A new study by Northwell Health reports that men and women over 60 with chronic pain significantly decreased their need for opioid painkillers with medical marijuana. In a press release published on Tuesday, the authors of the study said that the researchers surveyed people between 61 to 70 years of age via a questionnaire.
Dr. Diana Martins-Welch is one of the study's co-authors and also treats patients at Northwell Health's Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine. Martins-Welch said that many of the patients participating in the study suffered from chronic pain resulting from osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
The questionnaire asked the patients 20 questions regarding their marijuana use. Patients were asked if medical marijuana helped them to take less opioid painkillers and researchers found that 27 percent completely stopped needing opioid painkillers, and 20 percent said they were extremely able to decrease the need for opioid painkillers.
At least 18 percent said that they decreased opioid painkillers moderately, and 91 percent of those surveyed said that they would recommend that people try medical marijuana for pain.
The survey questioned 138 patients anonymously and also asked how they consumed marijuana. The survey showed that 45 percent of patients used vaporized oil to medicate. At least 28 percent used cannabis pills while 17 percent used cannabis oil.
Patients were also asked the frequency of their medical marijuana use and 21 percent of patients medicated one time per day. At least 23 percent said that they used it twice per day while 39 percent said that they medicated more than two times daily.
Younger Patients in Study Reported 93 Percent Decrease in Opioid Use
Older patients reported a 64 percent decrease in painkillers after using marijuana while younger patients reported a 93 percent decrease in their use of opioid painkillers with medical marijuana replacement.
Patients also submitted comments with the survey and one patient said that he eliminated Percocet with marijuana altogether and another was grateful that marijuana allowed him to manage the pain and become functional again.
“I’VE EVEN GOTTEN SOME PATIENTS COMPLETELY OFF OPIOIDS.”
Another patient said that they were on opioid painkillers for 15 years but stopped after finding medical marijuana for pain relief. Most of the patients had previously tried steroids injections for pain but found no relief.
Patients were also asked how they found out about medical marijuana and the survey reported that 46 percent were told by their physician. Almost 25 percent had a friend or family member recommend marijuana for pain, and 24 percent did not say.
Dr. Martins-Welch said that based on the results of her survey along with other research that she thinks medical marijuana is an effective medicine that can decrease opioid overdoses, saying “I’ve even gotten some patients completely off opioids.”
She added that marijuana is an expensive and cash only medicine because it is illegal on the federal level, making it a drug not covered by insurance which she said needs to change so that it is accessible to everyone who needs it.
Another study conducted in Israel found that marijuana is safer for elderly patients than opioid painkillers and that nearly all patients had their pain reduced by 50 percent. Researchers of the study monitored patients 65 and older for a 6-month period for the study and found that marijuana increased the quality of life for 70 percent of patients.
There is also evidence that medical marijuana could help end opioid addiction. Dr. Sanjay Gupta was opposed to medical marijuana but changed his mind after studying medical marijuana research. He penned an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to inform him that marijuana is life-saving medicine and to implore him to change the federal ban on marijuana immediately.
A presentation of the study will take place at the American Geriatrics Society yearly meeting in Orlando on May 3.