Yet another study on medical cannabis as a treatment for pain has been published. Like so many others, the study didn’t enroll patients, treat them with cannabis, and measure the results. Instead, researchers from Portland State University pulled data on twenty-five previous studies and analyzed it. Their final analysis poses more questions than it answers.
On the positive side, their analysis indicates patients experience at least short-term pain relief with medical cannabis. On the negative side, the data provides very little information about long term use. This creates questions as to just how effective cannabis is for treating chronic pain over many years.
The Challenges of Study
Studying cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain comes with challenges, not the least of which is a litany of federal regulations that make it difficult to get cannabis. For that reason alone, the amount of scientific data we have on medical cannabis is severely limited.
The other challenge, where chronic pain is concerned, is the fact that pain a subjective. There really is no way to measure it other than through patient reports. Researchers ask patients how they feel. They ask them to rate their pain based on a standardized scale.
Because patients perceive pain differently, it would seem that they would rate pain relief differently as well. This reality makes it difficult to get a clear picture of how effective cannabis is as a pain treatment. But that being said, we also measure the effectiveness of other pain drugs the same way. Cannabis should not be treated differently because it appears on the Schedule I list of controlled substances at the federal level.
Possible Long-Term Risks
Portland State researchers were quick to point out in their analysis that nothing they found is indicative of possible long-term risks associated with continued cannabis use. They also made it clear that their data was open to both bias and imperfections. They plan to update the research periodically, hoping that future data will gradually create a clearer picture.
In the end, the researchers are concerned about potential side effects of using cannabis long term. They mention dizziness and sedation as potential problems. Obviously, we need a ton more research on cannabis as a medicine. Not only research into using it as a chronic pain treatment, but also its potential to treat everything from mental illness to cancer.
Dozens of States Allow It
In the meantime, dozens of states allow the use of medical cannabis as a chronic pain treatment. Utah is among them. In the Beehive State, organizations like Utahmarijuana.org assist chronic pain patients in obtaining their medical cannabis cards. A valid card gives patients access to medical cannabis pharmacies throughout the state.
It should be noted that state rules vary in terms of qualifying conditions. There are also different rules regarding access, purchase, possession amounts, and so forth. The one common element seems to be the chronic pain issue. Chronic pain appears to be nearly universal on state qualifying conditions lists.
The Portland State researchers may question the validity of long-term cannabis use as a chronic pain treatment. Furthermore, they may be completely justified in their speculation. But millions of medical cannabis users believe that the drug is helping them. And if that is the case, good luck trying to get them to stop using it.
Research of this nature usually creates more questions than it answers. What we need are some serious clinical studies investigating cannabis just like any other drug coming out of a pharmaceutical company. Only then will we have the answers we need.