Study: Patients with a History of Cannabis Use Consume Fewer Prescription Opioids Following Wrist Surgery

Aurora, CO: Patients with a history of cannabis use consume fewer prescription opioids following surgical treatment for distal radius fractures (a/k/a bone wrist fractures), according to case-control data published in the International Open Access Journal of the American Society for Plastic Surgeons

Researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Center compared the demand for opioids among cannabis consumers (cases) and non-users (controls) following wrist surgery.

They reported, “[T]here was a significant reduction in average MME [morphine milligram equivalents] for the case population’s initial opioid prescription compared with the control population.”

The findings are consistent with those of numerous other studies documenting that patients frequently use cannabis for pain mitigation, and that many patients either reduce or eliminate their consumption of opioids and other medications following the initiation of cannabis therapy.

The study’s authors concluded: “Patients with a diagnosis of cannabis use filled a significantly reduced volume of opioids, measured as MME per prescription, in their first opioid prescription after [surgery] compared to their control counterparts.”

In clinical trials, the co-administration of either smoked cannabis or oral cannabinoids has been documented to augment the pain-relieving effects of opioids. In one study, vaporized herbal cannabis was demonstrated to enhance the pain-relieving activity of morphine and oxycodone in chronic pain subjects, thereby allowing “for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.” Another study reported similarly enhanced analgesic efficacy when low doses of oral THC were combined with hydromorphone (aka Dilaudid). Authors reported, “These data … are indicative of [the] possible opioid-sparing effects” of cannabinoids. These synergistic effects have also been documented in settings where subjects were provided with only sub-therapeutic doses of cannabis and opioids.

Full text of the study, “Patterns of opioid demand after operative treatment of distal radius fractures,” appears in the International Open Access Journal of the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. Additional information is available from the NORML Fact Sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.’

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