Though opioids can be useful medications that provide strong relief, their negative side effects can outweigh their positives, contributing to America’s growing opioid addiction problem. Unlike opioids, a new stuidy found cannabis doesn’t increase pain sensitivity when used over long periods of time.
The study was conducted by the psychology department of UBC Okanagan and was trying to highlight the differences in pain tolerance that exist between people who use cannabis regularly and people who don’t.
“Recent years have seen an increase in the adoption of cannabinoid medicines, which have demonstrated effectiveness for the treatment of chronic pain,” says Michelle St. Pierre, lead researcher of the study. “However, the extent to which frequent cannabis use influences sensitivity to acute pain has not been systematically examined.”
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“This study should come as good news to patients who are already using cannabis to treat pain,” explains Zach Walsh, one of the study’s co-authors. “Increases in pain sensitivity with opioids can really complicate an already tough situation; given increasing uptake of cannabis-based pain medications it’s a relief that we didn’t identify a similar pattern with cannabinoids.”
Authors of the study initially speculated that frequent cannabis users would demonstrate greater pain sensitivity, but this wasn’t the case.
“There is a different effect from opioid users; sustained use of opioids can make people more reactive to pain. We wanted to determine if there was a similar trend for people who use cannabis frequently,” says St. Pierre. “Cannabis and opioids share some of the same pain-relief pathways and have both been associated with increases in pain sensitivity following acute use.”
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Frequent opioid users run the risk of developing hyperalgesia. The conditions causes pain tolerance to be lowered and patients have to consume more opioids in response, increasing their risk of developing an addiction.
The opioid pandemic has taken many lives in America, over 450,000 between the years 1999 and 2018. It’s a serious problem that has grown difficult to manage, with the CDC trying to raise public awareness and trying to minimize the amount of risk that people are exposed to. While more research is necessary in order to see how cannabis could impact the opioid addiction, studies like this one show that the plant holds some promise in pain management and that in some cases it could provide a better option for patients.