MIAMI — Could medical marijuana become the treatment of choice by doctors aiding patients who suffer from chronic pain? New research shows the drug may be just as effective as common painkillers, which may sway patients looking for alternatives to opioids and other pharmaceuticals.
A peer-reviewed survey of 1,000 medical marijuana users in Colorado found that of the 65% of respondents who said they use cannabis for their pain, 80% said it was extremely helpful in pain management. The survey also indicated that many users find cannabis a useful way to battle insomnia.
The results also point to a significant reduction in the use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and opioid painkillers. More than 8 in 10 respondents (82%) said they reduced OTC medications and 88% said they were able to stop taking opioid painkillers in part because of marijuana.
When it came to insomnia, 74% of the respondents said they buy cannabis products to help them sleep. Of that group, 84% agree that cannabis helped with their problem. In fact, 83% said they have since reduced or even ceased their use of OTC and prescription sleep aids completely.
The findings suggest that cannabis use could significantly lower opioid use, but the researchers say more studies need to be done to fully grasp the potential benefits of cannabis.
“Approximately 20% of American adults suffer from chronic pain, and one in three adults do not get enough sleep,” says Dr. Gwen Wurm, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in a statement.
OTC medications for these issues can be helpful, but they often come with serious side effects. While cannabis is not free of side effects, they are typically much milder than other medications. Opioids, for example, depress the respiratory systems, which creates a higher risk of death from overdose.
“People develop tolerance to opioids, which means that they require higher doses to achieve the same effect,” notes Dr. Julia Arnsten, professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “This means that chronic pain patients often increase their dose of opioid medications over time, which in turn increases their risk of overdose.”
The study is published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.