Medical cannabis reduces demand for other prescription drugs

A team of German researchers has found that the use of cannabis-based medicinal products is associated with significant decreases in the use of pain and prescription drugs among patients suffering from chronic pain, according to data published in the German science journal Schmerz.

Researchers analysed a cohort of 187 pain patients at three pain centres in the German federal state of Saarland who had received at least one prescription of cannabis-based medicines in the past.

Over 88 per cent of the patients reported experiencing either significant or moderate improvements in their overall condition after starting cannabis-based therapy. Of participants who were taking other prescription medications at the start of the study, 65 per cent ceased their use of opioids, 60 per cent stopped using antidepressants, and 58 per cent stopped taking anticonvulsants.

“[cannabis-based medicines] can contribute to a clinically relevant reduction in pain, sleep problems and muscle tension and can improve daily functioning in carefully selected and supervised patients with chronic pain. CbM can contribute to the reduction or complete cessation of other pain medications (antidepressants, anticonvulsants, opioids)” the authors of the study said.

The findings follow on from another study into the impact of cannabis-based medicines on opioid use, released earlier this year. Researchers from the State University of New York at Albany and the New York State Department of Health studied the impact of medical cannabis on opioid use in over 8,000 chronic pain patients who were in receipt of long-term opioid-based prescriptions.

Participants were split into two groups, both of which began cannabis-based treatments at the start of the study. One group ceased cannabis after 30 days while the second group continued. Data gathered over 8 months showed that patients daily morphine milligram intake (MME) decreased following cannabis-based therapy, with the decline growing more significantly over time. Researchers also showed that “significantly greater reductions” in opioid dosage were observed among the group receiving medical cannabis treatment for a longer period of time.

“In this cohort study of patients receiving LOT [long-term opioid treatment], receiving MC [medical cannabis] for a longer duration was associated with reductions in opioid dosages,” they concluded. “These findings contribute robust evidence for clinicians regarding the potential benefits of MC in reducing the opioid burden for patients receiving LOT and possibly reduc[ing] their risk for overdose.”

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