Chronic Pain: A new report says 9 in 10 patients consider medical cannabis to be more effective than narcotics for adequate pain management

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A recent paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons on medical cannabis’s (MC) ability to successfully manage chronic musculoskeletal pain is getting a lot of attention, as it should.

The paper says 89% of the 184 adult patients surveyed consider medical cannabis to be more effective than narcotics for managing muscle spasm, and lower back, neck, hip, and knee pain. The patients therefore recommend MC for chronic pain over any other medication (the Table below is taken from the paper, emphasis added).

Moreover, MC came without side effects, a huge deal because as the authors point out, opioids addict and destroy lives. And other pain meds such as morphine, codeine, Vicodin, and Percocet also risk addiction & abuse and they come with nasty side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and depression.

So on the face of it we we have a winner – MC. However, the researchers concede that their work warrants some caution: surveys depend on the honesty & accuracy of responses; and they didn’t know what cannabinoids their patients were taking – for example, the THC to CBD ratio – at what dosages, and what brands were used, which can affect quality.  

To those concerns I would add two more: 213 patients agreed to participate in the survey but only 184 completed it, so we’re left to guess why 29 dropped out; and second, the patients say MC reduced their chronic pain by a bit more than half, and it would have been nice to compare that result with how much other pain meds reduced their pain. (Patients filled out a Numerical Rating Score questionnaire which requires them to rate their pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (most pain). And here, the average score dropped from 6.96 before MC intervention to 3.26 afterwards.)

Despite these concerns, however, this is an important study both in its own right – MC treats chronic pain without side effects – and because it builds on other work that has come to similar conclusions. For instance, the authors report that “The endocannabinoid system has shown promising results as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory pathway.” And they cite another paper that says “610 participants . . . who substituted cannabis for opioids reported a 59.3% complete cessation of opioid use, whereas 18.4% of the participants reduced opioid use by 75%.”

Accordingly, the authors conclusions are utterly fair: “the use of medical cannabis among patients with musculoskeletal conditions effectively reduced pain levels,” and thus additional studies on MC should be carried out.

QuestionsYes No
Do you think medical insurance should cover the cost of medical cannabis products in the future?91%9%
Do you think hospitals should allow or consider the use of cannabis products while being hospitalized?90%10%
Do you feel safe buying medical cannabis products at a dispensary?100%0%
Do you think medical cannabis control pain more effectively than narcotics?89%11%
Do you recommend the use of medical cannabis over other analgesics and medications?90%10%

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