.
More research is needed to understand the factors affecting marijuana's pain-relieving effects, including its strength and whether it is smoked or taken by mouth.
The study, recently published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cooper has received funding from INSYS Therapeutics Inc and is a consultant to KannaLife Sciences and PharmaCann, LLC. Fellow study author Margaret Haney has received funding from INSYS Therapeutics Inc. and from Aelis Farma. The companies are commercial sellers of medical marijuana.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about marijuana.
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