The study found that 19% of a group of 184 patients at a Colorado spine center were using marijuana to manage their pain. Among those who used marijuana, 89% of patients said it greatly or moderately relieved their pain and 81% said it was equally or more effective than opiate painkillers.
Study co-author Michael Finn, MD presented the findings last week at the North American Spine Society’s annual meeting.
While the study wasn’t designed to evaluate whether marijuana was truly effective or not, Dr. Finn told MedPage Today that the results warrant further research.
Given that one in five patients are using it, there is a real need to look at more.
Dr. Finn says the best evidence for marijuana as a painkiller comes from studies on MS and rheumatoid arthritis. However, research on back pain is still lacking.
Most of the patients in the study were suffering from degenerative disc problems, which usually leads to neuropathic pain – a difficult-to-treat pain caused by nerve damage.
On average, patients who used marijuana reported taking it no more than one or two times a day. Smoking was the most popular form of ingestion, followed by oral preparations and using a vaporizer.
83% of those who took marijuana were also taking other medications – mostly painkillers.
Dr. Finn says the next step is to evaluate marijuana based on the type of spine pain and the amount taken. But he’s also concerned about how marijuana may interact with opiates due to the number of patients taking both.
In 2011, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) published the first human study to investigate the interaction between marijuana and opiate painkillers.
The study included a group of 21 chronic pain sufferers and found that using a combination of vaporized marijuana and opiates (morphine or oxycodone) seemed to offer greater pain relief than either on their own.
“I’d recommend it to anybody in pain”
Lead author Donald Abrams, MD explains that while patients reported the most relief after taking both treatments, the amount of opiates in the blood stream seemed to decrease when marijuana was present.
This, he suggests, could indicate that opiates and cannabis work synergistically to fight pain.
Dr. Abrams says while a larger study needs to be done to confirm what they found, the current body of evidence leads him to believe that marijuana is effective against many forms of pain.
I’d recommend it to anybody with pain, the research has already been done there.
Dr. Abrams’ previous research also supports the effectiveness of vaporized cannabis in HIV-associated neuropathic pain.