Study: Cannabis Associated with Reduced Opioid Use, Prolonged Benefits in Pain Patients

Medical Marijuana

The daily use of cannabis by patients with chronic pain conditions is associated with prolonged improvements in pain management and subjects’ overall quality of life, as well as sustained reductions in the use of opioids, according to longitudinal data published in the journal Pain Medicine.

A team of Canadian researchers assessed the short-term and long-term impacts of medical cannabis treatment in 751 chronic pain subjects. Participants in the study consumed cannabis daily for a period of 12 months. Sixty percent of subjects reported having no previous experience with cannabis prior to their involvement in the study.

Investigators observed clinically significant improvements in patients’ pain severity “as early as one month after initiating treatment and [these improvements] were maintained over the course of the 12-month observation period.” In addition, patients’ “reported frequencies of fatigue, headaches, feelings of anxiety, and nausea decreased compared with baseline.”

Patients who were taking opioids prior to their enrollment in the study reduced their daily intake of opiates over the trial period — a finding that is consistent with those of several other longitudinal studies, such as those herehere, and here. Investigators observed initial reductions in patients’ opioid consumption at three months. Patients further reduced their opioid intake at six months and again at twelve months.

Authors concluded, “Taken together, the results of this study add to the cumulative evidence in support of plant-based MC (medical cannabis) as a safe and effective treatment option and potential opioid substitute or augmentation therapy for the management of chronic pain symptomatology and quality of life.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These outcomes add to the growing body of literature supportive of the therapeutic use of cannabis as an opioid-sparing analgesic agent.”

The abstract of the study, “Medical cannabis for the management of pain and quality of life in chronic pain patients: A prospective observational study,” appears in Pain Medicine. Additional information is available in the NORML fact-sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.’