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Wider Use Of Cannabis Therapy Could Reduce Prescription Pain Drug Deaths

Posted on Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 at 4:01 pm by Paul Armentano

Physicians who prescribe opioid drugs to patients with neuropathy (nerve pain) ought to consider recommending cannabis as an alternative therapy, according to a peer-reviewed paper published online this week in the Harm Reduction Journal.

“There is sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy for the use of (cannabis/cannabinoids) in the treatment of nerve pain relative to opioids,” the commentary states. “In states where medicinal cannabis is legal, physicians who treat neuropathic pain with opioids should evaluate their patients for a trial of cannabis and prescribe it when appropriate prior to using opioids. … Prescribing cannabis in place of opioids for neuropathic pain may reduce the morbidity and mortality rates associated with prescription pain medications and may be an effective harm reduction strategy.”

The author notes that between the years 1999 and 2006, “approximately 65,000 people died from opioid analgesic overdose.” By contrast, he writes “[N]o one has ever died from an overdose of cannabis.”

In clinical trials, inhaled cannabis has been consistently shown to reduce neuropathic pain of diverse causes in subjects unresponsive to standard pain therapies.

In November, clinical investigators at the University of California, San Francisco reported that vaporized cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opiates in subjects prescribed morphine or oxycodone. Authors of the study surmised that cannabis-specific interventions “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects.”

Neuropathy affects between five percent and 10 percent of the US population. The condition is often unresponsive to conventional analgesic medications such as opiates and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Full text of the paper, “Prescribing cannabis for harm reduction” is available online here.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

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