Chronic Pain Patients Prefer Marijuana To Opiate Painkillers, Study Says

By Victoria Kim 03/24/16

Studies suggest that cannabis use by chronic pain patients can reduce opioid use and also increase quality of life.

Chronic Pain Patients Prefer Marijuana To Opiate Painkillers, Study Says
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A study of patients with chronic pain has demonstrated, yet again, that for many people, cannabis is a more than feasible alternative to opioid pain medication like OxyContin and Vicodin.

The new study, published this month in The Journal of Pain, conducted a retrospective survey of 244 chronic pain patients—all of whom were qualified medical cannabis patients under Michigan law. 

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor researchers found that among patients with chronic pain who have access to legal cannabis, cannabis use was associated with a significant decrease in opioid use, an increased quality of life, and fewer side effects and medications used. 

“This study suggests that many chronic pain patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for chronic pain treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications,” the study authors concluded.

This suggestion is profound and certainly is significant, as daily reports related to rising heroin and painkiller abuse circulate in the news.

NORML’s Paul Armentano provides a comprehensive review of past studies that have produced similar or relevant findings related to the relationship between medical cannabis and pain relief, and what they mean for chronic pain patients using opioid painkillers.

One such study, published February in The Clinical Journal of Pain, concluded that daily, long-term cannabis use is associated with improved pain relief and reduced opioid use in patients with treatment-resistant chronic pain conditions.

Last year, a study conducted by Columbia University researchers found that patients detoxing from opioids experienced significantly reduced withdrawal symptoms after being given dronabinol, a man-made compound that contains cannabinoids found in cannabis.

And another study, published last year in The Journal of Pain, found that over a four year period, patients who used cannabis to treat chronic pain did not experience more serious side effects than those who didn’t. Instead, cannabis use was associated with significant improvement in pain levels, mood and quality of life compared to the control group. 

The impact of cannabis on opioid overdose mortality has been studied as well. A 2014 analysis, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, sought to determine the relationship between the presence of state medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality. By using a time-series analysis of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in all 50 U.S. states from 1999 to 2010, the researchers found that states that had approved medical cannabis “had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” 

From here, the Michigan researchers say “rigorous, longitudinal studies” are needed to confirm their findings, and to further assess how chronic pain patients use cannabis for pain management. More research is needed, but so far there seems to be no good argument against allowing individuals to have access to cannabis as an alternative to pills.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr