Researchers take a closer look at the effectiveness and safety of medical cannabis as a replacement for opioids.
Israel continues to be one of the world's leading sources of cannabis research.
Roxana Gonzalez | EyeEm | Getty Images
In a new study from the country, researchers found that cannabis can provide relief for the symptoms experienced by cancer patients, such as pain, while causing only minimal side effects. The research was culled from university and medical center studies and published in the Frontiers in Pain Research journal. The findings provide another study showing that cannabis has the potential as an alternative to opioids for pain relief.
"The adverse effects from cannabinoids for cancer treatment are generally well tolerated by the patients and categorized as mild to moderate," the researchers wrote. The mild cannabis side effects included nausea and weakness.
Cannabis as a replacement for opioids
Using cannabis for pain management is repeatedly mentioned in studies, especially as a replacement for opioids. Managing pain and reducing the need for opioids are some of the main reasons seniors seek access to medical marijuana, even if they still face stigma around using weed. Even the federal government, which continues to make cannabis illegal, is encouraging scientific study into the potential use of cannabis to treat cancer patients.
Why? Because while the country may find itself distracted by any number of crises, the opioid epidemic rages on. It's officially been a public health emergency since 2017. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shared the following number, all from 2019:
▶ 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder
▶ 1.6 million people misused a prescription pain medication for the first time
▶ 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids for the first time
▶ Almost 71,000 people died from a drug overdose, and 70 percent of those deaths involved a prescription or illegal opioid (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Those numbers explain why finding viable alternatives to opioids for pain management is something many researchers have an interest in.
What the Israeli pain study found
The Israeli study involved 404 patients. Doctors gave each 20 grams of cannabis every month for six months. Patients used cannabis by smoking it or through oil extracts taken under the tongue. Their average age was 64, and 59 percent were female.
The study found that using cannabis led to a 20 percent drop in all patients' median pain intensity level. Men also reported a reduction in sexuality problems. Both women and men reported improved sleep, anxiety, and overall quality of life.
The study also found that 40 percent of those who used analgesic medications (over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants) no longer used them while receiving cannabis treatments.
The researchers wrote that the study "demonstrated an overall mild to modest long-term statistical improvement of all investigated measures including pain, associated symptoms and, importantly, reduction in opioid (and other analgesics) use," the researchers wrote.
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