More cancer patients are treating chronic pain with cannabis rather than opioids

Patients suffering from cancer were much more likely to take prescribed opioids than those without cancer

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More cancer patients are treating chronic pain with cannabis rather than opioids

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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Significantly more cancer patients are joining the rapidly expanding cannabis consumer demographic in America.

Based on the results of a recent study published in Cancer, a larger proportion of patients who suffer from the debilitating and often fatal medical condition have used the cannabis plant in the last several years. The results of this study indicate a shift in public perception on cannabis, as well as easier access to the plant following sweeping medical cannabis legislation across 33 U.S. states and Washington D.C., not to mention the recreational cannabis legalization that has swept across a further 10 states.

It also suggests that cancer patients are more likely to use prescription opioids than adults without the disease, despite the fact that opiate use did not change much among both populations between 2005 and 2014.

(Pictured) Jona Hattangadi-Gluth, MD

“Medical [cannabis] legalization has previously been associated with a reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse, suggesting that if patients are, in fact, substituting [cannabis] for opioids, this may introduce an opportunity for reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality,” said the chief of the Central Nervous System (CNS) Tumor and Liver Tumor Services at UC San Diego Health, Jona Hattangadi-Gluth, MD, in a press release.

“Of course, it will also be important to identify risks and adverse effects of [cannabis], which has not previously been studied in large randomized clinical trials, given it’s scheduling as a class 1 controlled substance.”

Recent studies have indicated that cannabis may be a safer and more effective alternative to prescription opioids for relieving cancer-related pain.

Hattangadi-Gluth and her research colleagues accumulated their findings after gleaning data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They used the data to investigate trends in self-reported cannabis and opioid use from 2005-2014 among cancer patients and non-sufferers.

A total of 19,604 people aged 20-60 years participated in the survey. Of those patients, 826 had cancer and were a mean age of 47.4 years; 66.7 percent women. The researchers used cancer patient data to score-match 1,652 non-cancer controls with a mean age of 6.7 years; 66 percent women.

Compared with controls, a bigger proportion of cancer patients used cannabis within the past year: 40.3 percent vs. 38 percent. Those who self-reported themselves as current cannabis users was 8.7 percent vs. 6.6 percent.

No association between cancer and current cannabis use was determined. However, the study results demonstrated an important link between cancer and current opioid use: OR = 1.82; 95 percent CI, 1.17-2.82.

Patients suffering from cancer were much more likely to take prescribed opioids than those without cancer: 13.9 percent vs. 6.4 percent OR = 2.43; 95 percent CI, 1.68-3.57.

They were also more likely to smoke cigarettes: 52.9 percent vs. 47.2 percent; OR = 1.34; 95 percent CI, 1.09-1.65.

Cancer patients who self-reported using cannabis between the years 2005 and 2014 soared 118 percent, while the number of respondents without cancer who self-reported using cannabis during the same time period grew just 12.5 percent.