Oral Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Increases Parasympathetic Activity and Supraspinal Conditioned Pain Modulation in Chronic Neuropathic Pain Male Patients: A Crossover, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

Libat Weizman, Haggai Sharon, Lior Dayan, Joumana Espaniol, Silviu Brill, Hadas Nahman-Averbuch, Talma Hendler, Giris Jacob*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Disordered autonomic nervous system regulation and supraspinal pain inhibition have been repeatedly described in chronic pain. We aimed to explore the effects of δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an emerging treatment option, on autonomic nervous system and central pain modulation measures in patients with chronic pain. Methods: Twelve male patients with chronic radicular neuropathic pain participated in a randomized, double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled, single-administration trial. Low/high frequency (LF/HF) heart rate variability (HRV) ratio and conditioned pain modulation (CPM) response were measured and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed at baseline and after sublingual administration of either 0.2 mg/kg oral THC or placebo. Results: THC significantly reduced the LF/HF ratio compared with placebo (interaction effect F(1,11) = 20.5; p < 0.005) and significantly improved CPM responses (interaction effect F(1,9) = 5.2; p = 0.048). The THC-induced reduction in LF/HF ratio correlated with increased functional connectivity between the rostral ventrolateral medulla and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [T(10) = 6.4, cluster p-FDR < 0.005]. Conclusions: THC shifts the autonomic balance towards increased parasympathetic tone and improves inhibitory pain mechanisms in chronic pain. The increase in vagal tone correlates with connectivity changes in higher-order regulatory brain regions, suggesting THC exerts top-down effects. These changes may reflect a normalizing effect of THC on multiple domains of supraspinal pain dysregulation. Clinical Trial Registry Number: NCT02560545.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-385
Number of pages11
JournalCNS Drugs
Volume38
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2024

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