Patients in a study using medical marijuana to control chronic pain reported a 64% reduction in use of prescription opioid pain medications.
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They also saw fewer side effects from their medications, and a 45% improvement in quality of life.
The researchers originally set out to find out if cannabis use was more effective for sufferers with severe centralized chronic pain, for whom the opioids have not always worked well.
"We hypothesized that cannabis might be particularly effective for the type of pain seen in conditions such as fibromyalgia, since there are many studies suggesting that synthetic cannabinoids work in these conditions," Clauw said. "We did not see this because the patients in this study rated cannabis to be equally effective for those with different pain severity."
It was the patients with less severe chronic pain who reported better quality of life and less use of opioids.
"We would caution against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis, but note that this study suggests that cannabis is an effective pain medication and agent to prevent opioid overuse," Boehnke said.
At present, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical purposes and four states allow it for recreational use.