“Most states have enacted laws allowing individuals to treat chronic pain with cannabis,” wrote the study authors. “Evidence is mixed about whether medical cannabis serves as a substitute for prescription opioids or other pain treatments.”
“Accurate estimates of cannabis use or its substitution in place of pain treatments among adults with chronic noncancer pain are, to our knowledge, not available.”
To investigate, the researchers surveyed 1,724 adults over the age of 18 with chronic pain who lived in one of 36 states that have active medical cannabis programs.
More than half of the respondents said that cannabis had enabled them to decrease their use of pain medications, including opioids. For nearly 40 percent of the participants, cannabis use was associated with a reduced need for physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Less than one percent of the respondents said cannabis use resulted in more opioid, non-opioid or over-the-the-counter pain medication use. Furthermore, about 25 percent of chronic pain patients said they meditated more with cannabis use.
“Among adults with chronic pain in states with medical cannabis laws, 3 in 10 persons reported using cannabis to manage their pain,” wrote the researchers. “Most persons who used cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications including prescription opioids.”
“The high degree of substitution of cannabis with both opioid and nonopioid treatment emphasizes the importance of research to clarify the effectiveness and potential adverse consequences of cannabis for chronic pain.”
The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
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