At the Canadian Pain Society’s conference last week, Dr. Jason Busse presented preliminary data on his study of cannabis as a pain reliever.
His research monitored 1,915 patients across 26 separate studies, the findings of which still need to be analyzed, but Busse admitted that revealing some of the initial data “was an attempt to provide preliminary findings, as part of a larger workshop on the role of medical cannabis in managing chronic pain.”
Clinicians used a scale of 1-10 to evaluate the amount of pain a patient experienced, a practice widely used in modern medicine. For about 12 percent of patients, cannabis reduced their pain by at least one point on the scale. Finding alternatives to prescription opioids is a priority among public health officials. The Canadian Institute for Health contributed $100,000 to the study.
“Current strategies are limited, and clinicians often resort to opioids,” said Dr. Busse. “(Medical cannabis) is something that we’re looking at for its potential to treat chronic pain. There is some evidence that it may be effective for some patients.”
Canada is the second largest consumer of opioids, with the United States coming in first. An project to track this public health crisis has recently gained momentum, thanks to work by individuals who have personally been affected by opioid addiction. Since British Columbia started providing naloxone free of charge to anyone who has a history of opioid abuse, it has saved lives but still functions as a stop-gap for those suffering from addiction. Health officials are struggling to find effective way to fight the crisis, and are willing to look at every possible solution.
“Now that there’s increasing pressure on patients and physicians to reduce the use of opioids for chronic pain, it’s interesting that there’s at least some preliminary information suggesting that medical cannabis may allow patients to do that,” said Busse. “Another area of interest is whether it can be used as add-on therapy to allow people to come down from some of the opioid medication.”
The research acknowledges the complexity of zeroing in on the precise compounds in cannabis that account for its pain-relieving benefits, which makes it difficult to work with in a clinical setting. “We can grow strains that have higher or lower levels of THC or CBD, (but) it’s difficult to say at this point the exact chemical composition that is the most effective in dealing with chronic pain while producing the lowest level of undesirable side effects,” said Busse.
In May, new guidelines for prescribing opioids were published by a team of 15 physicians, including Busse. The paper urges prescribing physicians to use opioids after other, less dangerous medications have proven to be ineffective. They also recommend smaller doses, “staying below 50 mg morphine-equivalent per day, which is quite a bit lower than the recommendation of 200 that came out in 2010,” said Busse. Particular attention has been paid to the use of Fentanyl, which the CPHA has indicated is “50 to 100 times more potent,” than morphine. It was intended specifically for patients who were terminally ill but doctors have been inappropriately prescribing it to patients for conditions like post-operative pain. The drug has been found in black market heroin, making the drug that much more powerful and addictive.
Illinois, which legalized medical cannabis in 2013 and allows patients a relatively liberal 2.5 ounces of the kind herb every 14-days, has been operating its program for just long enough to collect thousands of applications from qualified patients. As such, the state has begun to produce some intelligent metrics that reveal exactly who it is serving and details about their specific needs based on their diseases.
In an eight-page annual report to the state’s Legislature — one of the requirements of the state’s medical law — some initial demographics of those taking advantage of the program have been revealed.
First, the most common profile for a patient of Illinois’ medical cannabis program is a middle aged or older female suffering from fibromyalgia or cancer. The state accepted 3,300 medical applications through the end of June. Sixty percent of those applicants were female, while more than half of applicants were over the age of 51. Other common diseases and conditions among registrants were spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis.
Some Illinois doctors seem to be bullish on medical cannabis for their patients and onboard with the program. One has written certifications for more than a thousand patients (and will probably be receiving a visit from the DEA as a result). However, while nearly 1,200 physicians submitted patient certifications, 99 percent of them certified fewer than 24 patients.
Illinois features a longer list of qualifying ailments than many of the U.S. states that permit some form of legal medical cannabis, including conditions not typically covered by other states like lupus, Tourette’s syndrome, and Tarlov cysts. The report noted that, despite its long list of covered ailments, Illinois does not recognize nondisease-specific chronic pain, while also spotlighting the fact that 18 of the 23 states that permit medical cannabis do.
The report states:
“Unlike those states, Illinois does not have a general chronic pain category for which no underlying disease or medical condition is identified.”
The report also noted that, “In Colorado, ‘chronic pain’ accounts for 93 percent of all reported debilitating conditions by patient applicants. In Arizona, 72 percent of patients apply under the ‘chronic pain’ category.”
The program also does not allow home cultivation or reciprocal access to registered patients in other states, but does permit caregivers. The first legal and licensed cannabis dispensaries in the Land of Lincoln are expected to be open and operational by the end of October.
photo credit: DPA
As America’s Baby Boomer generation heads into their golden years, healthcare is becoming one of the most pressing issues of our times. Both Medicare and Social Security face significant challenges in the coming years. Medicare’s hospital trust will be exhausted by 2026 and Social Security is not far behind, predicted to run out by 2033. It remains to be seen what impact Obamacare can have on the healthcare system, but most Americans understand that there are still significant hurdles in the future.
As the ever-growing senior population continues to climb, these individuals often rely on overprescribed pharmaceuticals (namely opiates) to help them through their later years. The number of opiate prescriptions in the United States skyrocketed to 207 million in 2013, with 55 million of those going to seniors aged 65 and older. Though pain relief is critical in the care of our elderly, these prescriptions have proven to be the among the most dangerous for society. The risk vs. reward analysis continues to show us that cannabis is a viable alternative to prescription opiates.
With 23 states now allowing medical marijuana, seniors are increasingly realizing the efficacy of marijuana for the treatment of pain, nausea, inflammation and dozens of other symptoms. While traction at the federal level is moving slowly, the cannabis industry is extending open arms to elders with senior outreach programs and educational efforts.
Whether you’re entering the golden years yourself or your parents or grandparents are getting older, it’s imperative to know every option available to preserve health and comfort. Here is a list of 4 ways cannabis can help common conditions as we age:
Last year Arthritis Today published an article discussing the efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of arthritis. Though some doctors remain skeptical, the bottom line for those suffering from arthritis is finding the medicine that works.
Dr. Fitzcharles, associate professor of medicine in the department of rheumatology and pain management unit at McGill University in Montreal said, “There’s no question that cannabinoids have the potential to have an impact on the disease.” The risk vs. reward may be still in limbo for some, but those who benefit from the plant would likely tell you there is no argument to be had.
Chronic pain comes in many forms, is caused by an endless list of medical conditions, and affects each individual differently. Marijuana may not work for every type of chronic pain, but has proven extremely effective in treating pain associated with multiple sclerosis or nerve injuries.
When compared to opiates in the treatment of pain, it’s becoming ever-more clear that marijuana is the safer option. Between the years of 1999 and 2010, states that had medical marijuana programs in place showed 25% decrease in the number of deaths caused by prescription pain killers. As the evidence in favor of medical marijuana mounts, more people are likely to use cannabis as an alternative to opiates.
Memory & Brain Function
A decline in cognitive function may be one of the most painful and saddening conditions that can afflict the elderly. Recent studies have indicated that there may be promise in the use of cannabis to preserve memory and brain function.
In a 2006 study by Dr. Kim Janda, his team’s research showed that cannabis may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, when compared to popular alzeimer’s drugs like Aricept and Cognex, the use of THC marginally outperformed both pharmaceuticals. There is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and research has proven to be difficult. With limited options available, further research is needed to say whether cannabis can be the magic bullet for the disease.
Everyone knows that marijuana use stimulates the appetite, but not so many realize how valuable that can be in a medical context. For anyone unfamiliar with the effects of dialysis or chemotherapy, these treatments cause debilitating nausea and subsequent loss of appetite.
A recent study has validated what we already know about marijuana use, it effects our endocannabinoid system, heightening our sense of smell and taste. These effects are invaluable to those undergoing intense cancer treatments and dialysis, spurring appetite and easing nausea.
Photo Credit: Mini B.