We assessed the efficacy of dronabinol (Marinol capsules; Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Brussels, Belgium), a synthetic Delta(9)-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in 30 patients taking opioids for chronic pain to determine its potential analgesic effects as an adjuvant treatment. Phase I of this 2-phase study was a randomized, single-dose, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial in which subjects were randomly administered either 10 mg or 20 mg of dronabinol or identical placebo capsules over the course of three, 8-hour visits. Baseline self-report measures, hourly ratings of pain intensity, pain relief, pain bothersomeness, treatment satisfaction, mood, side effects, and blood serum levels were obtained. Phase II was an extended open-label titrated trial of dronabinol as add-on medication to patients on stable doses of opioids. Results of the Phase I study showed that patients who received dronabinol experienced decreased pain intensity and increased satisfaction compared with placebo. No differences in benefit were found between the 20 mg and 10 mg doses. In the Phase II trial, titrated dronabinol contributed to significant relief of pain, reduced pain bothersomeness, and increased satisfaction compared with baseline. The incidence of side effects was dose-related. Overall, the use of dronabinol was found to result in additional analgesia among patients taking opioids for chronic noncancer pain.
Perspective: This study examines the effect of adding a cannabinoid to the regimen of patients with chronic pain who report significant pain despite taking stable doses of opioids. The results of our preliminary study suggest that dronabinol, a synthetic THC, may have an additive effect on pain relief.