NIH Funds First-Ever Study on Impact of Medical Marijuana on Opioid Use

By Staff.

A first-ever long-term study testing whether medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain has just been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  A five-year $3.8 millions grant for the study was awarded to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System.  

The study will look at people who test positive for HIV because, according to Albert Einstein College of Medicine, this population has more chronic pain and opioid use compared to the general population.  They note that between 25% and 90% of adults with HIV suffer from chronic pain, and adults with HIV are likely to receive opioids to help manage their pain.  The study will also include 250 who test negatiev for HIV.

Now that 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana, many with HIV have access to medical marijuana because it is used to treat pain and to help alleviate other conditions that are prominent among adults with HIV. 

“There is a lack of information about the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use in those with chronic pain,” says Chinazo Cunningham, M.D., M.S., associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein and Montefiore and principal investigator on the grant. “We hope this study will fill in the gaps and provide doctors and patients with some much needed guidance.”

According to a press release from the organization, “researchers have never studied—in any population—if the use of medical marijuana over time reduces the use of opioids. Additionally, there are no studies on how the specific chemical compounds of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), affect health outcomes, like pain, function, and quality of life. Most studies that have reported negative effects of long-term marijuana use have focused on illicit, rather than medical, marijuana.”

“As state and federal governments grapple with the complex issues surrounding opioids and medical marijuana, we hope to provide evidence-based recommendations that will help shape responsible and effective healthcare practices and public policies,” Dr. Cunningham said.

The study will include 250 HIV-positive and HIV-negative adults with use opioids to manage chronic and who have received certification from their physicians to use medical marijuana.  The medical marijuana will be dispensed through approved dispensaries in New York State.  Over the course of 18 months, study subjects will complete online questionnaires every two weeks.  The questionnaires focus on pain levels and the medical and illicit use of marijuana and opioids.  They will also give urine and blood samples at in-person research visits every three months.  In-depth interviews with a select group of these participants will explore their perceptions of how medical marijuana use affects the use of opioids.

The grant is titled “Does medical cannabis reduce opioid analgesics in HIV+ and HIV- adults with pain?” (1R01DA044171-01A1)