On Aug. 8, 2017, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System announced that they had received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a long-term study on how medical cannabis affects opioid use in adults with chronic pain.
“There is a lack of information about the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use in those with chronic pain,” said Chinazo Cunningham, M.D., M.S., associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein and Montefiore and principal investigator on the grant. “We hope this study will fill in the gaps and provide doctors and patients with some much needed guidance.”
According to the announcement, the study, awarded a five-year grant for $3.8 million, is the first long-term study to test whether medical cannabis can reduce the use of opioids in adult patients with chronic pain, including patients with human immunodeficiency virus.
The study’s participants will include 250 HIV-positive and HIV-negative adults in New York who suffer from chronic pain and who have also been certified by a physician to use medical cannabis. During the 18-month study, the participants will complete biweekly web-based questionnaires on their pain levels as well as their usage rates of cannabis and opioids. A select group of participants will be asked to complete in-depth interviews to discuss how medical cannabis affected their use of opioids.
This may be be the first long-term study on how medical cannabis affects opioid use in adults with chronic pain, but a 15-month study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2016 found that chronic pain patients who used medical cannabis saw a 64% reduction in their use of opioids.
While the two aforementioned studies deal directly with patient reporting, a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with medical cannabis had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate than states without medical cannabis. The 2014 study used death certificate data between 1999 and 2010 from all 50 states.
With the opioid epidemic continuing to ravage states across America, studies like the one being conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine might help doctors see cannabis as a viable treatment option for patients suffering from chronic pain.