Many cannabis advocates and consumers are already well aware of the many benefits of the plant, one being its potential to curb opioid use and potentially replace opioids as a treatment for pain in certain cases. According to an observational study published in the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, patients with chronic pain who use cannabis products for six months not only reported decreases in their daily opioid consumption but also improvements in their health-related quality of life.
The study evaluated more than 700 chronic pain patients enrolled in the UK Medical Cannabis Registry who were treated with plant-derived cannabis products, such as oils, flower or a combination of both. All patients were authorized to access cannabis products through a doctor’s authorization.
Cannabis, Opioid Use and Health-Related Quality of Life
In the introduction, “Despite growing evidence implicating [cannabis-based medicinal products] as a viable chronic pain treatment, the results have been heterogenous, differing based on the type of [cannabis-based medicinal product] administered, chronic pain type assessed, and study duration.”
They added that more research is still needed regarding the long-term safety of cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMP), along with factors such as the route of administration, age, body mass index and prior cannabis exposure’s influence on safety.
“As further clinical trials addressing these unknowns are awaited, patient registries can assist by collecting prospective data from patients prescribed CBMPs in a real-world setting,” authors continue.
Researchers assessed the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for participants at one, three and six months. Primary outcomes were measured through a number of questionnaires, specifically asking patients to rate their pain, share the character and severity of their pain, rate their sleep quality, share frequency of anxiety symptoms, gauge problems with mobility and overall gauge if a patient’s quality of life has improved or declined since starting treatment.
The results were consistent with previous studies, as investigators reported that treatment with oil-based products, dried flower or a combination of both are associated with “statistically significant improvement in pain relief and sleep quality” from chronic pain patients after six months of treatment.
“Additionally, patients prescribed oils or both types of CBMPs experienced reduced anxiety and an improvement in their ability to perform daily activities,” researchers continue. “Patients prescribed a combination of both CBMPs recorded improvements in their self-care and mobility abilities. Collectively, this evidence signals that [the] initiation of CBMP treatment is associated with improved [health-related quality of life].”
Authors also noted that there was a total reduction of 3.28% in mean opioid dose for patients after six months of treatment compared to the baseline.
Study Consistent with Past Research on Pot and Chronic Pain
Looking ahead, researchers said that future studies and clinicians should “consider the impact of gender and prior cannabis use” when using cannabis-based medicinal products, along with whether or not these factors influence the extent of health-related quality of life improvements.
Cannabis use for chronic pain is not uncommon. A study released earlier this year found that nearly one in three patients with chronic pain use cannabis for relief. The study also noted that “Most persons who used cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications including prescription opioids.”
The observed reduction in opioid use is also consistent with a collection of previous studies finding cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse. Another 2023 study, including a total of 8,165 chronic pain patients, similarly found that receiving medical cannabis for “a longer duration” was associated with a reduction in prescription opioid use.
Another study published in 2022 found that a majority of patients, nearly four out of five research participants, reported “cessation or reduction in pain medication use” after beginning a regimen of medical cannabis.