Is Medical Marijuana a Good Choice for Treating My Chronic Pain?

According to the Miami New Times, Florida may have the fastest growing medical marijuana market in the country. As of May 1, some 213,000 people were enrolled, with 10,000 or more signing up each month. If you’re wondering about whether or not medical marijuana could be the answer for treating your chronic pain, you probably have found some conflicting information. 

In an effort to help you understand more about medical marijuana, we’re presenting you with what’s known -- and what’s not -- regarding the use of medical marijuana. 

Chronic pain tops the list

Somewhere around 50 million Americans have chronic pain, and in some cases, it’s debilitating, robbing you of the ability to work, focus, pursue hobbies, and significantly degrading the quality of your life. It isn’t surprising, then, to find that almost 70% of people who use medical marijuana use it in pursuit of relief from chronic pain. 

A study published in Health Affairs investigated the registry data to learn why most people are licensed to use medical marijuana. The researchers report, “Chronic pain is currently and historically the most common qualifying condition reported by medical cannabis patients.” 

Medical marijuana could be an alternative to opioids

The key word is “could” because very little research has compared the two treatment strategies. Although a majority of states have declared medical marijuana legal, it’s still illegal at the federal level, which means that researchers in federally funded labs are restricted in the research they can perform when it comes to marijuana. 

What is well-known is that opioids can have devastating effects. The current epidemic of opioid addiction provides all the evidence researchers, doctors, and patients might need to understand the dangers associated with opioids. 

What isn’t known, from a research perspective, is how effectively marijuana relieves chronic pain. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence -- people who have tried it and believe that it helps them -- but the gold standard in research is the randomized clinical trial. And, so far, there haven’t been any of those. 

That is not to say there haven’t been studies on the use of medical marijuana. There have been; they just haven’t been randomized clinical trials. For example, an observational study recently published in the journal PAIN investigated what patients believe about how well medical marijuana relieves pain and found that most of them believe medical marijuana results in improved pain levels. 

However, another study, conducted in Australia and published in The Lancet found, “Cannabis use was common in people with chronic non-cancer pain who had been prescribed opioids, but we found no evidence that cannabis use improved patient outcomes.” 

There just haven’t been enough studies conducted for researchers to have reached a consensus about whether or not medical marijuana is a viable alternative to opioids for pain relief. 

There are risks

Although it’s rapidly becoming accepted, there are still risks with medical marijuana use. You may experience side effects such as dry mouth, agitation, fatigue, or disorientation. You are also at risk for tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. 

If you’re interested in finding ways to treat your chronic pain, book an appointment at South Lake Pain Institute. All of our providers are experts in pain management and can speak to you knowledgeably about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain. 

It’s easy to book online, at any time, or give us a call during business hours to schedule an appointment.

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