About one in three chronic pain patients report using marijuana as a treatment option, and most of that group has used cannabis as a substitute for other pain medications, including opioids, a new study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) found.
The new paper from researchers at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University builds on the growing body of scientific literature indicating that cannabinoids can serve as effective pain management tools for some people and as substitutes for certain pharmaceuticals
The cross-sectional study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Substance Use And Addiction, involved data from 1,724 adults 18 and older living in 36 states, plus Washington, D.C., from March to April 2022. The analysis was based on data from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) AmeriSpeak panel.
“More than half of adults who used cannabis to manage their chronic pain reported that use of cannabis led them to decrease use of prescription opioid, prescription non-opioid, and over-the-counter pain medications, and less than one percent reported that use of cannabis increased their use of these medications,” the authors wrote in the research paper, which received federal funding through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“The high degree of substitution of cannabis with both opioid and non-opioid treatment emphasizes the importance of research to clarify the effectiveness and potential adverse consequences of cannabis,” it says. “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.”
“Among adults with chronic pain in states with medical cannabis laws, 3 in 10 persons reported using cannabis to manage their pain. Most persons who used cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications including prescription opioids.”
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano commented on the findings, saying in a blog post on Friday that cannabis has “established efficacy in the treatment of multiple conditions, including chronic pain, and it possesses a safety profile that is either comparable or superior to other controlled substances.”
“So it is no wonder that those with legal access to it are substituting cannabis in lieu of other, potentially less effective and more harmful substances,” he said. “As legal access continues to expand, one would expect the cannabis substitution effect to grow even more pronounced in the future.”
— Michigan Medicine (@umichmedicine) January 9, 2023
Another recent AMA study found that state-level medical marijuana legalization is associated with a significant decrease in opioid prescriptions and use among certain cancer patients.
A study that was released in September similarly found that giving people legal access to medical cannabis can help patients reduce their use of opioid painkillers, or cease use altogether, without compromising quality of life.
That same month, another study found that the pharmaceutical industry takes a serious economic hit after states legalize marijuana—with an average market loss of nearly $10 billion for drugmakers per each legalization event.
There’s no deficit of anecdotal reports, data-based studies and observational analyses that have signaled that some people use cannabis as an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drugs like opioid-based painkillers and sleep medications.
Last year, a research paper that analyzed Medicaid data on prescription drugs found that legalizing marijuana for adult use is associated with “significant reductions” in the use of prescription drugs for the treatment of multiple conditions.
Meanwhile, a study funded by a top federal drug agency that was released in November found that state-level marijuana legalization is not associated with increased youth cannabis use.
Researchers published more than 4,300 studies on marijuana and its components in 2022, an analysis from NORML found.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.