Medicinal cannabis can reduce or even eliminate opioid use in patients with chronic back pain and osteoarthritis, according to two studies presented at the 2022 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The research also demonstrated that pain and quality of life scores improved after patients were prescribed the medicine.
The two studies reviewed opioid prescriptions filled for patients with chronic back pain and osteoarthritis who were certified for medicinal cannabis access between February 2018 and July 2019.
The average morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day of opioid prescriptions filled six months before patients accessed medicinal cannabis were compared to the six months after.
Among a cohort of 186, the chronic musculoskeletal non-cancer back pain data showed a significant decrease in the average MME per day after a medicinal cannabis prescription, from 15.1 to 11. Of those, 38.7% dropped to zero MME per day.
Patients also reported improved intensity, frequency, and daily function after medicinal cannabis use.
Among 40 osteoarthritis patients given access to medicinal cannabis, there was a significant decrease in the average MME per day — from 18.2 to 9.8 — with 37.5% dropping to zero.
Pain scores also decreased significantly.
Principal investigator Dr Asif M. Ilyas from the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, said: “Our studies show that medical cannabis can be an effective treatment for chronic back pain and osteoarthritis.
“In the setting of the current opioid crisis, we must identify alternatives that may mitigate the reliance on opioids for controlling pain.
“At this point, we are not advocating for the routine use of medical cannabis or saying it is a better option, but our studies show potential.”
Dr Ilyas added more research is needed “to better understand the best routes and frequencies, potential adverse events, and long-term outcomes of medical cannabis use”.