Patients diagnosed with chronic pain who use medical cannabis products under a doctor’s authorization significantly decrease their use of opioids and benzodiazepines, according to data published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

A team of researchers with the Rothman Orthopedic Institute at Thomas Jefferson University assessed prescription drug use patterns in a cohort of pain patients prior to and following their initiation of state-licensed medical cannabis products. Participants’ prescription drug use was analyzed by accessing Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and collecting prescription data for the six-month period before and after patients’ enrollment in the state’s medical cannabis access program.

Consistent with dozens of other studies, the majority of the study’s participants (73 percent) either decreased or ceased their opioid intake. Also consistent with prior studies, 69 percent of patients taking benzodiazepines either reduced their use or stopped taking them altogether. 

Study participants also reported reduced pain scores, improvements in physical and mental health, and better overall quality of life following the initiation of cannabis – findings that are also consistent with prior research.

Authors concluded: “In patients with chronic musculoskeletal noncancer orthopedic pain, cannabis reduces pain, improves mental and physical health, and improves QoL [quality of life]. … Our results [also] show an objective association between the initiation of cannabis therapy and the reduction of both opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions. … Our results support the use of cannabis as an effective analgesic and prescription drug-sparing therapy.”

Full text of the study, “Perceived efficacy, reduced prescription drug use, and minimal side effects of cannabis in patients with chronic orthopedic pain,” appears in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. Additional information is available from the NORML fact sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.’ Information on cannabis in the treatment of chronic pain is available from NORML.

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