A comprehensive report released in January 2017 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded that the cannabinoids in cannabis help manage chronic pain effectively. The report, which comprises a “rigourous review of relevant scientific research published since 1999,” looked at how cannabis and cannabis-derived products affected individuals with a variety of conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and injuries. A committee of over 15 MDs and PhDs looked at more than 10,000 scientific abstracts during the course of the study period.
The NASEM results are consistent with the findings of a clinical review from Harvard University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which also looked at the efficacy of cannabis in treating chronic pain. The review included studies conducted in the years ranging from 1948–2015—specifically focusing on randomized clinical trials involving cannabinoid as a therapeutic medicine. Researchers found that all six general chronic pain studies that they reviewed—which included 325 chronic pain patients—supported the use of marijuana as an effective pain reliever.
Cannabis Effectively Replaces Opioids When It Comes to Pain Relief
Folks who suffer from chronic pain are typically prescribed—and sometimes overprescribed—highly addictive opioids or high doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, both of which can lead to serious medical problems if too much is taken or if they’re taken for too long a period of time. When compared to these traditional pharmaceuticals, cannabis is a safer alternative without the serious side effects that opioids or NSAIDs can have. Unlike opioids, cannabis has no overdose deaths directly associated with its use.
In 2017, University of California, Berkeley, and HelloMD, concluded the largest study conducted on cannabis, chronic pain and opioids. The study, which surveyed almost 3,000 medical marijuana patients, found that 97% of patients said they could decrease their opioid use when using cannabis. Meanwhile, 92% of patients said they prefer using cannabis when managing their chronic pain. And 81% said that cannabis alone was more effective in relieving pain than taking cannabis with opioids was.
“Given the safety profile of cannabis compared to opioids, cannabis appears to be far safer,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, professor and chief of Hematology and Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) each appear to help reduce pain. Both cannabinoids have analgesic qualities, though THC is considered the stronger of the two when it comes to killing pain. Meanwhile, CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory, and so can help treat chronic pain associated with inflammation such as arthritis and migraines.
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