Two-Thirds of Medical Marijuana Treats “Chronic” Pain

By Lisa Rapaport, Reuters.

Almost two-thirds of patients in the U.S. who get medical marijuana are using it as a treatment for chronic pain, a new study suggests.

That’s in line with the large number of Americans who suffer chronic pain and the strong scientific evidence that marijuana is an effective pain treatment, the authors report in Health Affairs.

Thirty-three U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use since 1996, and 10 states have legalized it for recreational use since 2012, the study team notes. Patients receiving cannabis for medical purposes need a license issued in states where this is legal, and licenses require a doctor to certify that patients have a condition that qualifies for treatment with marijuana.

For the current study, researchers examined data from state registries tracking the numbers of patients using medical marijuana and the conditions they got the drug to treat. Twenty states and the District of Columbia had registries tracking total patients using medical cannabis, and 15 states tracked the conditions that qualified patients for the drug.

Overall, 65 percent of medical marijuana patients used it for chronic pain. After that, the most common reasons patients used cannabis were for multiple sclerosis, nausea, and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Based on a 2017 report by the National Academies of Science that assessed the scientific evidence supporting the use of marijuana to treat specific conditions, the study team also looked at how often medical uses are evidence-based. They found uses had strong backing 86 percent of the time.

“The vast majority of conditions for which people use cannabis have substantial or conclusive evidence of cannabis being an effective treatment,” said lead study author Kevin Boehnke of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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