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Study Summary: Cannabis for Chronic Pain In U.S. Medical States

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A January 2023 study entitled "Use of Cannabis and Other Pain Treatments Among Adults With Chronic Pain in US States With Medical Cannabis Programs" that was published in the journal JAMA noted the lack of availability of "accurate estimates of cannabis use or its substitution in place of pain treatments among adults with chronic noncancer pain."


What is Chronic Pain?

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic pain is a serious health condition that often leads to "complications beyond one's physical symptoms, such as new or worsened depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping." The famous clinic explains how chronic pain often leads to financial instability and problems in relationships and that the condition challenges sufferers to "keep up at work, manage tasks at home, and attend social gatherings."


Chronic pain is a serious health condition that often leads to "complications beyond one's physical symptoms, such as new or worsened depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping."

"Some research suggests that the more severe the pain, the more serious these problems," notes the Clinic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) defines chronic pain as that which "lasts more than several months, variously defined as three to six months, but longer than 'normal healing.'"


Chronic Pain Statistics

According to a February 2022 study entitled "Prevalence of Chronic Pain Among Adults in the United States" that was published in the journal Pain and that relied upon data from the 2019 National Health Interview Survey, more than 50 million adults—or 21 percent of the population—experience pain "on most days or every day." The influential survey noted that the most common pain locations are the back, hip, knee, and foot and that the most frequently used management strategies are physical therapy and massage.


"More than one in five adults in America experiences chronic pain."

"Respondents with chronic pain reported limitations in daily functioning, including social activities and [tasks] of daily living," reported the study, which also noted that pain sufferers reported "significantly more workdays missed compared with those without chronic pain." The study concluded, "Overall, these findings indicate that more than one in five adults in America experiences chronic pain; additional attention to managing the burden of this disease is warranted."


The Study

The design of the current January 2023 scientific investigation was that of a cross-sectional study that "surveyed a representative sample of adults aged 18 years or older with chronic pain who lived in the 36 states (and Washington, D.C.) with active medical cannabis programs" during March and April of 2022.


The study's authors reported that they assessed the self-reported use of medical cannabis from 1,661 participants

The study's authors reported that they assessed the self-reported use of medical cannabis from 1,661 participants, 57 percent of whom were female (948 participants) and all of whom featured a mean age of 52. The participants reported their use of medical cannabis ever, during the past 12 months, and within the past 30 days.


In addition, study participants reported their use of "pharmacologic treatments (prescription opioids, prescription non-opioid analgesics, and over-the-counter analgesics), common nonpharmacologic treatments (physical therapy, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy), and substitution of cannabis in place of these treatments for chronic pain."


Results

The majority of the respondents (nearly 70 percent) reported having never used cannabis to manage their pain. Of those who said they had used medical marijuana to treat their pain, more than half said that their use of pot "led them to decrease use of prescription opioid, prescription non-opioid, and over-the-counter pain medications." Less than one percent of study participants reported that cannabis use increased their use of such medications.


Thirty-one percent reported using medical cannabis at some point to treat chronic pain, while 26 percent did so during the past 12 months and 23 percent reported use in the past 30 days.

Thirty-one percent of study participants reported having used medical cannabis at some point in their lives to treat chronic pain, while 26 percent reported employing marijuana to treat their pain during the past 12 months and 23 percent said they had done so in the last 30 days.

"Most people who reported using cannabis to manage chronic pain also reported having used at least one other pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic pain treatment," reported the study. Fewer than half of study participants said that their cannabis use "changed their use of nonpharmacologic pain treatments."


The study reported the following changes in use of non-cannabis pain management strategies by those who used cannabis.

  • 24 percent said cannabis use led to increased use of meditation; 19 percent reported that cannabis use decreased their use of meditation.

  • 39 percent said cannabis use led to decreased use of physical therapy; six percent said cannabis use increased their use of physical therapy.

  • 26 percent said cannabis use led to decreased use of cognitive behavioral therapy; 17 percent said cannabis use increased their use of cognitive behavioral therapy.



Conclusions

The study's authors concluded that, in U.S. states featuring medical cannabis laws, about one-third of adults have used marijuana to manage their (noncancer) pain at some point. "Most persons who used cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications, including prescription opioids," reported the researchers.


State medical cannabis laws have enabled access to cannabis as an analgesic for millions of Americans, despite "knowledge gaps in use as a medical treatment for pain."

The study noted the "high degrees of substitution" of cannabis for opioid and non-opioid treatments and concluded that this represents the importance of research designed "to clarify the effectiveness and potential adverse consequences of cannabis for chronic pain."


The scientists noted that their results illustrate that state medical cannabis laws have enabled access to cannabis as an analgesic (pain killer) for tens of millions of Americans, despite "knowledge gaps in use as a medical treatment for pain."


View the original study.


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