Chronic pain patients dramatically reduce their use of prescription opioids following their enrollment into a statewide medical cannabis access program, according to data published in the journal Cureus

A team of investigators assessed opioid use trends in a cohort of 63 pain patients following their registration into Delaware’s medical cannabis program. All 63 patients were using prescription opioids at the time of their enrollment. 

Consistent with dozens of other studies, subjects significantly decreased their overall use of opioids over time. 

Authors reported: “For non-outlier individuals with positive baseline opioid use before receiving medical marijuana certification (n=63), the average percent change in opioid use was found to be -31.3 percent. Examining subgroups based upon pain location, individuals with low back pain (n=58) displayed a 29.4 percent decrease in MME [morphine milligram equivalent] units, while individuals with neck pain (n=27) were observed to have a 41.5 percent decrease in opioid use. Similarly, individuals with knee pain (n=14) reduced their opioid use by 32.6 percent. … Since the underlying pathology and their source of pain in the individuals was unlikely to significantly change during the period examined, medical marijuana use could have played a large role in allowing the individuals to decrease their opioid use.”

They concluded: “The results of this study indicate that medical marijuana certification is associated with a decrease in prescription opiate use for chronic pain treatment and supports greater use of this adjunct treatment modality. Given the significance of opioid addiction in American society, any treatment or additional resource to reduce opioid overuse can aid in the multifactorial management of chronic pain. Although marijuana use causes a variety of side effects, the findings here suggest that the use of medical cannabis as an adjunct treatment for chronic pain may be beneficial to public health.”

Full text of the study, “Medical cannabis certification is associated with decreases opiate use in patients with chronic pain: A retrospective cohort study in Delaware,” appears in Cureus. Additional information on the use of cannabis for chronic pain is available from NORML. Additional information is available from NORML’s fact sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.’

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