A study by University of British Columbia Okanagan campus shows that regular cannabis use, unlike opiate use, does not make pain sensitivity worse, the way opiates do.
Due to the alarming opiate crisis in the country, coupled with an increased interest in medical cannabis, there has been an uptick in research on how cannabis can help with pain. This new study is important because it means that, even if you use cannabis frequently to help with pain, you will not need more and more cannabis or find that you are no longer getting pain relief at all.
“Recent years have seen an increase in the adoption of cannabinoid medicines, which have demonstrated effectiveness for the treatment of chronic pain,” said Michelle St. Pierre, one of the researchers who worked on the study. “However, the extent to which frequent cannabis use influences sensitivity to acute pain has not been systematically examined.”
“This study should come as good news to patients who are already using cannabis to treat pain,” added co-author Zach Walsh, head of the UBC Therapeutic Recreational and Problematic Substance Use Lab, the group that specifically conducted the study. “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.”
Pain and Opiates
Opiates are currently the go-to prescribed items for pain, and dependence on opiates is a major issue. Patients often have to up their doses to deal with pain, which makes them even more dangerous.
“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,” said 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.”
The study looked at those who use cannabis more than three times a week and compared them with people who were not cannabis users. Participants had their hands and arms submerged in cold water to determine pain tolerance level. From doing that, they were able to determine that cannabis does not cause hyperalgesia, or enhanced sensitivity to pain.
“Our results suggest frequent cannabis use did not seem to be associated with elevated sensitivity to experimental pain in a manner that can occur in opioid therapy,” St. Pierre concluded. “This is an important distinction that care providers and patients should consider when selecting options for pain management. These findings are particularly relevant in light of recent reports of opioid overprescribing and high rates of pain in the population, as it suggests that cannabis may not carry the same risk of hyperalgesia as opioids.”
This is a hugely important study for the brave new world of cannabis pain research, as it provides even more evidence that cannabis is a safe alternative to dangerous, habit-forming opiates. More research will reveal even more details about how cannabis works with pain management.