Medical Marijuana and Chronic Facial Pain

Medical marijuana (MMJ) is a promising treatment for chronic facial pain, as demonstrated by several recent studies. Anecdotally, it has proven effective against nerve pain in individual case studies. For example:

“…a patient with secondary progressive MS and severe lower limbs spasticity … was started on treatment with nabiximols. The patient also suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, which he was not treating due to inefficacy or side effects of all previously tried medications. After nabiximols initiation the patient experienced a marked benefit on trigeminal neuralgia, which completely resolved, while spasticity responded only partially to treatment. … The present case indicates that nabiximols and other cannabinoids need to be further tested for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.”1

Researchers believe that MMJ has a place in the arsenal of chronic facial pain treatments.

“Currently there is growing amount of evidence to suggest that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and individual cannabinoids may be effective in alleviating neuropathic pain and hyperalgesia. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids may prove useful in pain modulation by inhibiting neuronal transmission in pain pathways. Considering the pronounced antinociceptive effects produced by cannabinoids, they may be a promising therapeutic approach for the clinical management of trigeminal neuralgia.”2

“Taken together, these results suggest that cannabinoids may be a useful therapeutic approach for the clinical management of trigeminal neuropathic pain disorders.”2

The efficacy of MMJ as indicated by anecdotal evidence is merely a starting place, however. Researchers agree that large scale studies must be conducted to further explore the utility of MMJ.

“…most of the [pain] relief [reported] is subjective and anecdotal. Until proper clinical trials are conducted and relief is observed in blind studies, it is unlikely that tic douloureux will be considered an acceptable condition for medical marijuana treatment by the United States federal government.”3

The mandate is clear. So what is the delay in conducting large scale studies of the beneficial uses of MMJ?

“To do clinical research with marijuana, you need a DEA license, and you need to get your study approved by the FDA. When it comes to actually obtaining research-grade marijuana, though, you have to go through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a process that has proved problematic for some researchers determined to study the potential medical benefits of pot.

“‘Marijuana is a linchpin in the War on Drugs,’ explains Brad Burge, the director of communications for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Research (MAPS), an organization currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the DEA over the right to establish a medical marijuana farm. ‘There’s a lot of investment in marijuana remaining illegal.'”

“If you’re going to run a trial to show that marijuana has positive effects, the NIDA essentially is not going to allow it.”

Ferro, Shauncy. Why It’s So Hard For Scientists To Study Medical Marijuana.
Popular Science. 2013. Full text.

Another particularly odd obstacle to those clinical trials and studies is the fact that the use of MMJ as “antioxidants and neuroprotectants” is patented. Yes, patented. The US Patent Office approved and issued a patent filed by scientists Aidan J. Hampson, Julius Axelrod, and Maurizio Grimaldi, the “inventors” of this use of MMJ.

Hampson, Axelrod, and Grimaldi state4:

“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.”

That’s a pretty solid argument for the medicinal use of marijuana, and it is wholly at odds with the US government’s position that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”5 equal to that of heroin and LSD. So exactly to whom would the US government grant a patent for the medicinal use of MMJ?

Themselves. Hampson, Axelrod, and Grimaldi are a group of scientists from the National Institute of Mental Health. The patent belongs to The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the recent past, the political landscape has changed considerably as state legislators and voter referendums have decriminalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Over half of the 50 states have laws decriminalizing the use of marijuana in some form. Seven of them even allow marijuana for recreational use.  State Marijuana Laws in 2016 w/ Map

Click image for interactive map

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to MMJ research and use is the pharmaceutical industry. The drug company lobby is an immensely powerful political force. As a viable alternative to traditional pain medication, MMJ represents a serious threat to the drug companies who manufacture and sell those conventional drugs. I’ll explore that complex material in another lengthy and dedicated post, but suffice it here to say: don’t expect them to surrender their profit margin without a fight.

Your Voice

What is your position on this issue?

  • Should MMJ be legalized?
  • Do you use MMJ to manage your facial pain?
  • Do you you want to use it, but live in a state in which MMJ is still outlawed?

Please comment below and let us know where you stand.


We are currently seeking aN MMJ researcher.
If your area of interest is the progress of MMJ
legislation and research, please contact us at
[email protected]


1. Gajofatto Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2016 Jul;8:64-5. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2016.05.004. Epub 2016 May 2.
2. Liang, Huang, Hsu. Therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in trigeminal neuralgia. Curr Drug Targets CNS Neurol Disord. 2004 Dec;3(6):507-14.

3. Medical Marijuana and Tic Douloureux

4. Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. US Patent 6630507B1

5. US Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug scheduling.

For further reading:

Pain Management Without Side Effects: Curing a Schedule II Habit with a Schedule I Plant
Using Marijuana to Overcome Face Pain
60 Peer-Reviewed Studies on Medical Marijuana