A Finnish study has found medical cannabis and opioids were perceived to be equally efficacious in reducing pain intensity in chronic pain patients, but with the former offering additional benefits.
In the study, a retrospective internet survey was used in a sample of Finnish chronic pain patients – 40 of whom were medical cannabis (MC) users and 161 opioid users.
Among the medical cannabis group, 60% reported their medicine was THC-dominant, 18% reported balanced THC and CBD, and 5% reported CBD-dominant. 13% did not know this information. In the opioid group, 48% reported using a weak opioid such as codeine or tramadol, 20% a medium strength opioid (e.g., buprenorphine), and 31% used strong opioids such as fentanyl or oxycodone. Data was missing for 2 cases in this group.
The patients evaluated statements describing positive and negative phenomenological (subjective experience) effects of the medicine.
The medical cannabis group received higher scores than the opioid group in positive emotional effects with large effect size, and also in holistic positive effects with medium effect size. There was no difference in negative side effects, and medical cannabis and opioids were perceived as equally efficacious in reducing pain intensity.
The researchers note:
“… but MC additionally positively affected broader pain-related factors such as emotion, functionality, and overall sense of wellbeing. This supports the hypothesis that MC alleviates pain through holistically altering the pain experience.”
These researchers state the holistic effects of medical cannabis could explain inconsistencies in clinical trials, where focus has primarily been on pain intensity rather than broader pain phenomenology including relaxation, sleep and mood, reaction to pain and a sense of control.
“The results highlight the importance of taking these holistic effects into account in treating patients with MC, considering them as part of the therapeutic process.”
The full text of the study report has been published in the Journal of Cannabis Research.
Another study published earlier this year found 96% of participants confirmed the efficacy of cannabis in managing pain. Among other important findings from that study were participants either decreased or stopped their use of prescribed medicines, many of which were opioid-based.