Pain Patients Choosing Cannabis Over Opioids

Cannabis vs. opioids
Image: Left - Public Domain - Right - RayNata, GFDL

New research indicates many chronic pain sufferers and those taking medications for treating mental health issues would rather medicate with cannabis instead of their prescribed opioids and other drugs.

A study by researchers from University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria of 271 patients with prescribed medical cannabis found 63 per cent reported using cannabis instead of their prescription drugs. These medications included opioids, sedatives and anti-depressants.

Breaking it down, the percentage of patients substituting:

  • pharmaceutical opioids (30%)
  • benzodiazepines (16%)
  • antidepressants (12%)

The patients perceived cannabis to be an effective treatment for a wide range of conditions, with pain and mental health being the most prominent. Other suggested reasons for the preference included reduced side effects and a perceived better safety profile.

A point of concern identified in the study was the high percentage of patients (42%) reporting accessing cannabis from illegal/unregulated sources.

A paper on the study has been published in the journal Drug Policy.

“Further research into how well cannabis works compared to the accepted front-line treatments is warranted,” says UBC Associate Professor Zach Walsh, co-author of the study. “Additionally, long-term research into the potential impact of the cannabis substitution on the quality of patient’s lives is ongoing.”

Opioid abuse is becoming an epidemic in North America, with dozens dying from overdoses each day and the scourge costing the USA alone billions of dollars each year. The potential for medical cannabis to help address this rapidly escalating health crisis is becoming increasingly clear.

A previous study out of University of Michigan found patients using medical marijuana to manage chronic pain experienced 64 percent reduction in their use of prescription opioid-based medications. An additional benefit was decreased side-effects.

The largest harm reduction study ever undertaken involving opioids and cannabis will commence in Canada soon.

Medical marijuana has certainly taken off in Canada – the number of registered patients at the end of June last year had reached more than 75,000. According to recent reports, 129,876 Canadians had registered by the end of last year – a 1,544 per cent increase from the 7,900 provided access in mid-2014.