‘Lots of People’ Find Relief in Brittney Griner’s Same Pain Treatment, a UCLA Doctor Says

Updated: Aug. 08, 2022

U.S. medical doctors say research validates cannabis treatment for some pain management cases: "Most would agree there is reasonably good evidence."

Thursday, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for smuggling cannabis into the country. According to reports, Griner, 31, carried hashish oil in a vape pen in her luggage. In July Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges, stating that the cannabis had been provided through a doctor’s prescription to fight pain.

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What was Brittney Griner’s injury?

In August 2021, Yahoo! News reported that Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), suffered a “left lateral ankle sprain” with a minute and 38 seconds left in the game in which Phoenix beat the New York Liberty. The report suggested Griner had delivered a “showcase” performance until she “appeared to land awkwardly while contesting a shot under the basket … and could be heard on the broadcast in clear pain.” Head coach Diana Taurasi was quoted saying, “She’ll be fine. It’s a rolled ankle and we got BG’s back … she’ll be OK.”

It was six months later in February when Griner was apprehended in Russia for carrying hashish oil. Hashish is a concentrated form of cannabis, with relatively high levels of THC.

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What kind of pain is THC used to treat?

In most cases, an ankle sprain would not be likely lead to ongoing chronic pain that would warrant a THC prescription. It is not clear whether this is the injury Griner purportedly received a prescription to help treat.

However—while the medical administration of cannabis isn’t recognized under Russian law—in the U.S., pain management physicians speak to the increasing use and clinically demonstrated efficacy of THC for pain. Mark Wallace, MD, the head of the University of California San Diego Division of Pain Medicine, has been studying THC for nearly three decades and says he has integrated it into all of his pain management protocols. To be clear, Dr. Wallace says he does recommend medical marijuana to treat pain. “Seven studies recently conducted with THC at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research showed positive effects over placebo for pain,” he tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “We give patients a dosing consultation to make sure that we know what they are using, how they are using it, and how often they are using it,” he says.

Thomas B. Strouse, MD, is a pain management specialist and the Maddie Katz Professor of Palliative Care Research and Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Lots of people in the U.S. and elsewhere are using various forms of cannabis for pain,” Dr. Strouse says. “Most people would agree that there is reasonably good evidence that cannabis in some form or another can help with chronic pain.”

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How does THC relieve pain?

“THC seems to interact more strongly with cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body where it helps reduces the sensation of pain,” says Marian S. McDonagh, Pharm.D., emeritus professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, though adding: “We need studies on products that are available right here in the U.S. and are found on dispensary shelves.”

Dr. Wallace adds that THC can help improve sleep quality, which can be impaired for an individual suffering from chronic pain.

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How might female athletes’ injuries originate differently than males’?

Trainer Len Glassman, CPT, CHN, explains how an injury like Griner’s can be unique to female athletes in particular. “Women tend to have a wider range of motion in their joints than males do to begin with,” Glassman says. “As a result, women tend to have a higher incidence of ankle sprains, foot injuries or other issues causing foot and ankle pain.”

For those who seek relief in medicinal marijuana, cannabis, THC, or hashish, Dr. Wallace advises that cannabis for pain should ideally be taken under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional. “Start low and titrate slow,” he suggests, adding: “You reach a point where you have the opposite effect or worsening of your pain if the dose is too high.”

The doctors also suggest it’s important to pay attention to state laws on medicinal cannabis usage—and importantly, says Dr. Strouse, “Don’t take it to an international airport or across state lines.”

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