Opioid abuse is at an all-time high. More than 3 million people misuse opioids every month and over 10 million people abuse opioids annually. Meanwhile, the latest CDC data reports more than 75,000 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. alone, up from over 56,000 deaths the year before. While some of those deaths come from Fentanyl ending up in street drugs, a sizable portion of deaths and addiction is a result of patients abusing opioids that were legitimately prescribed.
So, what if cannabis, a natural remedy that is non-addictive, could combat pain just as well as opioids? Two new studies presented at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, suggest this is more than just a pipe dream. People suffering from chronic back pain and osteoarthritis may have reason to rejoice. The studies demonstrate that medical cannabis can “reduce or even eliminate” opioid use for pain management. In addition to relief from pain, the research shows patients given cannabis also have improved quality of life.
Led by principal investigator Dr. Asif Ilyas, an orthopedic surgeon at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in Philadelphia, doctors certified the patients in the study to obtain medical cannabis between February 2018 and July 2019. Allowed to use whatever consumption method they chose, some patients smoked or vaped and others went with edibles.
The results of the studies show that many patients who were prescribed opioids for pain ended up taking fewer painkillers – or stopping their use altogether – after being allowed to treat themselves with medical cannabis.
“We found broadly a significant reduction in opioid use when they started using medical cannabis,” Ilyas said. “We saw a decrease in approximately 40 percent of opioid use after starting medical cannabis, with 37-38 percent of patients completely discontinuing opioid use altogether.”
The studies do not mention whether the forms of cannabis the patients consumed were THC- or CBD-rich. But with 16 million adults suffering from chronic back pain that limits their daily activities, and which is commonly treated with opioids, the idea that cannabis could replace synthetic pain prescriptions is promising news.
“One of the biggest central problems with opioids is both addiction and the need for higher dosages to achieve the same results,” Ilyas said. “Based on our current understanding of medical cannabis, you do not need increasing doses to achieve the same results and we’re not yet seeing any addictive qualities to it.”
Ilyas was careful to point out that, “At this point, we are not advocating for the routine use of medical cannabis or saying it is a better option, but our studies show potential.”
So, consider reaching for a cannabis flower next time you experience back pain, and if you hear grandma complaining about her arthritis again, be a dear and pack her a bowl. Because the hippies had it right: Nature is medicine.