High THC Cannabis Offers Better Pain Relief Than Opioids, Study Finds
Debate continues in the cannabis community over which products offer the most effective pain relief. But one group of researchers believe they have the answer.
Using data from an app that tracks cannabis consumers’ experiences, the authors of a new study induced that the average user feels a brief reduction in pain of 3 points on a 0–10 pain scale following cannabis consumption.
Whole cannabis flower was associated with greater pain relief than the other types of products, and those high in THC showed the strongest effect across gastrointestinal, nerve, and headache-related pain.
Pain and strain
The study, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in late July, gleaned its results from the Releaf app, a software developed by three of the study’s authors. The app enables users to rate their stress, pain, and relief levels after consuming specific cannabis strains. In total, 20,513 pieces of data were sourced from users between 2016 and 2018.
After studying the data, researchers from the University of New Mexico found that the average user reported a pain reduction of 3.10 points on a 0–10 visual analogue scale. Whole cannabis buds with high THC levels were associated with the greatest level of pain relief, while strains high in CBD weren’t generally associated with pain relief at all.
The researchers say their findings are further proof that cannabis should be seriously considered as an alternative medication to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.
“Our country has been flooded with an over-prescription of opioids medications, which then often leads to non-prescription opioid and heroin use for many people,” Jacob Miguel Vigil, one of the lead investigators of the study, wrote in a press statement.
“Cannabis offers the average patient an effective alternative to using opioids for general use in the treatment of pain with very minimal negative side effects for most people.”
Opioid pain relievers usually produce euphoric effects by binding with mu opioid receptors in the brain. But while the drugs’ effects are initially pleasant, their addiction rates have spiralled into a national crisis in the US. Up to 1.7 million people in the US are thought to have suffered from opioid use disorders in 2017, with 47,000 dying of overdoses as a result.
Cannabis, on the other hand, has never been linked to a fatal overdose, which is why many believe the drug to be a safer alternative for pain relief.
“I’ve seen numerous chronic pain patients substitute away from opioid use, among many other classes of medications, in favor of medical cannabis,” Vigil wrote.
No more morphine
The new study adds further validity to marijuana’s growing use in pain treatment. One of the most comprehensive scientific reviews ever undertaken into medical cannabis concluded in 2017 that there was certainly enough evidence to support treatment for chronic pain.
But studies investigating cannabis’ potential as an opioid replacement have so far been less conclusive.
In a study published last month in JAMA Network Open, researchers sifted through 70,000 survey reports from 2004 to 2014 to find that there had been almost no change in non-medical prescription opioid use after states enacted medical marijuana laws.
“The hypothesis generated from these studies is that after medical marijuana law enactment, health care professionals would be more likely to prescribe medical marijuana instead of opioid medications, this in turn would reduce the chance of individuals to misuse prescription opioids and develop consequences,” wrote Silvia Martins, an associate professor of epidemiology, and lead author of the Columbia University study.
“We tested this relationship and found no evidence that the passage of medical marijuana laws – even in states with dispensaries – was associated with a decrease in individual opioid use of prescription opioids for non-medical purposes.”