Medical cannabis may help patients with chronic pain reduce long-term opioid dosages
New research suggested that receiving medical cannabis may help patients with chronic pain lower their use of long-term opioid therapy over time.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, was conducted by researchers from the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, and the City University of New York (CUNY). According to the study’s authors, long-term opioid therapy (LOT) puts patients at a high risk for opioid addiction and overdose. Alternative or combination therapies, the authors said, are needed to decrease the use of opioids and the risks associated with them. For this investigation, researchers sought to determine whether medical cannabis could help decrease opioid use for patients with chronic pain.
Researchers collected their information from two large state databases, analyzing a total of eight thousand adult New Yorkers between 2017 and 2019. Each participants’ prescription opioid dosages were evaluated for one year prior to when they began using medical cannabis. Their opioid dosages were then observed for up to eight additional months. Each month, researchers compared the participants’ average daily morphine milligram equivalent (MME), the potency of an opioid dose relative to morphine, of those who received medical cannabis for more than 30 days and those who received it for less than 30 days.
Results showed that by the eight-month follow-up patients that started with the lowest MME dosages who received medical cannabis for more than 30 days had a 45 percent reduction in opioid usage compared to their baseline. In contrast, those with similar baselines who tried medical cannabis for a shorter period of time, less than 30 days, had only a four percent reduction. Those with the highest baseline MME who used medical cannabis for more than 30 days showed a 51 percent MME reduction from baseline. In comparison, patients with high baselines who tried medical cannabis for a shorter duration showed only a 14 percent MME reduction.
According to the study’s authors, these results indicate that medical cannabis used for longer durations may help decrease long-term opioid dosages for patients with chronic pain.
“Our study suggests a more humane option for achieving lower prescription dosages and potentially reducing those risks,” said Danielle Greene, of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. “Equitable implementation of these findings will require addressing disparities in both access to medical cannabis due to high cost and the high rate of patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in Medicaid and other programs.”