Efficacy of Dronabinol for Acute Pain Management in Adults with Traumatic Injury : Study Protocol of A Randomized Controlled Trial
Claire Swartwood, Kristin Salottolo, Robert Madayag, David Bar-Or
Brain Sciences, 2020, 10, 161, 1-9.
Doi : 10.3390/brainsci10030161
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC) and other cannabinoids present in cannabis (marijuana) have been shown to affect the normal inhibitory pathways that influence nociception in humans. The potential benefits of cannabinoids as an analgesic are likely greatest in hyperalgesic and inflammatory states, suggesting a role as a therapeutic agent for treating acute pain following injury. Dronabinol is a licensed form of D9-THC. The primary objective of this single center randomized controlled trial is to evaluate the efficacy of adjunctive dronabinol versus control (systemic analgesics only, no dronabinol) for reducing opioid consumption in adults with traumatic injury. Study inclusion is based on high baseline utilization of opioids 50 morphine equivalents (mg) within 24 h of admission for adults aged 18–65 years with traumatic injury. There is a 48-hour screening period followed by a 48-hour treatment period after randomization. A total of 122 patients will be randomized 1:1 across 2 study arms: adjunctive dronabinol versus control (standard of care using systemic analgesics, no adjunctive dronabinol). Patients randomized to the dronabinol arm should receive their first dose within 12 h of randomization, with a dose range of 5 mg up to 30 mg daily in divided doses, in addition to systemic analgesics as needed for pain. The primary efficacy endpoint is a change in opioid consumption (morphine equivalents), assessed post-randomization (48 h after randomization) minus pre-randomization (24 h prior to randomization). This is the first randomized trial to investigate whether adjunctive dronabinol is effective in reducing opioid consumption in acute pain management of traumatic injury.
Trial Registration : ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier : NCT03928015.
Keywords : Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; dronabinol; marijuana; randomized controlled trial;
opioids; traumatic injury
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC) and other cannabinoids present in cannabis (marijuana)
have been shown to affect the normal inhibitory pathways that influence nociception in humans.
Cannabinoids act through the binding of two cannabinoid receptors coupled through G proteins; CB1
receptors are predominantly found at central and peripheral nerve terminals, where they mediate
transmitter release, while CB2 receptors are highly expressed throughout the immune system .
The evidence demonstrating a therapeutic effect of THC and cannabis-based medications is still emerging but is well established for treating chronic pain based on three influential peer-reviewed publications [2–4]. These publications also provide conclusive evidence for a therapeutic effect of cannabis-based medications as anti-emetics and for multiple sclerosis symptoms. There is moderate evidence for improving sleep outcomes associated with sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. There is insufficient or low-quality evidence in all remaining conditions that have been studied. For instance, there is a dearth of research on cannabinoid use for acute pain management. A 2017 systematic review identified seven randomized controlled trials (RCT) assessing the analgesic efficacy of cannabinoid medications for acute pain . Of these studies, five RCTs demonstrated that cannabinoids were equivalent to placebo, in one RCT cannabinoids were superior to placebo, and in one RCT cannabinoids were inferior to placebo. These limited and inconsistent data justify the necessity to perform additional studies on the analgesic effects of cannabinoids for acutely painful conditions.
Patients commonly experience severe, acute pain following traumatic injury that is treated with analgesics, particularly opiates. The antinociceptive properties of cannabinoids may be greatest in hyperalgesic and inflammatory states, suggesting a therapeutic role for treating pain following injury . Moreover, pre-clinical studies support a potential role of D9-THC and cannabinoids as an adjunctive agent to opioids in painful conditions, via synergistic enhancement of mu opioid antinociception as well as the prevention of tolerance to and withdrawal from opiates [7–9].
Recently published preliminary clinical research from our group examined the effect of adjunctive dronabinol for acute pain management among 66 trauma patients . Cases demonstrated a significant reduction in opioid consumption (morphine equivalents) from baseline with adjunctive dronabinol
(-79 mg, p < 0.001), while the change in opioid consumption for matched controls was unchanged
from baseline (-9 mg, p = 0.63), resulting in a nine-fold greater reduction in opioid consumption for
cases versus controls that was significantly different between pairs (difference: -70 mg, p = 0.02). There
were no differences in secondary outcomes. These results suggest that adjunctive dronabinol used as
part of a multimodal analgesia regimen may result in a marked reduction in opioid consumption
Two subset analyses of this matched cohort study provide mixed evidence that the opioid sparing effect of dronabinol may be greater in patients who are marijuana users. Among the subset of 19 cases who were marijuana users, opioid consumption was significantly reduced with adjunctive dronabinol (-97 mg, p < 0.001) versus no change in opioid consumption in 19 matched controls (1 mg, p = 0.70), with a difference between pairs that was significant: -108 mg, p = 0.01) . However, when examining the subset of patients who received dronabinol, there were no differences in the change in opioid consumption for patients who were marijuana users (n = 21, -97 mg reduction with dronabinol) compared to non-marijuana users (n = 15, -64 mg reduction with dronabinol), p = 0.41 (unpublished).
We are recruiting patients in a RCT to evaluate the efficacy of adjunctive dronabinol on opioid utilization for acute pain management. The primary trial objective is to evaluate the efficacy of adjunctive dronabinol versus control (systemic analgesics only, no dronabinol) for reduction in opioid consumption in adults with traumatic injury. Dronabinol is a licensed form of D9-THC. Dronabinol is not FDA approved for acute pain management; however, it has been in use at our level I trauma center system formulary without restriction since 2015.