Many people in Canada use cannabis for medical purposes to treat arthritis and other muscle pain, often without consulting their doctor, according to a new study.
Up to 1 in 5 patients who see an orthopedic surgeon for chronic musculoskeletal pain use a cannabis-based product to treat it, Canadian researchers have found.
We found that 20% reported past or current use of cannabis with the specific intent to manage pain,” said the author of the study, Dr. Timothy Leroux, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toronto.
Not just recreational users, but patients who said, I use cannabis because I want to improve pain with this disease.”
There’s also a lot of interest in medical cannabis among people with arthritis who haven’t tried it yet, Leroux and his team found. Two-thirds of non-users are interested in trying a cannabis product to treat their muscle and joint pain, the researchers reported.
The study in question
For this study, he and his colleagues surveyed more than 600 patients who visited an orthopedic clinic in Toronto. It is available by clicking on this link.
Cannabis users were generally very appreciative of the products:
- 9 out of 10 said it was effective in managing their pain.
- 4 out of 10 said it reduced their dependence on other analgesic drugs.
- 6 in 10 reported that cannabis products were more effective than other medicines.
This is encouraging in the face of the ongoing opioid epidemic as we seek to find safe alternatives to opioids for pain control,” said Dr. Yili Huang, director of the Pain Management Center at Northwell Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Cannabis can help reduce, or in some cases completely replace, the number of opioid drugs needed to control pain,” said Huang, who was not part of the study. This may be because cannabis acts on many different pain pathways in our bodies and may even interact with the separate chemical pathways on which opioids act.
Pain patients using medical cannabis in the study were more likely to suffer from multiple conditions, report a heavy burden of pain and more painful areas on their bodies.
They were also more likely to have a history of visits to the pain clinic, a long period with a painful condition, and a higher rate of use of pain medication, according to the researchers. They were also more likely to use or have used cannabis recreationally.
Which cannabinoid in particular for arthritis or muscle pain?
Although people are looking for pain relief, they are not necessarily looking to get high: the most commonly used cannabinoid was cannabidiol, or CBD, a hemp compound that does not cause psychotropic effects, the researchers said.
Only about a quarter of people reported using a product containing THC, which makes you high.
Unfortunately, the rest of the people “had no idea what they were taking,” Leroux said.
How do patients use medical cannabis?
The most common way to consume a cannabis product was by ingesting an oil, with 60% of them reporting using the oil derived from cannabis, according to the researchers.
We found a general trend towards more edible and non-hallucinogenic products,” Leroux said.
However, the study revealed some worrying trends:
Only one-quarter of marijuana users said they first talked to a doctor.
Most people did not take cannabis on the recommendation of a doctor or seek advice from a doctor to take cannabis,” said Leroux. They used it the same way, they would use a drug, but without the supervision of a doctor.
It is a problem because cannabis products can have side effects and can interact with other drugs, he said.
Although patients can benefit from a doctor’s advice, Leroux said, many doctors avoid conversations about cannabis for medical purposes.
For now, I suggest you proceed with caution, and if you choose to use the product, you talk to someone who knows more about these products,” he said.
Leroux presented these results at a virtual exhibition of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Such research generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.