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92% of Pain Patients Prefer Cannabis to Opioids, Study Finds

Findings in a new study indicate that a large majority of patients prefer cannabis to opioid and non-opioid medications for treating pain.

Medical cannabis patients overwhelmingly prefer cannabis to opioids and other medications for treating pain, according to findings in a new study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. Researchers from HelloMD and the University of California Berkeley, including Amanda Reiman and Mark A. Welty, surveyed nearly 3,000 medical cannabis patients on their use of cannabis as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medications.

Ninety-two percent of patients responded that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they prefer cannabis to other medications. Previous studies have indicated that access to legal cannabis allows patients to reduce their consumption of opioids. This new study affirms those findings, as nearly all patients – 97 percent – responded that they agreed or strongly agreed that they could reduce their intake of opioid painkillers when consuming cannabis. Additionally, 81 percent agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis alone was more effective than taking cannabis with opioids.

Opioids are commonly prescribed by physicians for the management of severe or chronic pain, and while effective, the drugs carry a high risk of abuse, addiction and overdose. Opioids bind to opioid receptors throughout the brain, spinal cord, and other areas to reduce the perception of pain and produce a sense of well-being. However, this effect on the central nervous system, especially when opioids are taken in high doses, can lead to respiratory depression and death. Every day in the U.S., 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose. Just recently, the Food and Drug Administration pulled a powerful opioid medication from the market over concerns that “the benefits of the drug may no longer outweigh its risks.

Cannabis, shown in studies to be effective for pain, has been found to have a favorable safety profile and has never caused a deadly overdose. In the survey, 71 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis was just as effective at relieving pain as opioids. The study’s findings indicate that giving patients access to cannabis may help in dealing with the nationwide opioid epidemic.

“This study can conclude that medical cannabis patients reports successfully using cannabis along with or as a substitute for opioid-based pain medication,” the research team concluded.

“Patients in this study who are using cannabis and opioids report that they are able to use less opioids and that cannabis presents less unwanted side effects than their opioid-based medication.”

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Of the 2,897 patients recruited for the survey from HelloMD’s medical cannabis community, 63 percent were using cannabis in an effort to manage their pain conditions, which included back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Thirty-four percent responded that they had used opioid-based pain medication in the past 6 months.

“The treatment of pain has become a politicized business in the United States. The result has been the rapidly rising rate of opioid related overdoses and dependence,” Reiman said, according to Leafly. “Cannabis has been used throughout the world for thousands of years to treat pain and other physical and mental health conditions.”

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 U.S. states, although it remains classified federally as a Schedule I substance. According to the survey, 93 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they would more likely select cannabis over opioids if both substances were readily available.

“Patients have been telling us for decades that this practice is producing better outcomes than the use of opioid-based medications,” said Reiman. “It’s past time for the medical profession to get over their reefer madness and start working with the medical cannabis movement and industry to slow down the destruction being caused by the over prescribing and overuse of opioids.”

You can access the entire study, “Cannabis as a Substitute for Opioid-Based Pain Medication: Patient Self-Report,” via Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Learn more about cannabis and its potential therapeutic application for managing pain and other symptoms by visiting our education page.