Chronic pain is an issue medical science has dealt with for a long time. There remains much debate as to how effective treatments on the drug formulary are vs. placebo, and whether the side effects and overdose concerns warrant their use even if they were effective.
The Chronic Pain Epidemic
For those suffering with chronic pain, defined as 6 months or more in pain, nothing outweighs getting rid of or managing their ailment through whatever means necessary. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, as of 2011 at least 100 million Americans (nearly half the population) suffer from chronic pain. The cost of treating this is staggering, ranging from $560,000 billion to $635,000 billion per year. That’s nearly $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.
Pain also remains the leading cause of disability across the US. Patients are seeking relief by the millions, in what the National Institute of Health has deemed a “silent epidemic”. People legitimately trying to manage their ongoing chronic pain often times become addicted to opiod-based medications in the process, leading to over 15,000 overdoses annually from accidental or intentional opioid misuse.
Alternatives To Harmful Opioids
What if there were another way? Another treatment which had similar results but didn’t carry all the risks associated with opiates. One that was virtually impossible to overdose on. This is exactly what researchers in Canada sought to answer while running a long-term experiment on chronic pain patients by separating them into two control groups; those who did use marijuana over the course of a year and those who did not.
Does This Mean Marijuana Has The Green Light?
As published in the Journal of Pain in September, researchers at the Research Institute of the McGil University Health Center in Montreal, Canada, followed 215 adult patients with chronic non-cancer pain who used medical cannabis daily and 216 adults who didn’t use cannabis for a period of one year.
The study, which ran between 2004 and 2008, demonstrated that medical marijuana presented no worse a safety profile than the group that did not use medical marijuana when it comes to serious adverse events. It should be noted here that it’s practically impossible to overdose on marijuana, meaning a push to use the currently illegal drug to treat chronic pain could (key word here) substantially reduce accidental overdose deaths.
Lead researcher Dr. Mark Ware commented the following:
We found that medical cannabis, when used by patients who are experienced users, and as part of a monitored treatment program for chronic pain over one year, appears to have a reasonable safety profile.
The researchers, however, refrained from giving Marijuana the “green light” for chronic pain treatment. The study pointed out some of the non-serious side effects observed in their test which increased with daily marijuana use, such as headaches, dizziness, and respiratory issues, which were most rpevalent in persons smoking marijuana daily.
Need For Further Study
It is important to note however that the researchers did not control from tobacco usage which may have played a role in the outcome of the study. Additionally, researchers pointed out that there are ways to mitigate these risks such as consuming marijuana in edible form vs smoking it.
Furthermore, the study out of Canada appears to be on par with a 2011 study from the University of California San Francisco that suggested adding cannabinoids from the cannabis plant to an existing opioid-based treatment regimen could be more effective and allow the patient to take a lower dose of opioid, thus presumably lessening the chance of an overdose.
Also, as pointed out in previous research, legalizing marijuana leads to 25% drop in painkiller deaths. Whether it is in fact a viable alternative to pain meds, the correlation between marijuana legalization and drop in painkiller deaths is undeniable. With no serious side effects, don’t you think it’s time to at least try something new for a change?
Sound off in the comments below if you think we should allow marijuana as a treatment for chronic pain.