“They report that when they make that switch they overall feel better,” Dr. Daniel J. Clauw of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.
Opioid analgesics are not effective for everyone with chronic pain, carry the risk of addiction, and cause significant mortality and morbidity, Dr. Clauw and his team note in their report, published online on March 19 in the Journal of Pain.
There is some evidence that medical cannabis might be helpful in reducing chronic pain patients’ opioid use, they add, citing a 2014 study that found mortality from opioid overdose fell about 25%, on average, in states that legalized medical cannabis use.
In the new study, the researchers surveyed 244 patrons of a medical cannabis dispensary, 185 of whom completed the questionnaire. About two-thirds reported using opioids before starting medical cannabis, while 18% said they continued to use opioids after they began medical cannabis.
On average, patients reported a 64% reduction in their opioid use, and a 45% improvement in their quality of life, after initiating medical cannabis.
The patients also reported a significant drop in the degree to which side effects of medication affected their daily function after starting cannabis, as well as fewer medication side effects.
“They reduced a lot of medications, but the thing that we thought was most impressive both with respect to the magnitude of change and the public health consequences was the fairly dramatic reduction in opioid dose,” Dr. Clauw told Reuters Health.
The study had no external funding. Two coauthors reported disclosures.