Marijuana is an effective treatment for chronic pain and is a safer alternative than opioid analgesics, according to a Canadian researcher at the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria.
Phillippe Lucas,MA, reviewed numerous studies conducted from 1975 to the present in which patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain were treated with a combination of cannabis and opiates.
“Research suggests that when used in conjunction with opiates, cannabinoids can lead to a greater cumulative relief of pain, which may in turn result in a reduction in the use of opiates (and associated side effects) by patients in a clinical setting,” wrote Lucas. “This may not only have a positive impact on patient pain levels and overall quality of life, but also on the overall morbidity and mortality associated with pharmaceutical opiates, and on the high levels of opiate addiction in both patients and the general population.”
About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine. Over the past decade, the prescribing of opioid analgesics to relieve that pain has soared. In 2008, over 14,000 Americans died from overdoses of prescription drug, the vast majority of them painkillers.
“There remains a significant group of patients for whom traditional pharmacological pain control is incomplete or ineffective,” Lucas wrote in a review published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. He said marijuana was also effective at treating substance abuse and addiction, not only to opioids, but to stimulants and alcohol.
“Community-based medical cannabis dispensaries have proven successful at supplying patients with a safe source of cannabis within an environment conducive to healing, and may be reducing the problematic use of pharmaceutical opiates and other potentially harmful substances in their communities,” he said.
Lucas said that social and clinical research has “debunked” the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug for the abuse of other substances.
“If we are to ever benefit from drug policies based on science, reason and compassion, national governments will need to abandon the misinformation that underscores drug prohibition, and to start promoting research into cannabis and cannabinoids as both a relatively safe and effective medicine in the treatment of chronic pain and other serious medical conditions, and as a potential “exit drug” for problematic substance use,” Lucas wrote.