Medical Cannabis Use and Inflammatory Cytokines and Chemokines Among Adult Chronic Pain Patients


Prabjit Ajrawat, Yi Yang, Ewa Wasilewski, Timothy Leroux, Karim S. Ladha, Anuj Bhatia, Mandeep Singh, Sonalben Thaker, Mohit Kapoor, Andrea D. Furlan, Lakshmi P. Kotra, and Hance Clarke


November 4, 2022


Background: Utilizing cannabis as a therapeutic option for chronic pain (CP) has increased significantly. However, data regarding the potential immunomodulatory effects of cannabis in CP patients remain scarce. We aimed at exploring the relationship between cannabis use and inflammatory cytokines and chemokines among a cohort of CP patients.

Methods: Adult patients with a CP diagnosis and medical authorization of cannabis were enrolled. Patients completed validated clinical questionnaires and self-reported the effectiveness of cannabis for symptom management. Patients’ blood and cannabis samples were analyzed for the presence of four major cannabinoids, two major cannabinoid metabolites, 29 different cytokines/chemokines, and cortisol. The multivariable linear regression model was used to identify cannabis and patient factors associated with immune markers.

Results: Fifty-six patients (48±15 years; 64% females) were included, with dried cannabis (53%) being the most common type of cannabis consumed. Seventy percent of products were considered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC)-dominant. The majority of patients (96%) self-reported effective pain management, and 76% reported a significant decrease in analgesic medication usage (p≤0.001). Compared with males, female patients had higher plasma levels of cannabidiol (CBD), cannabidiolic acid, Δ9-THC, and 11-hydroxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol but lower concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and 11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH). Females had significantly lower eotaxin levels (p=0.04) in comparison to male patients. The regression analysis indicated that high cannabis doses were related to increased levels of interleukin (IL)-12p40 (p=0.02) and IL-6 (p=0.01), whereas female sex was associated with decreased eotaxin (p≤0.01) concentrations. Blood CBD levels were associated with lower vascular endothelial growth factor (p=0.04) concentrations, and THC-COOH was a factor related to decreased tumor necrosis factor alpha (p=0.02) and IL-12p70 (p=0.03).

Conclusion: This study provides further support for the patient-perceived effectiveness of cannabis in managing CP symptoms and reducing analgesic medication consumption. The results suggest a potential sex difference in metabolizing cannabinoids, and the varying immune marker concentrations may support a possible immunomodulatory effect associated with patient sex and cannabis product type. These preliminary findings provide grounds for further validation using larger, well-designed studies with longer follow-up periods.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2022.0143


Ajrawat, P., Yang, Y., Wasilewski, E., Leroux, T., Ladha, K. S., Bhatia, A., … & Clarke, H. (2022). Medical Cannabis Use and Inflammatory Cytokines and Chemokines Among Adult Chronic Pain Patients. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.