Can cannabis medicines ease oral cancer pain?

UCLA dentistry team gets $5 million for non-addictive synthetic cannabinoid.


Dr. Igor Spigelman, chair of the biosystems and function section at UCLA School of Dentistry, has secured a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The grant supports a five-year research project to create a non-addictive cannabis-based pain medicine for oral cancer patients.

This collaborative study involves researchers from UCLA’s dental school, chemistry and biochemistry department, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences department, and New York University. The project aligns with the national goal of reducing opioid misuse and addiction while improving pain management.

Synthetic cannabinoids, artificial chemicals meant as a marijuana alternative, affect receptors outside the brain. Unlike natural medicinal cannabis, which can have side effects and addictive properties, these lab-made compounds can be created without causing addiction.

“We’re working on creating new medications to relieve cancer pain without causing addiction,” said Spigelman, who also oversees the oral biology doctoral program at the school. “Our lab-made compounds offer a promising solution for easing the chronic pain experienced by oral cancer patients, improving their quality of life without affecting mental clarity, coordination, or memory.”

Prior research by the team showed that these compounds effectively reduce cancer and chemotherapy-related pain without causing patients to build up a tolerance to the medication.

Once the drug is perfected, Spigelman’s team intends to request permission from the Food and Drug Administration for a Phase I clinical trial.

This study explores the potential of cannabis-based medications to manage pain in oral cancer patients. Assessing their effectiveness and safety, it aims to contribute to developing more comprehensive and patient-centered approaches to oral cancer pain management.

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