Pain, anxiety: Medical cannabis could improve quality of life for those with chronic health issues
Are the benefits of medical cannabis great enough to justify its widespread use? This is the question many countries have not yet authorized such use are hoping to answer.
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Australia, South Korea, Thailand and the USA (certain states) are among the nations that authorise cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but this is far from being the case everywhere in the world.
A new study by researchers in Australia may shed fresh light on the question of the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis on the quality of life of certain patients, particularly those suffering from chronic health issues, suggesting beneficial effects on the health and fatigue levels of those concerned.
Medical cannabis research
The research was led by scientists at the University of Sydney, in Australia, where the prescription of medicinal cannabis has been permitted since 2016. For the purposes of this research, the scientists surveyed 2,327 patients suffering from chronic health issues (chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression) to whom medicinal cannabis was prescribed between November 2020 and December 2021.
The survey focused in particular on their health-related quality of life, their relationship with pain and sleep, but also their levels of anxiety and depression, before starting therapy, then after two weeks of treatment, and thereafter once a month for three months.
Published in the journal PLOS One, their findings point to “statistically significant, clinically meaningful improvements” in overall health-related quality of life and fatigue in patients suffering from the above-mentioned chronic conditions, during the first three months of the study.
In addition, the researchers say they observed “significant improvements” in moderate to severe anxiety and depression. Only patients suffering from insomnia reported no overall improvement in their sleep disturbances.
But the authors state in an accompanying news release “more research and development of the cannabis oil products used in this study may be needed in order to successfully treat patients with insomnia and sleep disorders.”
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Limitations to take into account
According to the study authors, “these results suggest medical cannabis may be effective in helping manage previously-untreatable chronic conditions.”
It should be pointed out, however, this research is based essentially on self-reporting, and does not establish a direct link between improved quality of life and the use of medical cannabis. The scientists did not quantify adverse effects in this study, but they did report “30 patients formally withdrew from the study due to ‘unwanted side effects.'”
In recent years, numerous scientific studies have highlighted a link between the therapeutic use of cannabis and pain reduction in patients suffering from various diseases, including cancer.
However, the many and successive studies sometimes contradict one another, with some reporting insignificant or slight improvements. Such is the case of research published in 2021 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by a panel of international experts. At the time, the only outcome was “a weak recommendation for a trial of non-inhaled medical cannabis or cannabinoids (chemicals found in cannabis) for people living with chronic pain, if standard care is not sufficient.”
Their research was based on a meta-analysis of 32 randomized trials “exploring the benefits and harms of medical cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain.”
At the end of their work, the researchers concluded there were “small to very small improvements in self reported pain intensity, physical functioning, and sleep quality,” as well as a “close balance between benefits and harms of medical cannabis for chronic pain.”
The proliferation of studies on the subject does not seem to dispel the vagueness surrounding the use of medical cannabis, the impact of which is deemed real but limited. Further research and trials could shed more light on the subject as countries weigh up whether or not to authorise its use.