A University of New Mexico study is the latest to suggest that cannabis could be a tool in the opioid epidemic. The study, which observed 37 habitual, opioid-using, chronic pain patients who chose to enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program, and 29 patients with similar conditions who chose not to enroll in the program, found a 47 percent reduction in daily opioid dosage in the patients who also used cannabis.
The medical cannabis program enrollment was also associated with 17 times higher age-and-gender-adjusted odds of stopping opioid prescriptions and five times higher odds of reducing daily opioid dosages. The patients who were not enrolled in the medical cannabis program actually had a 10 percent increase in self-reported daily opioid dosages over the 21-month observation period.
Jacob Virgil, UNM associate professor of psychology and one of the study authors, said that the study’s results “highlight the necessity of more extensive research into the possible uses of cannabis as a substitute for opioid painkillers, especially in the form of placebo-based, randomized controlled trials and larger sample observational studies.”
“If cannabis can serve as an alternative to prescription opioids for at least some patients, legislators and the medical community may want to consider medical cannabis programs as a potential tool for combating the current opioid epidemic,” he said in a press release.
Survey respondents enrolled in the medical cannabis program reported improvements in pain reduction, quality of life and social life, activity levels, and concentration one year after enrolling in the program.
The study “Associations between Medical Cannabis and Prescription Opioid Use in Chronic Pain Patients: A Preliminary Cohort Study,” was published in PLOS ONE.