The US opioid epidemic has continued unabated, accounting for 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, highlighting the urgent need for substitutes with similar pain-relieving effects but without addictive properties. The use of cannabis for pain management has emerged as such a potential strategy to manage opioid withdrawal or dependence.
According to a study on a large group of patients (525 in total) who had previously used prescription opioid medications to treat chronic pain, following initiation of medical cannabis treatment 40.4% stopped all opioids, 45.2% decreased opioid usage, 13.3% didn’t change opioid usage, and only 1.1% increased opioid usage. Almost half (48.2%) reported a significant decrease in pain while only 2.6% experienced worsening pain. The majority reported improved ability to function (80.0%) and improved quality of life (87.0%) with medical cannabis. As a result, most (62.8%) did not want to take opioids in the future. Also noticeable is that the change in pain level was not affected by age and gender.
This study, therefore, provides valuable evidence that cannabis can be a useful adjunct or even substitute for prescription opioids in chronic pain management and furthermore, provides the added benefit of improved ability to function and quality of life.