Dronabinol and chronic pain: importance of mechanistic considerations

Marjan de Vries, Dagmar C M van Rijckevorsel, Oliver H G Wilder-Smith, Harry van Goor
Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy 2014, 15 (11): 1525-34

INTRODUCTION: Although medicinal cannabis has been used for many centuries, the therapeutic potential of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC; international non-proprietary name = dronabinol) in current pain management remains unclear. Several pharmaceutical products with defined natural or synthesized Δ9-THC content have been developed, resulting in increasing numbers of clinical trials investigating the analgesic efficacy of dronabinol in various pain conditions. Different underlying pain mechanisms, including sensitization of nociceptive sensory pathways and alterations in cognitive and autonomic processing, might explain the varying analgesic effects of dronabinol in chronic pain states.

AREAS COVERED: The pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and mechanisms of action of products with a defined dronabinol content are summarized. Additionally, randomized clinical trials investigating the analgesic efficacy of pharmaceutical cannabis based products are reviewed for the treatment of chronic nonmalignant pain.

EXPERT OPINION: We suggest a mechanism-based approach beyond measurement of subjective pain relief to evaluate the therapeutic potential of dronabinol in chronic pain management. Development of objective mechanistic diagnostic biomarkers reflecting altered sensory and cognitive processing in the brain is essential to evaluate dronabinol induced analgesia, and to permit identification of responders and/or non-responders to dronabinol treatment.

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