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Feds to Study Medical Marijuana’s Effect on Opioid Use

August 11, 2017
(swissmediavision/iStock)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded a five-year, $3.8 million grant to researchers for the first long-term investigation to see if medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain.

The study will use real medical cannabis from New York dispensaries, not low-quality NIDA product.

The federal grant, given to scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, could provide peer-reviewed evidence of the widespread but anecdotal phenomenon of chronic pain patients stepping down from opioid use to a safer reliance on medical cannabis to manage and alleviate their pain. Notably, the study will use real medical cannabis from licensed dispensaries in New York State, not the lower-quality “research grade” cannabis grown by federal contractors in Mississippi.

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“There is a lack of information about the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use in those with chronic pain,” Chinazo Cunningham, associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein and Montefiore and principal investigator on the grant, said in a media release. “We hope this study will fill in the gaps and provide doctors and patients with some much needed guidance.”

The study will have a special focus on chronic pain patients with HIV. Cunningham plans to enroll 250 HIV-positive and HIV-negative adults with chronic pain who use opioids and who have received certification from their physicians to use medical marijuana, which is provided through approved dispensaries in New York State.

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Over 18 months, the study subjects will complete web-based questionnaires every two weeks, which will focus on pain levels and the medical and illicit use of marijuana and opioids. They’ll also provide urine and blood samples at in-person research visits every three months. In addition, in-depth interviews with a select group of these participants will explore their perceptions of how medical marijuana use affects the use of opioids.

Compared to the general population, chronic pain and opioid use is even more common in people with HIV. Between 25 and 90 percent of adults with HIV suffer from chronic pain. Previous studies have reported that despite the high risk for misuse of opioid pain relievers, adults with HIV are likely to receive opioids to help manage their pain. In recent years, medical marijuana has gained recognition as a treatment option. Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized its use; in those states, chronic pain and/or HIV/AIDS are qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use.

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Researchers have never studied—in any population—if the use of medical marijuana over time reduces the use of opioids. Additionally, there are no studies on how the specific chemical compounds of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), affect health outcomes, like pain, function, and quality of life. Most studies that have reported negative effects of long-term marijuana use have focused on illicit, rather than medical, marijuana.

“As state and federal governments grapple with the complex issues surrounding opioids and medical marijuana, we hope to provide evidence-based recommendations that will help shape responsible and effective healthcare practices and public policies,” Cunningham said.

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  • Austin

    Imagine how many people we could’ve saved if we had maybe started this BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE HAS STARTED (like say, 3 decades ago with Israel) instead of waiting around until freaking 2017 after more than half of our country’s individual states have beat us to the chase overall… ridiculous.

  • FIVE YEARS?????

    • Rhea Graham

      Slow learners.

  • Study? Why don’t they just ‘ask’ folks like me, who has chronic bone disease and has been pain killer free for over 15 years except immediately after surgeries.

    ‘They’ (the professionals) had me on so much morphine I was ready to end t he misery from just the side effects of daily use alone, until a buddy brought me a single cookie.. Changed my life for the better in every which way shape and form. I could be on all the morphine or Oxycodone I wanted.. I DON’T want..

    • Brittney

      I was just going to say. There is no study that needs to be done. It’s 100% effective. I couldn’t have a life due to chronic pain and taking opioids wasn’t an option due to severe side effects. Opioids are the thing that needs to be illegal.

    • Cindy Keng

      Chas, what form and strain of mj do you take for pain? If you don’t mind me asking.

      • Bradley Hannah

        Indica strains work good for pain. The vape oils work real good for pain high THC and high CBD. Im in washington we have pot shops all over ,there is one across the street.If ya dont want to smoke there are medibles candy,cookies, pop, that will help with pain with out smoking.

        • Paul M Johnson

          Any help with methadone withdrawal

    • Rob Halprin

      Because although most likely factual (I believe you) it is still anecdotal. The scientific method relies on rigorous proof completed through double blind placebo controlled studies then trials. It’s a rigorous 3 step process which WILL result in proving once and for all if our magic plant IS real medicine, or not. This is good news not bad.

    • Christopher Pratt

      I was on opiates for chronic pain for more than 15 years. I did an opiate detox last year with the help of cannibis. I was also on two SSRI meds. Now, all I do is partake in the magic of THE plant and am off all of the meds for nearly a year now. I feel 100 times better as well. Lastly, I probably would have eventually accidentally killed myself with opiates had I continued that path.

    • Jerry McEntire

      I share your feelings, I can get several opiates but the side affects are terrible, it was my kids that got me to try marijuana, smoking it doesn’t help much but using dabs and oils to vape it is a lot of help, it sucks because I travel in a rv when I can but can’t take it across state lines, but I can carry enough opiates to start a small pharmacy!

  • FlunkedAgain

    Some people use Recreational MJ, where it’s available, rather than sign up for a card.

    Cancer patients have been using Marijuana for years for Pain Relief, and Appetite Stimulation.

  • Brian Caszatt

    Wow, federal government, welcome to 1987!

  • pamela younger

    Interesting – my good friend a hemiglobin specalist of western med. Doctor has been perscribing cannabis tablets for decades for his cancer patients. It is legal – perscription taken to any local pharmacy to have filled…. This study seems needless and redundant !!! US government CDC all know the,facts. Most likely its the grey areas of specifics and details per disease they are seeking. Their need to understand exactally how it works. This is also how big pharma create synthetics. Who really knows all the reasons and applications government are truly seeking. 💚

    • Chris Horner

      just remove it from Schedule I, and let the doctors and patients make the decision!

      • pamela younger

        Knowledge is everything – Keeping cbd and thc treatment options available is the goal for doctors and patient 💚 as well as prevention practices – they can and will study until the end of time. Cannabis works well so far with ” EVERY ” known health issue when given the correct type and application providing life quality worth living for so many … Its also a great boost to economy and planet. 🙂 If we can all keep our heads 🙂 – its Win. Win broad reaching 🙂

        • pamela younger

          Im a chef and nutritional consultant. My family are large growers in Alabama of soy, cotton etc.. hemp and cannabis would remove gmo government contracts. We can revive the stripped soil and clean air, build homes with no mold or fire issues as so on… HUGE boost to farming , industry and health – not an authority of cannabis or hemp by any means – just helping as many chronically ill as best o can successfully with cbd and thc products. Please note cannabis and hemp leaf can be eatable with many nutritional perks. Its a great plant for herbal therapies like essential oils because its oil base and keep in mind omega 3 increases effectiveness. Lots of great new natural safe additions to health care 🙂 💚 exciting times

          • Chris Horner

            I suffer from ankylosing spondylitis due to degenerative joint disease. Aside from the nerve blocking meds, I am also on low doses of two different opiates – hydrocodone and tramadol.

            The ONLY way I’ve been able to keep my opiate usage to a bare minimum is by supplementing with black-market cannabis or to grow my own…both are currently illegal in my state.

            If federal laws were to be changed, I think a lot more states would be willing to at least decriminalize. Unfortunately, Big Pharma pumps a lot of money into anti-mmj legislation because they don’t want a cure – they want more customers!

          • pamela younger

            True -,Big Pharma is the issue – but America has capitalized on illness far to long. If government has NO compassion for its people it will be clear shortly. Having said it does appear things are changing for the good, there is no denying the positives across the board wth cannabis/hemp —- Send Blessings your way 💚

          • Cindy

            The ONLY way the Feds will move forward is to remove or reassign our backward thinking Attorney General. Sessions needs to get with the program! I just bet if he were to be stricken with chronic pain his attitude would change snd he would have to scramble to get caught up on the science. Is there anything between those big ears? He sure doesn’t listen with them!.

          • Fred Jones

            He certainly looks sick to me. He may already have progression of cancer or some other deadly disease.

          • pamela younger

            He is stuborn – Set in his ways so my guess it would not matter. Hope is undefined on this one. I have faith in America. Keep in mind most cultures love America – less political crime they say – and opportunity. It now is coming to light in clear form CONGRESS is not ready for current times. This is a problem as we continue to educate children and adults with aniquated material. Medical is the same aniquated. Change will be forced at some point. There is NO crime for ignorance – THERE is a Crime for Intentional Harm…I💚 keep the faith

      • Bradley Hannah

        Should be no schedule, and part of natural medicine.

  • lovingc

    Statistics show that it does. There is evidence showing a 25% lower rate of death from opiates, in states with medical cannabis.

  • The epidemiological work has already been done for them as several states where cannabis has been decriminalized for medical use document a decline in opioid deaths. Of great interest are the findings of a large scale population study that finds patients prefer cannabis over opioid analgesics!

    • Christopher Pratt

      I certainly do!

    • genjen

      I have Cyclic Idiopathic Neutropenia and Relapse Polychondritis so a lot of bone pain, can cannabis with low thc (don’t like the high it gives) work for pain, going off fentynal and oxyies cause of gov crackdown. Need something for the pain been on all other narcotics been 25yrs of pain

  • kristine08

    Ask me…I was prescribed opiates since 2000, by my Workers Comp pain clinic. It took 17 years to get (2) back surgeries approved/ I ended up getting acquired scoliosis from waiting too long.
    I was on 140 MGS of Oxycodone + Avinza and Flexoril.
    I am now post a 360 lumbar fusion with 2 artificial discs implanted and an XLIF surgery to put a plate at L-3-4 for the “deformity”.
    I got down to 30MGS total in a day, by using the CT. Medical Marijuana program.
    Vaping the oils in the day and the Indicol at bed time, even cut my Klonopin dose in half.
    ASK PEOPLE who were on narcotics PRESCRIBED by our doctors. We did not purchase this crap in the road.

  • lovingc

    Let me help Cannabis and opiates potentiate each other. There by allowing for reduced need for opiates. After the worst of the pain is reduced then cannabis can do the job alone.

  • The Resistance

    This is very encouraging. Does anyone know (1) how they got approval to use NY medical cannabis?, (2) does the Justice Dept have to sign off on this?, and (3) was the DEA involved for approval?

    There is an article today in the Washington Post that indicates that the Justice Dept is sitting on DEA applications for medical marijuana research so I’m curious where this new NIH funded study fits in:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/justice-department-at-odds-with-dea-on-marijuana-research-ms-13/2017/08/15/ffa12cd4-7eb9-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html

  • Jeffry S.

    Nobody should have a life limited by pain. When conventional medicine isn’t enough, AnnCannMed is here to help people with chronic or terminal illnesses. Medical cannabis is a safe, regulated option for patients suffering from various conditions and illnesses

    • Zoey Thompson

      Medical marijuana is the best medicine. I feel better using it. I have forgotten what means muscle spasms thanks to the licensed physicians from AnnCannMed

  • Jerry McEntire

    I have battled with wide spread pain from fibroymialgia, degenerative disk, and headaches for 10 years, have used several opiates and currently have a prescription for Fentanyl and hydrocodone along with a bunch of other meds. A month ago I started using marijuana dabs and have been able to get of the opiates and a pill for constipation since opiates cause that as well as meds for my stomache. It has made a believer out of me, I do not feel a lot better but just a little pain wise, it is being able to get of opiates and not feel as sickly that is exciting to me.

  • Cindy

    AnnCannMeds??? Oh I cannot wait for Maryland to have product, any day now I hear, but who knows how long before any refined products are available…what I’m waiting for!

  • Donna Moorhouse

    BIG PHARMA and state liquor boards don’t want marijuana legalized or used for medical purposes because they’ll loose money. The liquor boards because bars and stores will sell less booze, and BIG PHARMA, because they won’t sell their poisonous drugs that do NOTHING or addict you. Add politicians who get kickbacks from pharmaceutical lobbyists, and may also have stock in drug companies, and you have a perfect storm to hold us hostage to their poison. BIG PHARMA creates customers and clients…NOT CURES.

  • Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions is a crucial step in addressing the crisis. And cannabis could make it happen.

  • I am all for MMJ if the variables can be sorted out. For instance, what strain helps anxiety? What strain helps chronic back pain? I am new and trying different strains but trying to reduce anxiety and you have a panic attack is not good. Is there a strain to fight chronic back pain with radiculopathy? Mayo Clinic will not operate on your back unless the radiculopathy is worse than the back pain or your quality of life is diminished. The reason? Possibly making the problem worse from surgery. So maybe it’s disability and diminished quality of life. Especially for the people that suffer badly. They don’t have the time or energy to try 30 different strains to see how they affect their condition. We need to quit fighting the medical studies because the federal government is afraid of an increase in DUI’s when either should not be driving in the first place but if they are a high person will be driving 30 mph in the right lane, compared to a drunk driver weaving in 3 lanes. In fact, maybe MJ would cut down the number of alcoholics AND opioid use. Facts, studies, and organic medicine, a popular taxable product. Where is the problem, where is the data?