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Can Cannabis Curtail the Opioid Epidemic?

Medical cannabis may be an important alternative to opioids for pain management, new research suggests.

In a large survey, patients with a variety of ailments, including pain and mental health problems, reported less pain and better functioning, after using medical cannabis — and most were able to stop or cut back on their opioid use.

“Some patients wish to move away from opioid-based pain medications and may choose medical cannabis to control chronic pain,” study investigator Carolyn Pritchett, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.

Related: Studies Show Medical Cannabis May Lead to Fewer Opioid Prescriptions

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“Our data indicate that using medical cannabis to moderate pain may be helpful and effective for certain patients, especially those struggling with health functioning outcomes and quality of life with opioid use,” said Pritchett, director of research, Emerald Coast Research, Tallahassee, Florida.

She noted that the survey results “align with various clinical reports that some patients with chronic pain issues find medical cannabis sufficient for pain control and beneficial to their quality of life.”

Many studies have reported on how patients use medical cannabis, but not how this use affects functioning in patients’ daily lives or changes in medication use, said Pritchett.

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“Our study is one of the first to address the medical cannabis patient experience by measuring general health functioning in daily life, along with quality of life and use of both medical cannabis and opioid-based pain medications,” she said.

The researchers had 2183 medical cannabis users in Florida complete a 66-item cross-sectional survey that included demographic, health, and medication usage items, along with health functioning before and after starting medical cannabis.

Most medical cannabis users were between 20 and 70 years old, 54% were women, about half were married, 47% were employed, and most were White.

The combination of “pain + mental health” was the most common problem reported by medical cannabis users (48%), followed by just mental health (29%), just pain (9%), and “other” (not pain, cancer, or mental health).

Most participants reported between 1 and 5 different ailments; 23% reported 1 to 2 ailments, 44% reported 3 to 5 ailments, and 33% reported 6 or more.

Can Cannabis Curtail the Opioid Epidemic?

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