Medical marijuana patients tend to taper off their use of opioids over time, according to a new study based on data collected over a year.
The new study, published in the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia, investigated opioid consumption patterns over 12 months in a group of qualifying medical cannabis patients. The researchers hypothesized frequent use of cannabis over time for patients with chronic pain conditions would correspond with a decrease in opioid intake.
Of the 757 baseline participants, 230 checked in after six months and 104 did so after 12 months. The study’s authors found the “proportion of individuals who reported using opioids decreased by half” for those who remained in the study for the full 12 months. At the beginning of the research, 40.8 percent of the 104 full term participants reported using opioids to manage pain. By the end of the 12 months, this had dropped to 23.9 percent. Additionally, the participating medical marijuana patients self-reported their “pain intensity and pain-related interference scores were reduced and quality of life and general health symptom scores were improved compared with baseline.”
In their conclusions, the study’s authors stressed the need for further clinical trials to assess the long-term benefits of marijuana for patients using opioids who may have built up tolerance to their regimen.
“[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,” the authors note. “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’s findings closely follow those of another group of Canadian researchers with similar conclusions. They reported patients using opioids reduced their intake by more than 70 percent over a six-month period after they started to use medical marijuana.
“The high rate of cannabis use for chronic pain and the subsequent reductions in opioid use suggest that cannabis may play a harm reduction role in the opioid overdose crisis, potentially improving the quality of life of patients and overall public health,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
“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,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said about the new research.
These latest studies build upon a growing body of research demonstrating marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to opioids for treating chronic pain. A comprehensive literature review of more than 10,000 abstracts of scientific papers by the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering last year was similarly clear in its conclusions.
“There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis is effective for the treatment of chronic pain in adults,” the review reads.