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Study Finds Medical Cannabis Use Cuts Arthritis Patients' Opioid Use

Study Finds Medical Cannabis Cuts Arthritis Patients’ Opioid Use

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

March 8, 2022

Patients with osteoarthritis who began using medical cannabis reduced their opioid use and saw overall improvements in quality of life, according to recently published research. The study, “Medical cannabis use reduces opioid prescriptions in patients with osteoarthritis,” was recently published by the journal Cureus.

To conduct the study, researchers affiliated with the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia studied the patterns of opioid use among 40 patients with osteoarthritis, a disease characterized by the wearing down of cartilage at the ends of bones. The patients’ opioid consumption habits were tracked during the six months immediately before and after beginning treatment with medical cannabis.

Patients used medical cannabis through a variety of ingestion methods including vaporizing cannabis oil, vaporizing cannabis flower and the use of oral, sublingual or topical tinctures. The most common route of administration was sublingual tinctures, followed by topicals, vaporized oil, oral tinctures and vaporized flower. 

Data on the route of administration of medical cannabis was collected for 33 patients in the study group. Among them, 21 used a single route of administration, 11 used two routes, and the remaining patient used three routes. Among patients using only one route of administration, sublingual tinctures were the most popular method of consuming medical cannabis.

The study found that patients filled statistically less prescriptions for opioids six months after beginning medical cannabis compared to six months before treatment. Additionally, one-third of the study subjects stopped filling opioid prescriptions entirely. The researchers also reported improvements in the patients’ overall quality of life.

“Our findings indicate that providing access to MC [medical cannabis], helps patients with chronic pain due to OA [osteoarthritis] reduce their levels of opioid usage in addition to improving pain and QoL [quality of life]. Furthermore, a majority of patients did not feel intoxicated or high from MC, and of those who did, only a small percentage said it interfered with their daily activities,”  the authors wrote in the study, as quoted by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Our findings support the literature in that MC reduces the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.”

Most Common Form of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis globally, according to information from the Mayo Clinic. The disease can damage any joint in the body but is most commonly found in the hands, knees, hips and spine. Damage to joints can not be reversed, but symptoms can usually be managed. The wearing of cartilage in the joints occurs gradually and worsens over time, although the progression of the disease can be slowed with medical treatment and by staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. 

Osteoarthritis can cause significant pain in patients with the disease. The authors of the study noted that opioids are routinely prescribed opioids for osteoarthritis conditions, “despite issues of tolerability, dependency, and abuse.” They noted that the United States, which records about 3 million cases of osteoarthritis annually, is currently faced with an opioid crisis. Opioid-related deaths increased by nearly four times between 1999 and 2015, while 37.8 percent of adults used opioids in 2015. 

Researchers noted that medical cannabis is now an option for many osteoarthritis patients, with 30 states approving the use of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain. However, so far there has been insufficient evidence that medical cannabis can be an effective replacement for opioids. The researchers said the study supported their hypothesis that the use of medical cannabis could result in less opioid use among osteoarthritis patients.

“Based on our findings, the introduction of MC for patients with low levels of opioid utilization has a high chance of decreasing opioid utilization and even eliminating the need for opioid medications to control their pain altogether,” they wrote. “Our findings suggest that MC should be considered for patients with chronic pain due to OA in order to decrease opioid use.”

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington

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