“Background: Chronic opioid therapy (COT) has been used to treat many chronic pain conditions even with poor evidence for its long-term effectiveness. Medical cannabis has emerged with certain pain-relieving properties, which has led to questions as to its’ potential application, especially in relation to its effect on opioid use.
Objectives: This study investigates a proposed clinical context in offering medical cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain for those already using chronic opioid therapy. It then details patients’ daily morphine milligram equivalent (MME) usage.
Study design: This single-center prospective study follows a group of patients trialing medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain that is already using COT in order to determine individual efficacy. Continued medical cannabis treatment was a decision made by the patient, after trialing medical cannabis, to either continue medical cannabis along with COT at a reduced daily MME, or to revert back to their previous COT regimen.
Setting: This study was performed at the Allegheny Health Network Institute for Pain Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The state of Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis in April of 2016, and it became available to patients in February of 2018 through medical dispensaries.
Methods: One hundred and fifteen patients met the inclusion criteria, with the majority of those excluded due to not being treated with COT. Of the 115 who chose to undergo a medical cannabis trial in addition to their COT, 75 chose to remain certified for medical cannabis as they had significant pain relief and subsequently weaned down on opioids. Additionally, of the 115 choosing to undergo a medical cannabis trial, 30 chose to be decertified due to ineffectiveness or side effects, and those were placed back on their COT regimen. The other 10 were not included for other denoted reasons. Compliance was monitored through urine drug screens (UDS).
Results: There was a 67.1% average decrease in daily MME/patient from 49.9 to 16.4 MME at the first follow-up. There was a 73.3% decrease in MME at second follow-up from 49.9 to 13.3 MME with an ANOVA analysis denoting a significant difference of P < 0.0001.
Limitations: The period of follow-up presented at this point includes their first 6 months of treatment with medical cannabis and COT concomitantly.
Conclusions: Presenting medical cannabis to chronic pain patients on COT should be done in the context of a patient choice between medical cannabis WITH decrement of COT or continued current dose of COT in order to maximize effectiveness in opioid reduction as well as to limit polypharmacy concerns regarding medical cannabis. Allowing for a temporary short-term period where patients may trial medical cannabis, while concomitantly gradually weaning their COT, is also essential in determining medical cannabis’ individual effectiveness for that patient’s specific type of chronic pain, which should serve to maximize long-term opioid reduction results and hence decrease opioid-related overdose deaths.”