Study: Nearly Half of Medical Cannabis Users Cease Using Opioids for Pain After Twelve Months

Toronto, Canada: Patients authorized to use medical cannabis for pain significantly reduce or eliminate their use of opioids over time, according to longitudinal data published in the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia

A team of Canadian investigators assessed patterns of self-reported opioid consumption in a cohort of authorized medical cannabis patients who suffered from pain-related issues. Consistent with numerous other studies, researchers reported that many subjects tapered their use of opioids following medical cannabis initiation. “The proportion of individuals who reported using opioids decreased by half” over a period of twelve months, they determined. 

In addition, subjects’ “pain intensity and pain-related interference scores were reduced and [their] quality of life and general health symptom scores were improved compared with baseline.” Authors also noted that many subjects switched from consuming herbal cannabis to ingesting oil extracts over the course of the trial. 

Authors concluded: “Over time, individuals who continued consuming cannabis within this longitudinal study reported lower pain severity and pain interference scores, as well as improved quality of life and general health symptoms scores. … [B]eneficial effects of cannabis appear to persist long-term and tolerance may not become a significant issue for patients on a stable regimen. … [T]he proportion of patients using opioids at each follow-up was decreased, … suggesting an opioid-sparing effect with cannabis use. … Our data speaks to the need for robust clinical trials, given the overall increase in opioid cessation for those that remained on cannabis.

The study comes only weeks after separate longitudinal data, also from Canada, reported that patients prescribed opioids reduce their mean opioid dosage by over 70 percent following the use of medical cannabis.

Commenting on the findings, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The data to date is consistent and persuasive. For many pain patients, cannabis offers a viable alternative to opioids, potentially improving their quality of life while possessing a superior safety profile.”

Full text of the study, “Patient-reported outcomes in those consuming medical cannabis: A prospective longitudinal observational study in chronic pain patients,” appears in the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia. Additional information is available in the NORML fact sheet, “Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.”