Trauma Patients On Medical Cannabis Say They Use Fewer Opioids, Study Finds

Can Marijuana Replace Opioids for Acute Pain?

New findings on the question, can medical marijuana replace opioids as a satisfactory alternative for acute pain relief in states that have legalized pot use for medical purposes.

A newly released study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma indicates that patients are replacing prescription opioids with medical cannabis to treat acute pain following musculoskeletal trauma. 

A Closer Look at the Research

Researchers at Harvard Medical School surveyed 500 patients from two Massachusetts trauma centers to evaluate if medical cannabis addressed post-injury and postoperative pain in musculoskeletal trauma patients. Of the 500 patients, 70 reported using medical marijuana during their recovery, a majority of whom felt that marijuana alleviated their symptoms of pain.

A significant proportion of those medical marijuana users — 81 percent of patients, or 57 out of 70 — reported using fewer opioids to treat pain. The authors of the study found that patients’ reported satisfaction with medical marijuana for pain management, as well as their likelihood to reduce opioid use, was independent of the level of pain, whether the patient required surgery or the age and sex of the respondent.

Can Marijuana Replace Opioids? Mounting Evidence

This study adds to the mounting body of evidence that medical marijuana can replace opioids in pain management treatments. In addition to the Harvard study, a study published in the Journal of Pain found that patients reduced their opioid use by nearly 64 percent while also experiencing an improvement in the quality of life and a reduction in adverse side effects from their pain management treatment.

These results closely match findings from a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. In an interview with saludmóvil™, Dr. Brian J. Piper, lead author of the report, summarized its findings: “[What] we found is that after starting medical marijuana, many of the patients that were previously using opioids reduced the use of those agents.”

Nearly 77% of individuals in Piper’s study reported a reduction in opioid use.

Saludmóvil™ covered a separate survey this summer in which over a third of medical marijuana users reported replacing their prescription painkillers with cannabis to manage their pain effectively. The remaining respondents used pot in place of prescription antidepressants and antianxiety medications, reflecting the versatility of cannabis in treating different modalities of pain and illness.

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