NIH Funds the First Long-Term Study into Cannabis Effectiveness for Pain Relief

NIH Funds the First Long-Term Study into Cannabis Effectiveness for Pain ReliefThe National Institute of Health (NIH) has put up almost $4 million to fund a 5-year study into whether or not medical cannabis can be an effective replacement for opioids in managing chronic pain. This is an official federal grant which has been awarded to researchers at the and Montefiore Health System, and the stated mission of the study is to determine if cannabis can truly be a step-down method for weaning patients away from opioids.

Parameters of the study

To conduct this study, only high-quality medical dispensary cannabis from NY state will be used, as opposed to the typically low-grade cannabis generally available for current research projects. The study group will consist of 250 patients currently experiencing chronic pain, many of whom will be HIV-positive, and all of whom have already been approved for using medical marijuana to relieve pain. Since HIV-positive patients are well known to be chronic pain sufferers, the inclusion of a number of such patients will provide very useful data over the life of the study.

Every two weeks, participants will be asked to complete online questionnaires which focus on their level of pain, and their usage of cannabis for relief. Urine and blood samples will also be taken from participants every three months to provide firm medical and scientific backing, and to ensure that opioids are not being taken in tandem with cannabis. Interviews will also be conducted among chosen members of the study group to obtain their perspectives on the effectiveness of cannabis vs. opioid usage.

Unchartered territory

No study of this kind has ever been conducted, so the information it provides can be extremely useful, particularly if there are strong indications that cannabis can be effective as an opioid replacement. There have been localized, on-the-spot observations of course, but no prolonged research has ever been performed over such a long period of time. The duration of this study is one of the aspects which lends greater legitimacy and credibility to its findings, since they would have the advantage of being demonstrated in a pattern of consistency.

No long-term studies have ever been conducted on how the active chemical compounds of cannabis, i.e. THC and CBD, impact the health, pain levels, or quality of life for patients regularly ingesting them. As the study’s chief investigator, Chinazo Cunningham states, “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.”

Are Harmful Opioids Being Replaced by Safer Cannabis?

Opioids vs Cannabisrecent survey conducted in Canada has found that more than 63% of participants were using medical cannabis in place of prescription medications, and this is leading researchers to speculate that more and more patients with access to medical cannabis are doing the same. Specifically, the nearly 300 participants indicated that they were replacing antidepressants with cannabis in about 13% of cases, benzodiazepines were replaced at a 16% rate, and opioids were substituted for at a 30% rate. All other medications were lumped together and dropped at a 40% rate in favor of cannabis.

Why is cannabis better?

When asked to give a reason for the substitutions, approximately 39% of respondents said that cannabis has fewer side effects than prescription medications, 27% indicated that it was safer to use, and another 16% declared that cannabis was more effective in treating their symptoms than were the prescribed medications.

These statistics led researchers to conclude that in a broader application, medical cannabis might well become very effective as a substitute for other more problematic drug usage. In some places, the usage of opioids has reached epidemic proportions, with whole segments of a given population becoming mildly to severely addicted to opioids.

Another surprising result of the survey showed that medical cannabis was being used to replace other harmful substances, with 25% of survey participants saying that they used cannabis to replace alcohol, while 12% did away with cigarettes and tobacco products using cannabis. There was even a smaller segment at 3% of respondents, who indicated that they no longer used illicit drugs because that need was filled by cannabis.

Similar results in the US?

The Canadian survey was conducted by researchers Zach Walsh and Philippe Lucas, who worked with medical cannabis patients from the Canadian LP Tilray dispensary, with the intention of discovering more about the patients who use medical marijuana, and why they used it. While substitution for prescription medications was expected to be one of the results, no one anticipated that the actual substitution statistics encountered would include nearly 2/3 of all participants in the survey.

Since opioid usage and prescription medication in general are such enormous issues in the United States, it seems logical to expect that similar numbers might be expected from research initiatives conducted in the US. Even if results were not quite so resounding as in the Canadian survey, a high percentage of cannabis substitution over prescription medications could be a very encouraging development in America.

Photo credit: Cindy Perlin

Why Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Drug War Revival Will Fail

Drug War Revival Will FailOn May 10 of 2017, US Attorney General Jeff sessions issued a two-page memorandum stating the government’s intention to in some sense, revive the government’s war on drugs initiative from the past. Remarking that the U.S. is too complacent about drugs, and has too much of a fascination with recreational drugs, Sessions stated that it was the government’s intention to prosecute those involved with drug usage to the maximum ‘provable’ extent under the law.

While this federal direction seems to run contrary to the prevailing opinion and current trends throughout America, Attorney General Sessions confidently expects the new program to be carried out across the land, partly as a response to the raging opioid epidemic in this country. Ironically, empowering all U.S. attorneys to pursue heavy-handed drug enforcement laws is mostly directed at cannabis usage, and does absolutely nothing to curb the use of opioids or illicit hard-core drugs. Here’s why many observers expect the government’s misguided new direction to collapse under its own weight.

Proven cannabis benefits

Most Americans have become aware in the past few years about the tremendous medical benefits offered by cannabis, and are aware that it’s far more than a euphoria-producing recreational drug. Numerous patients using medical cannabis throughout the country have provided compelling testimony about how their conditions have been improved or eliminated altogether by cannabis. Researchers around the country have demonstrated clearly how beneficial medical cannabis can be.

Rescue from opioids

Even government officials will eventually have to concede that cannabis is a far more appealing choice than opioids. Already, statistics clearly demonstrate that those states with medical marijuana programs have far fewer overdoses and far fewer opioid addictions than do those states with no cannabis program at all. Thousands of patients already have broken the habit of opioids in favor of medical cannabis, and there’s simply no downside to this favorable development.

Lack of Republican support

Even the most conservative Republicans have very little enthusiasm for a renewed war on drugs that includes cannabis as one of its targets. One state after another has declared survey results showing that a majority of voting constituents favor the usage of medical marijuana, and support for legalization is slowly growing into a tidal wave that simply can’t be resisted.

Lack of local support

The federal initiative is going to find very tough sledding from officials at local levels, as well as police agencies and courtroom juries. Some states, e.g. Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California, have already enacted legislation to safeguard their adult use cannabis commerce from tinkering by federal officials. Instead of cooperating with federal directives, state and municipal authorities are looking to protect their law-abiding citizens from government intervention.

No more Sessions

It’s entirely possible that the Attorney General Sessions himself may be removed before any kind of sweeping cannabis changes are implemented. Sessions has at least some kind of role in the abrupt termination of FBI Director James Comey, as well as in the ever-widening Russian investigation, and it’s entirely possible that he may not be around long enough to do more than give lip service to his backward views.