By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Chronic pain patients with legal access to medicinal cannabis significantly decrease their use of opioids, according to data published online ahead of print in The Journal of Pain.
Investigators at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor conducted a retrospective survey of 244 chronic pain patients. All of the subjects in the survey were qualified under Michigan law to consume medicinal cannabis and frequented an area dispensary to obtain it.
Authors reported that respondents often substituted cannabis for opiates and that many rated marijuana to be more effective.
"Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life," they concluded. "This study suggests that many chronic pain patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for chronic pain treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications."
About 40 people die daily from opioid overdoses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
Clinical trial data published last month in The Clinical Journal of Painreported that daily, long-term herbal cannabis treatment is associated with improved pain relief, sleep and quality of life outcomes, as well as reduced opioid use, in patients unresponsive to conventional analgesic therapies.
The results of a 2015 Canadian trial similarly concluded that chronic pain patients who consumed herbal cannabis daily for one-year experienced reduced discomfort and increased quality of life compared to controls, and did not possess an increased risk of serious side effects.
Separate data published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Associationdetermined that states with medical marijuana laws experience far fewer opiate-related deaths than do states that prohibit the plant. Investigators from the RAND Corporation reported similar findings in 2015, concluding, "States permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not." Clinical data published in 2011 in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics previously reported that the administration of vaporized cannabis "safely augments the analgesic effect of opioids."
An abstract of the University of Michigan study, "Medical cannabis associated with decreased opiate medication use in retrospective cross-sectional survey of chronic pain patients," appears online here.