Medical Cannabis: A Promising Alternative for Osteoarthritis Pain Management, Study Suggests

CannabisImage by Julia Teichmann

PHILADELPHIA, PA — In the ongoing battle against opioid addiction, a recent study reveals medical cannabis could be a significant ally. The research suggests that cannabis can effectively manage pain in osteoarthritis patients, potentially reducing their reliance on opioids.

Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, often leads to severe pain requiring management with opioids. However, a team of researchers from Philadelphia has discovered that medical cannabis may offer a more effective and safer alternative.

“Our findings indicate that providing access to medical cannabis helps patients with chronic pain due to osteoarthritis reduce their levels of opioid usage in addition to improving pain and quality of life,” says Dr. Asif Ilyas, MD, co-author of the study. He is President of the Rothman Opioid Foundation in Philadelphia, a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University, and an Associate Dean of Clinical Research at the Drexel University College of Medicine in Pennsylvania.

The study, titled “Medical Cannabis Use Reduces Opioid Prescriptions in Patients With Osteoarthritis”, highlights the potential benefits of medical cannabis in addressing opioid dependency, a major public health concern. The findings were published in the January 2022 issue of The Cureus Journal of Medical Science, a peer-reviewed journal.

The study focused on 40 patients suffering from chronic pain due to osteoarthritis. It found that those who were certified for medical cannabis filled significantly fewer opioid prescriptions post-certification compared to pre-certification. “More than one-third of patients stopped filling opioid prescriptions altogether. Pain and quality of life measures were also improved following medical cannabis certification,” explained Ilyas.

As of 2020, over 30 states across the US have approved medical cannabis for the treatment of pain. It has been shown to treat chronic noncancer pain, neuropathic pain, and multiple sclerosis-related spasticity and is generally well-tolerated and safe to use. However, the use of medical cannabis for managing chronic pain caused by musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, has been limited due to physicians’ hesitancy to prescribe it.

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The study’s findings suggest that introducing medical cannabis to patients with low levels of opioid utilization could significantly decrease, or even eliminate, their need for opioid medications to control their pain.

“Our findings suggest that medical cannabis should be considered for patients with chronic pain due to osteoarthritis to decrease opioid use. Moreover, because medical cannabis has a superior safety profile and minimizes the risk of potentially fatal overdose, medical cannabis can also be considered a viable option before initiating opioid prescriptions,” says Ilyas.

These results align with existing literature suggesting that medical cannabis can reduce the use of opioids for chronic pain treatment. As the healthcare industry grapples with the opioid crisis, this study provides valuable insights into potential alternatives for pain management.

As medical cannabis continues to gain acceptance and regulatory approval across the country, the findings underscore its potential role in transforming pain management strategies. For patients living with chronic pain due to osteoarthritis, this could mean a safer, more effective path to relief.

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