In Germany, chronic back pain in the lumbar spine area (lumbalgia) is one of the most common diseases. The causes can be manifold. Patients suffer particularly frequently from arthrosis of the vertebral joints, osteochondrosis (wear-related changes in the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs) and disc protrusion.
In many cases, non-drug therapies and the administration of painkillers are not sufficient to effectively relieve the symptoms. If the pain is very severe, opioids are used, which have considerable side effects and a high risk of dependence.
Various studies have already shown in the past that patients taking opioids and additionally medical cannabis have been able to reduce their opioid dose. This is possible because cannabinoids can enhance the effect of opioids. In this respect, opioids and cannabinoids can complement each other in pain management.
New study delivers positive results
The Society of Cannabis Clinicians in Sebastopol (USA) has now published the results of its retrospective cohort study with 61 patients suffering from chronic lumbar spinal pain and taking opioids.
After the patients received medical cannabis, 50.8 percent were able to stop taking opioids. This lasted a median of 6.4 years (IQR01.75-11 years). Of the 29 patients who could not stop taking opioids, nine patients were able to reduce their opioid dose. Another three patients maintained the dose and 17 patients had to increase the dose.
The authors of the study stated that no variables could be identified to measure which patients stopped taking opioids. However, the authors assume that those who used higher doses of cannabis were also more likely to stop using opioids for pain relief.
In their concluding statement, the authors of the study stated that in this long-term observational study, cannabis use was effective in about half of the clients as an alternative to opioids and as a supplement to reducing use in chronic opioid users.
Takakuwa KM, Hergenrather JY, Shofer FS, Schears RM. The Impact of Medical Cannabis on Intermittent and Chronic Opioid Users with Back Pain: How Cannabis Diminished Prescription Opioid Usage. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2020 Sep 2;5(3):263-270. doi: 10.1089/can.2019.0039. PMID: 32923663; PMCID: PMC7480723