Cannabis is the new substitute for chronic pain instead of for opioid

Marijuana Showing Promise as Opioid Substitute

It’s been 25 years since marijuana was first legalized for medical use in America. Since then, the controversial plant has racked up a long list of medical properties. Adding to the list, a new study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology Journal suggests that cannabis could be an alternative treatment for chronic pain.

Chronic pain is defined as a non-cancer symptom that is not resolved in an expected time frame, does not respond to acceptable analgesic treatment and lasts more than three months. The brutality of chronic pain drives a large wedge into one’s life — disrupting sleep and physical capabilities along with psychological and social well being.

Currently, opioids are one of the most popular pain medications. Yet, it is no secret that America has an opioid epidemic on its hands.

“Chronic non-cancer pain treatment is based on combination of pharmaceutical analgesics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, but mostly by opioids and complementary non-pharmacotherapy treatment.”

“Nevertheless, as the ‘opioid crisis’ continues, newer, safer options for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain merit investigation.”

The researchers write

Marijuana’s ability to reduce pain signaling and perception as well as its anti-inflammatory qualities make cannabis a strong contender in the hunt for an opioid replacement. However, the possibility of chronic pain cannabis treatment has always been left unresolved — until now.

The study hinges on a full spectrum analysis, ensuring an in-depth, broad and accurate report on all aspects of marijuana use and chronic pain. It found that pain intensities did not change; however they did stabilize in severity. Though, after a 6-12 month period, respondents recorded quality-of-life and sleep conditions as improving. This speaks volumes to the researchers as quality-of-life evaluation is one of the most significant outcome domains that is measured in pain treatment. While the discomfort may not be physically decreasing, marijuana transforms the perception of the pain, giving psychological relief.

Altering pain perception is not a new found property of marijuana, though. What stands out in this study is the detection of a decreasing consumption of analgesic medication — pain relieving medication such as opioids — amongst those that used cannabis as chronic pain treatment.

A University of Michigan research team found similar consumption patterns when they studied the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on fibromyalgia — a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain as well as sleep, memory and mood issues. More than 70% of people with fibromyalgia substituted CBD for opioids or other pain medications, according to the press release.

The key to decreasing analgesic medication yet still acquiring quality-of-life and sleep improvement seems to be credited to the chemical constitutes of cannabis. THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol as it is scientifically titled — and a-Pinene — the aromatic compound that gives cannabis its famous smell — were linked to mood and cognition improvements. A-Pinene is also suggested to have anti-inflammatory properties, yet the study did point out that no clinical data have been produced to support that notion.

“We observed that while patients’ pain intensity reports were stable and did not change throughout this study, their analgesics consumption was reduced and their quality-of-life increased over time,” the researchers write.

“Furthermore, by calculating the patients’ monthly dose consumption of specific medical cannabis chemovar constituents, we were able to find associations between specific phytocannabinoids and terpenoids’ monthly doses consumption and the rate of analgesic medications’ consumption and quality-of-life.”

The researchers write

For a country tangled in the ropes of despair and confusion as the opioid crisis continues, cannabis substitution for pain relief may just be the piece needed to curb opioid addictions and rebuild families and communities.

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