Medical Marijuana Reduces Opioid Use : Study

Opioid substitute - medical cannabis
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In addition to medical cannabis assisting opioid addicts in withdrawal, new research also indicates it helps reduce prescription opioid consumption.

Last year, researchers at Columbia University assessed the usefulness of dronabinol, a pharmaceutical formulation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in opioid withdrawal; with favourable results.

Now, a University of Michigan study has found patients using medical marijuana to manage chronic pain experienced 64 percent reduction in their use of prescription opioid-based medications; plus decreased side effects.

“We’re in the midst of an opioid epidemic and we need to figure out what to do about it,” said Kevin Boehnke, lead author of the study. “I’m hoping our research continues a conversation of cannabis as a potential alternative for opioids.”

The USA’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) states the epidemic is due in part to an increase in prescribing and sales of opioids; which have quadrupled since  1999.

“More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, we must act now,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. in a recent announcement.  As a result, the CDC has issued new recommendations for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain.

While cautioning against sudden changes in current clinical practice concerning cannabis, Mr Boehnke says the study indicates medical cannabis may be an effective pain medication; particularly for those experiencing less severe chronic pain.

“This study suggests that many CP patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for CP treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications,” states part of the study abstract.

The UoM study was carried out via a survey of 244 medical cannabis patients who were dispensary customers in Michigan between November 2013 and February 2015.

Previous population level research has indicated a reduction in opioid use in U.S states where medical cannabis is legal. Another recent study from Israel also found a 44-percent reduction in opioid use of participants who were monitored for six months.

Another study, published in the Journal of Pain in December last year, found medical cannabis used for chronic pain over a period of twelve months appears to have a reasonable safety profile and was associated with improvements in pain, function, quality of life and cognitive function.