While medical cannabis has been prescribed for a wide variety of conditions – including insomnia, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, epilepsy, nausea and more – there is one condition that accounts for around 60% of all the medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia: chronic pain.
Medical cannabis clinic Alternaleaf recently conducted a survey of more than 3000 patients using cannabis to treat chronic pain. The answers showed that for the vast majority of these patients, medical cannabis offered not only significant reductions in their reported pain levels but also marked improvements in their quality of life.
Here are five key insights from these patients about using medical cannabis to treat their pain.
1. Medical Cannabis Significantly Reduces Pain
For something so well-studied, our methods of assessing pain are still very simple: you ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Unlike the results of a blood test, there’s no absolute way of measuring pain – it’s a subjective phenomenon. Previous studies have suggested that improvements of more than 1.3 on the scale are “clinically significant”.
In the survey, Alternaleaf asked chronic pain patients to rate their pain on bad days and good days before and after starting medical cannabis treatment. On average, patients reported an improvement of 3 points, well past the threshold for clinical significance and meaning that for most patients their bad days while using medical cannabis were better than their good days had been before.
2. Medical Cannabis Means Fewer Medications & Side Effects
When it comes to treating chronic pain, the first-line treatment is still often medication and, in particular, opioids, such as oxycodone. And while opioids are important and reliable tools in the management of pain, they bring with them a range of unwanted side effects, as well as the risk of dependence.
For many chronic pain patients, medical cannabis offers a chance to reduce their reliance on these medicines – and more than 6-in-10 of the patients said they had stopped using other pain medications since commencing medical cannabis treatment.
They were also asked about the side effects they experienced both before and after starting cannabis treatment. Only 15% of patients said that the medical cannabis caused side effects and, of those, only 10% classified the side effects as severe. This compares with the 64% that said they had dealt with side effects on other medications, 37% of who classified them as severe.
3. Medical Cannabis Improves Quality Of Life
Almost 9-in-10 patients said that using medical cannabis for their chronic pain had led to positive life outcomes. While an eye-opening statistic, it gels with other academic research that has been done into chronic pain patient outcomes with medical cannabis.
The story here probably goes beyond pure pain relief. While certainly a factor, medical cannabis is also associated with increased levels of physical and social activity, fewer side effects and reduced use of prescription medication.
4. Medical Cannabis Helps Manage Pain
In the broader medical research community, there’s still an active debate as to whether medical cannabis actually has any analgesic properties and, if so, how strong they are, what cannabinoids trigger it and for what types of pain it could be effective.
Yet for patients the story is clear cut: only 4% of chronic pain patients using medical cannabis say cannabis doesn’t help them manage their pain.
How do we explain this difference? Part of it probably has to do with the painstaking and precise nature of medical studies combined with the still early nature of cannabis research. It will take time and resources to understand the exact triggers and mechanisms of action in a medicine as complex as cannabis.
Another part of it may be the more holistic effects of cannabis treatment. While cannabis may have some purely analgesic properties, it’s also associated with mental uplift – and given the psychological impacts of chronic pain, this could be as valuable as any question of pain relief.
5. Medical Cannabis Makes Them More Active
People with chronic pain often find themselves in a cruel cycle where the pain stops them from engaging in physical and social activities, yet those are the same activities that could help improve their quality of life. As they become less physically active and more socially closed off, their symptoms can worsen, leaving them with ever poorer physical and mental health.
In the survey, chronic pain patients who were using medical cannabis reported a significant uptick in their capacity for activity, with 63% saying that they’d been able to resume doing activities they’d previously needed to stop because of their pain. This also corresponded with the three-quarters of patients who said that they felt more positive about their lives since beginning medical cannabis treatment.
Chronic Pain & Medical Cannabis: A New Landscape
While the science around medical cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain is only now coming into focus, the lived experience of the hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients already using cannabis to manage their chronic pain is a compelling data point.
If you think medical cannabis could be able to help you with your chronic pain, book an appointment with your local GP or a dedicated cannabis clinic. A doctor will be able to assess your history and symptoms and decide whether medical cannabis could be a suitable pain management strategy.