Findings in a new study suggest that nearly everyone who uses medical cannabinoids prefer the natural compounds to prescription opioids. Researchers from the University of California Berkeley surveyed nearly 3,000 patients on using cannabinoids as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid pain medications.
Approximately 100 million people in the United States and 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. Debilitating and persistent, pain is the most common cause of long-term disability in the U.S. For helping patients manage pain, physicians commonly prescribe opioids, which bind to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas to reduce the perception of pain.
While generally effective for pain management, opioids carry a high risk of abuse and overdose. Opioid receptors are found in the brainstem, an area of the brain that manages respiratory and circulatory functions. When taken at high doses, opioids can lead to respiratory depression and cardiac arrest.
With an average of 78 Americans dying each day from an opioid-related overdose, this study suggests that pain-relieving cannabinoids, which have been found to have a favorable safety profile and to never cause a deadly overdose, may be beneficial in the efforts to reduce opioid intake.
Among the study’s key findings, 97 percent of the patients surveyed “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they could reduce their intake of opioid painkillers when taking medical cannabinoids. Additionally, 92 percent of patients “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they preferred cannabinoids to other pain medications. More than 8 of 10 patients responded that using cannabinoids alone was more effective for pain relief than combining cannabinoids with opioids.
“The treatment of pain has become a politicized business in the United States. The result has been the rapidly rising rate of opioid related overdoses and dependence,” said Amanda Reiman, one of the study’s authors. “[Cannabinoids have] been used throughout the world for thousands of years to treat pain and other physical and mental health conditions.”
The legal status of cannabinoids in the U.S. is complex and is dependent upon state laws, as well as from what type of plant the natural compounds are derived. According to the survey, 93 percent of patients “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they would more likely select medical cannabinoids over opioids if both substances were readily available.
“Patients have been telling us for decades that this practice is producing better outcomes than the use of opioid-based medications,” said Reman.
A study conducted earlier this year found that a particular cannabinoid – cannabidiol (CBD) – can be beneficial for helping those who have become dependent on opioids to reduce their cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
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