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Cannabis and chronic pain – what the latest research says



Chronic pain affects more than 40 per cent of the UK population

Almost half of people in the UK experience some form of chronic pain – can medical cannabis help?

Chronic pain is a problem that isn’t going away – and it’s also one of the most expensive problems the NHS faces. 

Recent research by The British Pain Society suggests that the issue affects more than 40 per cent of the UK population, meaning that around 26 million people are living with pain that has lasted three months or longer. 

The British Medical Journal has even suggested that this could rise to as much as 60 per cent among those over the age of 75.

Traditionally, the only solution for sufferers was to try one prescription drug after another, at a huge cost. For example, the associated treatment for these patients is estimated to account for 4.6 million GP appointments, which alone costs around £69m.

Clearly, this is unsustainable for both sufferers and the system – but what’s the alternative?

Cannabis has long been known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, and a number of recent studies suggest it could be beneficial for long-term conditions too.

For example, Cannabis Health recently reported that researchers at the University of Sydney have been awarded US$1.7 million to research the chronic pain that often occurs after spinal cord injury.

The study’s lead investigator Professor Luke Henderson teamed up with cannabinoid, neuroinflammation and spinal injury experts to test the hypothesis that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main and non-intoxicating compounds found in cannabis, could be an effective treatment option.

Professor Henderson said: “We will be able to explore for the first time, the effects of CBD on brain function in chronic pain and our ability to determine the relationship between changes in pain and brain structure and function associated with CBD.”

Meanwhile, in July 2020 we also reported on an Israeli study that found that microdoses of THC  can deliver effective pain reduction.

The study, published in the European Journal of Pain, is the first scientific confirmation that using extremely low doses of active drug compounds to treat various conditions works with cannabis, without the high associated with the psychoactive element.

Most recently, in December, a study of Canadian medical cannabis patients found that its use reduced the use of prescription painkillers and improved quality of life. 

The research found that, at the start of the six-month study, 28 per cent of participants were using opiate-based painkillers, which dropped to 11 per cent at the end. Furthermore, the amount of opiate used daily reduced by 78 per cent even in those who continued to use the prescription drugs.

Such findings are also good new for tackling the UK’s increasing addiction crisis; around 540,000 Britons are thought to be addicted to opioids.

In the USA, data suggests that prescribing cannabis could also help prevent around 31 per cent of deaths linked to opioid addiction each year.

While further research is needed, the early signs are promising, for patients, the heath service and society as a whole.

CBD would appear to provide a non-toxic and non-addictive alternative to many traditional medications, which all too often are ineffective and accompanied by troubling side effects. 


Cannabis Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. All content on this site is intended for educational purposes, please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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