New research finds patients are choosing cannabis over opioids to treat chronic pain and insomnia

New research from America has found further evidence that cannabis can safely and effectively help treat pain and insomnia.

The study, published in Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, found significant anecdotal evidence that people are increasingly replacing their pharmaceutical medications, often opioid-based, with medical cannabis to help them sleep and reduce pain.

Researchers at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine conducted a review of 1,000 medical cannabis patients to investigate the impact of legalisation in Colorado.

The study’s lead author, Dr Gwen Wurm, and her research team used survey data from people who purchased cannabis from two retail stores in Colorado, US, where it is legal for both medical and recreational use.

The questionnaire itself consisted of questions concerning sociodemographic factors (age, gender, race/ethnicity, education level, history of military service), self-reported health status, use of cannabis for pain relief, and use of cannabis to promote sleep.

Of all respondents, 74% reported using cannabis to promote sleep, with 65% reported using cannabis to relieve pain.

For those using cannabis to relieve pain, 80% reported that cannabis was very or extremely helpful for relieving pain. Amazingly, 82% reported reducing or stopping use of over-the-counter, pharmaceutical medications. Among respondents taking opioid analgesics, 88% reported reducing or stopping use of those medications.

For those using cannabis as an aid for sleep,  83% found cannabis to be very or extremely helpful for sleep. Similar to those taking cannabis for pain relief, 87% of patients using cannabis to treat insomnia reported reducing or stopping use of over-the-counter medications, with 83% claiming they were able to reduce, or stop altogether, use of those medications.

Discussing the results of the study, Dr. Wurm mentioned why replacing opioid-based medications with cannabis could help save lives:

“Approximately 20% of American adults suffer from chronic pain, and one in three adults do not get enough sleep.

“People develop tolerance to opioids, which means that they require higher doses to achieve the same effect. This means that chronic pain patients often increase their dose of opioid medications over time, which in turn increases their risk of overdose.

“In states where adult use of cannabis is legal, our research suggests that many individuals bypass the medical cannabis route (which requires registering with the state) and are instead opting for the privacy of a legal adult use dispensary.

“Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen cause GI bleeding or kidney damage with chronic use. Paracetemol (Acetaminophen) toxicity is the second most common cause of liver transplantation worldwide, and is responsible for 56,000 ER visits, 2600 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths per year in the U.S.

“The challenge is that health providers are far behind in knowing which cannabis products work and which do not. Until there is more research into which cannabis products work for which symptoms, patients will do their own “trial and error,” experiments, getting advice from friends, social media and dispensary employees.”

Given the choice, patients with legal access to cannabis are apparently optting to use cannabinoids over opioids.

Researchers believe this is because cannabis is non-toxic, meaning it is impossible to overdose on. There are also limited side-effects associated with cannabis, unless you have a genetic predisposition to psychosis. For many patients, the experience of a “dry-mouth” is far more tolerable than “brain fog” or a breakdown of vital organs, which opioid users can suffer.

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