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Chronic pain management

Cannabis cuts opioid use in 90% of cases, study finds

Study data published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs show that cannabis use can help reduce the amount of opioids people take.

Almost nine out of ten adults who bought cannabis for pain relief, and who had also used opioids in the previous six months, had either reduced or stopped opioid use as a consequence, results of a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (2 July 2019) show.

Customers presenting at two retail cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use, were invited by store staff to take part in the survey. Respondents who possessed a medical marijuana card, which allows the holder to purchase more of the drug than those without, were excluded.

Of the 1,000 respondents remaining, 647 said they used cannabis for pain relief. Of those, 319 (49%) said that had used opioid analgesics, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol or morphine, in the past six months. Of those 319, 281 (88%) said they had either stopped or reduced opioid use over that time period as a result.

As part of the survey, customers were asked whether they were recreational users, medical card holders or both. A limitation of the study, the authors acknowledge, was that the survey did not ask respondents for “their primary reason for taking cannabis” and “respondents may [cannabis] use for both symptom relief and pleasurable psychoactive effects”.

The survey was developed by the dispensary company “to elicit customer feedback and understand customers’ use of cannabis for symptom relief”.

Gwen Wurm, assistant professor of clinical paediatrics at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and the paper’s lead author, said that the figure for those who reported stopping or reducing opioid use “corresponds with other research on medical cannabis patients in the literature”.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have specific data on prescriptions or on how much or what type of cannabis [was bought]”, she added. “What we need is more research in this area to be able to recommend effective treatments for patients.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206744

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