"No Evidence" That Medical Marijuana Works For Chronic Pain, Study Finds

By Beth Leipholtz 07/06/18

The study also found "no evidence" that marijuana use reduced prescription opioid use. 

hand holding a marijuana leaf

For those experiencing non-cancer chronic pain, medical marijuana may not be as effective as initially thought, according to a new study.

According to Medical Xpressresearchers at UNSW Sydney, who led one of the longest community studies of its kind, discovered no obvious role when it comes to cannabis for the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain.

The Pain and Opioids In Treatment (POINT) study, which took place over four years, discovered that participants who used marijuana for chronic pain reported they were “experiencing greater pain and anxiety, were coping less well with their pain, and reported that pain was interfering more in their life,” when compared to those not using medical marijuana. 

“At four-year follow-up, compared with people with no cannabis use, we found that participants who used cannabis had a greater pain severity score, for less frequent cannabis use, greater pain interference score, lower pain self-efficacy scores and greater generalized anxiety disorder severity scores,” authors wrote. “We found no evidence of a temporal relationship between cannabis use and pain severity or pain interference, and no evidence that cannabis use reduced prescribed opioid use or increased rates of opioid discontinuation.”

Researchers did not find any clear evidence that medical marijuana reduced severity of pain or had participants decrease opioid use or dosage. When it comes to medical marijuana, chronic non-cancer pain is the most common reason for use. 

The length of this study sets it apart from others, Medical Xpress points out. The POINT study recruited participants through community pharmacies, then completed an overall assessment of their level of pain, physical and mental health, and medication and marijuana use each year. 

Of the 1,514 participants, about 80% completed all the assessments, Medical Xpress states. The median number of years of chronic pain was about 10 and the number of years having taken opioids for the pain was about four. Rates of physical and mental health issues among participants were high, Medical Xpress says.

The results of the study were published in Lancet Public Health and imply there may not be as many benefits to medical marijuana as previously thought.

"Chronic non-cancer pain is a complex problem,” said lead author Dr. Gabrielle Campbell. “For most people, there is unlikely to be a single effective treatment... In our study of people living with chronic non-cancer pain who were prescribed pharmaceutical opioids, despite reporting perceived benefits from cannabis use, we found no strong evidence that cannabis use reduced participants' pain or opioid use over time."

This study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW Sydney.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.