Important news for the fight against opioid addiction was announced yesterday, sharing the results of a landmark new study by HelloMD and UC Berkeley, that shows the overwhelming majority of cannabis patients (92%) prefer using cannabis to opioids when managing their chronic pain. These results may not be surprising to some, but the significant findings take us one big step closer to showing doctors, healthcare professionals, and other stakeholders the potential for cannabis to alleviate the opioid crisis our nation is experiencing.
The Opioid Crisis
Deaths from opioid overdoses have been on an exponential rise since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their latest report released in February showed more than 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids in the last 16 years, with 91 Americans dying each day. This number is even larger when we include deaths due to heroin overdose, which caused nearly 13,000 in 2015 alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly half of young people who inject heroin abused prescription opioids first.
Researchers have already noticed a decline in overdose-related deaths in states where cannabis is medically legal, and the evidence will continue to build as time goes on. A study published last July by Health Affairs found that a typical physician in a state where medical cannabis is legal prescribed 1,826 fewer painkiller doses in a given year for Medicare patients because seniors chose to treat their pain with medical cannabis. Researcher and cannabis policy maker Amanda Reiman states, “the treatment of pain has become a politicized business in the United States. The result has been the rapidly rising rate of opioid related overdoses and dependence.”
Cannabis Effectively Treats Chronic Pain
This past year UC Berkeley partnered with HelloMD to conduct the largest patient survey ever exploring the use of cannabis as a substitute for opiate and non-opiate based pain medication. The significant results support the views that cannabis can and should be considered the primary option for managing chronic pain due to its safety and efficacy.
The study was led by a trio of experts in their field: Amanda Reiman PhD, MSW, of UC Berkeley and the Drug Policy Alliance, Perry Solomon, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of HelloMD, and Mark A. Welty PhD, NCC, LPCC-S, LSW, of Kent State University. With access to HelloMD’s patient database they were able to mine data from the nation’s largest community of medical cannabis patients. Surveys were sent out to HelloMD’s entire patient database, and data was collected from close to 3,000 participants. Patients were asked about their usage of cannabis and how it affected their consumption of opioids. Among the key findings, the study found:
- 97% “strongly agreed/agreed” that they could decrease their opioid use when using cannabis
- 92% “strongly agreed/agreed” that they prefer cannabis to treat their medical condition
- 81% “strongly agreed/agreed” that cannabis by itself was more effective than taking cannabis with opioids. The results were similar when using cannabis with non-opiate based pain medications.
“The results of our study were striking, showing 97% of people were able to decrease the amount of opioids that they used in conjunction with cannabis use. This was more than double the amount shown in any previous studies conducted,” said Dr. Perry Solomon. “The latest publication from the National Academy of Sciences clearly showed that chronic pain is one of the medical conditions that cannabis can be used for with great efficacy. Our study not only supports this but also goes further in that the clear majority of patient’s state that they prefer it. Hopefully this will awaken the public, medical professionals and legislatures to the fact that there is a safe, non-addictive product available to help fight the opioid epidemic, and that is cannabis.”
Amanda Reiman adds, “Cannabis has been used throughout the world for thousands of years to treat pain and other physical and mental health conditions. Patients have been telling us for decades that this practice is producing better outcomes than the use of opioid based medications. It’s past time for the medical profession to get over their reefer madness and start working with the medical cannabis movement and industry to slow down the destruction being caused by the over prescribing and overuse of opioids.”