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Nearly one third of people with chronic pain turn to cannabis – study

More than half of those surveyed said it helped them to reduce their use of other pain medications.

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Nearly one third of people with chronic pain turn to cannabis - study
Three in 10 people reported using cannabis to manage their pain.

Almost a third of patients with chronic pain reported using cannabis to manage it, according to new findings from the US. 

As more US states legalise cannabis for medical and recreational use, increasing numbers of people are experimenting with it for pain relief, a new study shows.

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed a representative sample of 1,724 adults with chronic pain living in 36 states with legal access to cannabis for medicinal purposes.

According to their findings, three in 10 people reported using cannabis to manage their pain. Most who did so, reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications including prescription opioids.

More than half of the adults surveyed reported that cannabis had led to a decrease in their use of pain medications, including prescription opioids and over-the-counter analgesics. 

Cannabis also affected the use of other non-drug related pain relief methods to various degrees. Some people indicated that cannabis led them to turn less often to techniques that many clinical guidelines recommend as first-line therapies such as physical therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), while others with chronic pain increased their use of such treatments.

Among participants 38.7% reported that their use of cannabis led to decreased use of physical therapy and 26% reported it led to decreased use of CBT. When asked about their use of meditation, 19% reported it led to decreased use of the practice, while 23.7% reported it led to increased use.

The researchers say that the high degree of substitution of cannabis with both opioid and non-opioid treatment emphasises the importance of research to clarify the effectiveness and potential adverse consequences of cannabis for chronic pain.  

“Our results suggest that state cannabis laws have enabled access to cannabis as an analgesic treatment despite knowledge gaps in use as a medical treatment for pain,” they said.

Mark Bicket, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Co-Director of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, added: “The fact that patients report substituting cannabis for pain medications so much underscores the need for research on the benefits and risk of using cannabis for chronic pain.”

Previous research on cannabis, opioids and controlled substances

This study echoes the findings of a number of other papers published in recent years.

In 2021 statewide analysis in the US showed that 61% of patients surveyed had ‘replaced’ opioids and/or benzodiazepines with cannabis. Researchers in Puerto Rico, found that patients perceive cannabis to be an effective pain management tool for musculoskeletal pain, with many believing it to be a ‘better alternative’ than opioids to attain adequate pain control.

Meanwhile in Canada, just under half of cannabis patients say the treatment has enabled them to reduce their use of other controlled substances, including opioids and alcohol.

 

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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